Staircases lead nowhere; walls bring passages to an abrupt halt; ceilings appear without warning. In the surreal world of David Umemoto’s brutalist concrete sculptures, reality has little authority and imagination roams free. 

Like many creatives during the pandemic, the Canadian artist was deprived of studio access for many months, forced to find new modes of creation. This prompted a period of exploration, ‘mental gymnastics’ and though the artist was well versed in planning his concrete sculptures on paper, he set himself a new challenge. 

David Umemoto, Circoncolutions #4 concrete sculpture art at Modern Shapes Gallery. Photography: Michael Francken

David Umemoto, Circoncolutions #4, Modern Shapes Gallery. Photography: Michael Francken

Inspired by Japanese kirigami, the former architect conceived three-dimensional objects using only a square sheet of paper, without loss, without additions and without glue. This resulted in a new exhibition ‘Folded Stone’, now on view at Modern Shapes Gallery in Antwerp. ‘My concrete work is done in the mass. I usually start with a theoretical prism from which I remove matter. The process with paper is totally different since it is surface work’, the artist explains. ‘I start with a generally square sheet that I cut and fold. In this new Folded Stone series, I try to position myself halfway through this mass-surface duality.’ 

Umemoto’s hand-created work sits at the intersection of architecture, sculpture and pure fantasy. His low-tech approach stems from a commitment to plainness, simplicity and imperfection, far removed from the fast-paced demands of modern production. Each component is cast using modular moulds which can be arranged – and subsequently rearranged – like concrete puzzles. 

Stairway #16 surreal concrete sculpture by Canadian artist David Umemoto

Above: Stairway #16. Below: Folded Stone #11. Photography: David Umemoto

Umemoto’s influences are somewhat eclectic, from pre-Columbian rock dwellings to fragments of Babylonian cities. Artistically, it’s Rachel Whiteread meets MC Escher; or the surreal twists of Giorgio de Chirico combined with the postmodernist mazes of Ricardo Bofill or the haunting webs of Giovanni Battista’s Prisons of Piranesi. There’s an eerie quality to these matrix-like sculptures – architectural dioramas which, if one were to enter, might never leave. 

Like much of Umemoto’s work, Folded Stone is an exercise in imagination, restraint and the poetics of architecture. §

David Umemoto Folded Stone #3 concrete sculpture Modern Shapes Gallery

Above: Déambulatoire #2. Below: Folded Stone #3, Modern Shapes Gallery. Photography: Michael Francken