Art and Fiction

Kan Yasuda’s ‘The secret of the Sky’

In Short 

Surprise! To encounter the work of art The secret of the sky (1996) by Kan Yasuda, means to face “the sovereign image[1] in Naoshima Island ![2]

Beyond the phenomenology of perception, the visitor is invited to fall upon the significantised element. Freud and Lacan provide us with key concepts to make sense of this work of art.


      Encountering the real

Kan Yasuda’s sculptures are world renowned. Born in Hokkaido in 1945, he graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and is currently based in Italy.

“The secret of the Sky” is displayed in Benesse House Museum.

Bounded by high concrete walls, this piece is an invitation to stop, lie down on two smooth-surfaced marble shapes. At once, the viewer’s attention turns to an open square ceiling, an ephemeral view of the sky arises. But soon the spectator may feel uneasy[3].

      The speakable in the legible

Kan Yasuda  says: / a sculpture is a creature. / In our relationship, I search for the right form/ an abstract shape / to let the viewer touch the invisible/

 I give everything I can to make a work than can last for 500 or 1,000 years within three dimensional space./ He adds: /A practise that is close to prayer/.

Here the sayable takes advantage of the visible. The sculpture is veil-less. As such, it claims to be the very Thing.[4] By the action of the artist, it is a living body, immobilized, indestructible.

Standing  on a gap, “the sovereign image” brings together an array of words, a frame and a slot. These operators grant it a unique value. Consequently, the image is significantised.

      The invisible signifier

The viewer is now a mere spectator who is simultaneously able of looking and being looked at.

As far as being inspired by the episode of the sardine tin shimmering in the sun reported by Lacan[5], the work of art The secret of the sky seems to ask the spectator: “You see it? Well, it cannot see you.” In other words, the object a as a gaze then arises in the field of the visible. The image doesn’t represent a subject, it is actually coordinated with his jouissance.

As a sculptor, Kan Yasuda has a substantial audience. Born just after WWII, when the symbolic markers were flickering his know-how operates by treating the real with the symbolic. The artist’s artistry surges like an invocatory drive, as a plea addressed to the Other. As such, the work of art provides an ineluctable modality of the visible.[6]


[1] Jacques-Alain Miller, “The Sovereign Image”, in The Lacanian Review. Hurly-Burly, Issue 5, 2018, p. 39.

[2] On the seashore of the Inland Sea of Seto

[3] Freud’s use: das Unheimliche.

[4] Freud’s use: das Ding

[5] Jacques Lacan, Seminar XI, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, Penguin, 1979, p. 95 [translation modified].

[6] James Joyce, Ulysses, Penguin Classics, 2000, p. 45.

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Secret of the Sky [Kan Yasuda, Secret of the Sky, Benesse House Museum. Photos by Krissy Estrada]