Peter’s Proscenium

by Ihor Holubizky

The respective practices of Christian Hidaka, a painter, and Raphaël Zarka, a sculptor, are distinct; in broad terms, between image and form. What they share is an interest in the inventions of the mind. The connective tissue is the geometric impulse, which has been expressed in the applied and decorative arts for millennia across cultures and is “a primary expression of the shaping will,” as Dr. Willy Rotzler wrote in Constructive Concepts.1 Although the two artists met at the Winchester School of Art in England twenty years ago and maintained an ongoing dialogue, Peter’s Proscenium is only their third full-scale project created together.2 Rather than a collaboration in the strict sense of a blended objective and singular message, the installation is a dialogue in which neither artist imposes form or images on the other. Zarka notes that Hidaka was “the architect of [their] ‘virtual’ or painted space” but there is a reciprocal spirit whether decisions are reached jointly or individually.3
A starting point for the artists’ inquiry is the Alexandrian Hellenistic mathematician Euclid, who established the fundamental principles of geometry in the 3rd century BC, and which re-emerged in the zeitgeist of the European Renaissance. Zarka notes a key figure and primary source for his studies was the work of mathematician and Franciscan friar Luca Pacioli (c.1447–1517), who was an early collaborator with Leonardo da Vinci. During the 15th century, artists of the south, including Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca and Da Vinci, opened up the flood gates to the registration of deep space through the application of geometry and perspective. This was followed quickly in the Northern Renaissance by Netherlandish, Flemish and Dutch artists, and equally embraced and applied by a small legion of now underknown artist-craftsmen of Northern and Southern Europe.4
There are two specific and distinct references in the title Peter’s Proscenium. One is to the obscure Augsburg stonemason-draughtsman Peter Halt (1575–after 1634). He revived Wenzel Jamnitzer’s (1507/08–1585, active in Nuremberg and a preeminent goldsmith) foundational mid-16th century work on polyhedral geometric form and perspective. Halt published his book Perspectivische Reiß Kunst in 1625. The other departure point in conceptualizing the installation is a proscenium stage with an arched masonry top in the Koffler Gallery exhibition space that was brought to the artists’ attention during a preliminary site visit. The stage, part of the original library space in the former Shaw Street Public School, is now hidden behind the new gallery wall.
Hidaka and Zarka, however, are not engaged in historical recovery, homage or privileging ideas, as they draw from copious source-inspirations that extend into the 20th century. Hidaka has an equal interest in the oblique perspective used in Chinese painting in contrast to the vanishing point perspective favoured in European painting. Theirs is a philosophical and metaphysical inquiry in the slippage between realisms as registrations of the external world, and the abstract workings of the mind. Without going down the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole of what is reality, Hidaka and Zarka oscillate between form and image – what we know or believe to be true, and what is unknowable. Yet the knowable and unknowable co-exist, activating our engine of curiosity.

Hidaka and several assistants painted the Koffler Gallery exhibition walls from top to bottom over a three-week period as a mural of space within the space; a resonance rather than an obliterating transformation. While the original stage feature was interpreted as a proscenium window, it is us who are now on a stage, a fabulation through the architecture of the past, yet played subtly, without over-saturation or “immersive” strategies of spectacle. There is no beginning point, nor an insistent “aboutness.” The visitor enters and explores the space; an experience of the experience, as each position and vista reveals something else, forms forming as a hall of mirrors without a literal reflection. We know this is the present through the untouched gallery elements: doors, structural steel, conduits and plumbing. We recognize the pictorial elements from the past, as they too continue to exist in present time in heritage and ruins. Painters of the Renaissance also “mixed temporalities” – including both elements from their own time and their “antiquity.”5
Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka, Peter's Proscenium, 2019.
Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka, Peter's Proscenium, 2019.Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.
The colours used in the installation are primarily earth tones derived from natural pigments, as was the case prior to the advent of commercially produced and synthetic-based paints. An arched window with a view of woods in the background is painted on the far end wall; portals with a hint of colonnade beyond are painted on the flanking sides. A trompe l’oeil playfulness slightly undermined by the use of oblique perspective offers a door convincingly painted in proximity to a gallery exit door, yet it has no knob.6 Three free-standing structures occupy the floor space as architectural supports, one for each of Zarka’s geometric-polyhedron sculptures. The arched tops and angular elements of these supports echo the painted portals and planar geometric compositions in the murals. The “fourth” Zarka sculpture is represented as a painted image in the proscenium wall element. The installation includes six small Hidaka paintings, made with casein on MDF panels.7 Four were extant, and two finished on site.8 The studio works discreetly populate the mural walls and some serve as relay signals for both the perspectival mural passages and painted pattern elements.
Zarka describes himself as a “documentary sculptor,” bringing dimensionality to analytical geometric forms that were drawn out as instructional concept diagrams from the late 15th to 17th centuries, or artisan-fabricated as wood inlay decorative panels and objects:
The documentary sculpture stems both from a formal curiosity and a historical or theoretical interest in objects that don’t necessarily come from the world of art. Needless to say, the artist isn’t held to any scientific rigour and the original context of the objects in question can be considered in a fragmentary, anachronistic or even [in a] frankly biased way. To use musical vocabulary, we could talk in terms of a “standard,” of returning to a “simple” structure that still allows for interpretation.9
When realized, even though derived from historical sources, Zarka’s sculptures feel modern because they are, fundamentally, theoretical conceptual models. Similarly, some of Hidaka’s painted elements have a modern quality; one source is a linear perspective modelling by 18th century British artist-architect Joshua Kirby, yet they also bring to mind the reductive compositions of early-20th-century Constructivism and De Stijl.10 The world at large also offers food for thought. Hidaka states that he used brick patterns from passing observation for a section of wall painting to “set about materialising the possibilities” of an abstraction from the material world.11 Zarka recounts an epiphany example for himself, when by chance he came across prototypes of a breakwater structure abandoned outside of Sète, a port city on the Mediterranean:
They immediately reminded me of the regular solids which Plato used to illustrate the perfection of the world and which…in the late sixteenth century, would be used by Johannes Kepler to describe the organization of the cosmos. I was intrigued how such a polyhedron could end up being incarnated in such an ordinary material as concrete, and how the functionalism of the late twentieth century had tried to make a place for it before preferring other forms less difficult to produce.12

Thinking through form and image, and colour …

Hidaka has spoken of his interest in Picasso’s use of colour, which led him to “locate the key to his colour logic and realizing that it was derived from the ancient Greek tetrachromatikon, a colour mixing system that underpinned…classical European painting…until the Impressionists.”13 Working with Hidaka compelled Zarka to consider painting his sculptures. He finally made the decision to do so in Peter’s Proscenium, though not to amplify the abstract as most commonly done in the modern-contemporary period. Instead of using bold primary colours, he has painted with a clay tone (which appears to be clear wood from a distance), drawing colour inspiration from Roman and Greek stone ruins, roof and floor tiles in the south of France. The choice and application of natural colour creates a contemplative scenario. There is no vibrant red; nothing is black (what appears to be, is very dark brown). Contemplative attention is also generated through forms and images in Hidaka’s panel paintings, while also contributing to the paradoxical. One example is a seemingly incongruent figurative image depicting the Hanging Man from the tarot. It has been interpreted as self-sacrifice rather than punishment-by-hanging, though there are contested readings: seeing and embracing a new perspective, as well as paying too much attention to a wasted effort. Tarot, which originated as a card game with regional-cultural differences, has also been used for the esoteric, fortune-telling and divination. What secrets reside in the tarot figure, behind Hidaka’s painting of a timber door, or in the dark woods painted beyond the proscenium?
Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka, Peter's Proscenium, 2019.
Christian Hidaka and Raphaël Zarka, Peter's Proscenium, 2019.Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

… painting in, shadows, in space

When American artist Robert Irwin was faced with an awkward gallery moulding that threw shadows on his work, his purported solution was to paint them out so the shadows would disappear when viewed straight on.14 This is reversed in Peter’s Proscenium; shadows have been painted in. While some are emphatic, as in the wall murals, Hidaka has also painted cast shadows for his panel paintings, on which the gallery track lighting creates real shadows in precise harmony with the painted ones. Shadows from the free-standing arched structures fall on the walls with the painted portals. Shadows upon shadows are in the realm of the metaphysical, what we cannot know or verify, as in the much-studied Allegory of the Cave by Plato. In one passage from In Praise of Shadows (1933), Jun’ichirō Tanizaki wrote:
I marvel at our [Japanese] comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness.”15
Similarly, Okakura Kakuzō wrote of the Japanese tea room in 1906: “Even in the daytime, the light in the room is subdued…everything is sober in tint from the ceilings to the floor…It is not intended for posterity and is therefore ephemeral. Art, to be fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life.”16 Okakura is speaking of a space for contemplation, in which tea is the “ceremonial beverage” for an experience of the mind. Likewise, the murals of Peter’s Proscenium are only temporary, as they will be painted over at the conclusion of the exhibition.
There is no shortage of the fantastic in Peter’s Proscenium to activate perceptual knowledge, embrace abstractions and the mimetic, and underscore the remarkable “instrument” that is the brain. Artists can take back art, leave its history to the historians, and redirect us to the secular miracle of thinking. As American engineer Vannevar Bush wrote in 1945: “The human mind…operates by association [wherein] the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature.”17

1  Willy Rotzler, Constructive Concepts: A History of Constructive Art from Cubism to the Present (New York: Rizzoli, 1977/1989), 11.
2  The first collaborative exhibition was at Instants Chavirés, Montreuil, France in 2016; the second at MNAC Bucharest, Romania in 2018–2019, though the latter took the form of two consecutive solo shows where Zarka’s sculptures were installed within an existing mural environment previously created by Hidaka.
3  Email to the author, 2 July 2019.
4  The term craftsman now has a pejorative tone – the “servant” of a “master” concept – but in the Renaissance artists and artisans were often polymaths. Paradoxically, geometricism in the early modern period returned flat space to art in the evacuation of image for the non-objective.
5  See Alexander Nagel and Christopher S. Wood, “Towards a New Model of Renaissance Anachronism,” The Art Bulletin 85, no. 3 (September 2005): 403–415.
6  Hidaka’s door is based on the door to artist Giorgio Morandi’s (1890–1964) apartment in Bologna. The panel painting Niche 1 is subtitled Morandi/Pacioli, for the painter and Luca Pacioli.
7  Casein is a milk-protein based medium that has been used since antiquity.
8  Niche II (Sima) was painted for the artists’ first collaborative exhibition in 2016. One of the six – yet to be finished (or perhaps never to be finished) – is based on a cloth element from Antonello da Messina’s St. Jerome in His Study, c. 1474–1475 (collection of the National Gallery, London).
9  Christophe Gallois, The Shapes of Science: Interview with Raphaël Zarka (Paris: Musée des arts et métiers, 2016),
10  Email to the author, 28 June 2019.
11  Email to the author, 28 June 2019.
12  Gallois, The Shapes of Science.
13 Christian Hidaka, “Cubism and non-Linearity” (Revoir Picasso symposium, Musée national Picasso-Paris, 25 March 2015),
14  Walter Hopps, The Dream Colony, A Life in Art, ed. Deborah Treisman (New York, London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 183. This 1965 exhibition organized by Hopps was mounted at the (then) National Collection of Fine Arts, originally housed in the Natural History building of the Smithsonian.
15  Jun'ichirō Tanizaka, In Praise of Shadows (New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, Inc., 1977), 20.
16  Okakura Kakuzō, The Book of Tea (Rutland, Vermont & Tokyo, Japan: Charles E. Tuttle Company, 1956; first published in December 1933 and January 1934), in order, from pages 63, 65, 67.
17  Vannevar Bush, “As We May Think,” The Atlantic Monthly, July 1945,


Christian Hidaka was born in Noda, Japan and currently lives and works in London, UK. He studied Fine Art at Winchester School of Art, UK and the Royal Academy Schools, London, UK. Hidaka’s paintings have been widely exhibited internationally, including solo and group shows at MNAC Bucharest (Romania), MAK Vienna (Austria), CAC Le Grand Café (St. Nazaire, France), Synagogue de Delme (France), MUDAM (Luxembourg), Torrance Art Museum (USA), The Weisman Art Museum (Minneapolis, USA), The Goss-Michael Foundation (Dallas, USA), Le Consortium (Dijon, France) and Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (Germany). His work is in numerous collections, including Centre National d’Art Plastique (Paris, France), MUDAM Collection (Luxembourg), The Israel Museum (Jerusalem), The Saatchi Gallery (London, UK), Sigg Collection (Switzerland), and many others. He is represented by Michel Rein Gallery, Paris/Brussels.
Raphaël Zarka was born in Montpellier, France and studied at the Winchester School of Art, UK and at École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, where he currently lives and works. Zarka’s works have been exhibited in institutions worldwide, including the Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France), Palais de Tokyo (Paris, France), Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI secolo (Rome, Italy), Museo Experimental el Eco (Mexico), Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (France), Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, Espai d’art Contemporani de Castelló (Castellon, Spain), and Modern Art Oxford (UK). His work is part of prestigious collections, he was awarded the Prix Fondation d’entreprise Ricard in 2008 and he was nominated for the Marcel Duchamp Prize in 2013. Zarka is also the author of four books related to the practice of skateboarding published by B42. He is represented by Michel Rein Gallery, Paris/Brussels and Luciana Brito, São Paulo.
Ihor Holubizky is an art historian who has held curatorial positions in public galleries across Canada and in Australia. He is the recipient of a Canada Council senior grant for independent curators and a professional development grant from the Australia Council for a research residency at the Kamakura and Hayama Museum of Modern Art in Japan. Holubizky received his PhD in art history from the University of Queensland, Australia, and has contributed writing to numerous publications on historical, modern and contemporary topics in art and culture in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His most recent published writing is the Art Canada Institute monograph on painter Gershon Iskowitz.
Peter's Proscenium is generously supported by Institut français and the Cultural & Science Services of the Embassy of France in Canada.
Mural assistants: Anthony Bodin, Phu Bui, Corinne Carlson.
Sculpture assistants: Ryan Legassicke, Kayla Whitney.
Special thanks to: Imagefoundry and Toronto Image Works.
Essay: Ihor Holubizky | Design: Tony Hewer | Editing: Shannon Anderson, Mona Filip.
Koffler Gallery installation photos: Toni Hafkenscheid
Digital publication to the exhibition Peter's Proscenium
Presented by the Koffler Gallery | June 20 – August 18, 2019 | Curator: Mona Filip
© Koffler Centre of the Arts, 2019, in collaboration with the individual contributors. All rights reserved. ISBN 978-1-928175-20-9.
Koffler family FoundationCIBC Wood GundyOntario Arts Council | Conseil Des Arts De L'OntarioToronto Arts Council | Funded by the City of TorontoCanada Council