Neo-ornamentalism from Japanese Contemporary Art

MOT Annual 2010: Neo-Ornamentalism from Japanese Contemporary Art is currently presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Since 1999, the museum has been holding a “MOT Annual” exhibition focusing on the works of young artists exploring a selected theme on contemporary society. This show presents the works of ten Japanese artists, and is an exploration of contemporary expressions of ornamentation beyond embellishments, as both artistic gestures and reflections of a worldview concerning time, space, and individual human existence. A recurring feature of many of the works is an acknowledgment that craftsmanship marked by repetition and precision are tangible points of connection or reminders of spirituality and life beyond the material world.

Tomoko SHIOYASU, Cutting Insights, 2008, Paper, TAKAHASHI COLLECTION, Courtesy of SCAI THE BATHHOUSE, Photo by Keizo Kioku

Tomoko Shioyasu’s Cutting Insights presents a floor-to-ceiling tapestry composed of a paper-cut with dragon and phoenix figures using a single roll of photo paper. Placed in an enclosed, darkened space, the use of two light bulbs cast shadows elongated against the rear wall, throwing into relief a semblance of the environment and nature which had been instrumental in inspiring her work. With a background in sculpture, Shioyasu began experimenting with paper-cutting in 2003, borne out of a fascination at the manner in which the delicate web of veins of the leaves of the rumex japonicus found on her campus created vigorous and dynamic forms.  Her works which require a process of repetitive work of creating small cuts onto the paper by hand are an expression of the rhythm and repetition found within nature, and are deeply rooted in a philosophy of pursuing the truth of the universe through nature.
Motoi YAMAMOTO, Labyrinth, Installation view at Force of Nature, Artist in Residence, Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, Charleston, SC, U.S.A. 2006, Salt
Labyrinth is created from over 600 pounds of refined salt. The entire work which was produced after sixteen ten-hour days, spans 590 square feet and can be viewed from a purpose-built platform in the gallery. Motoi Yamamoto, an artist known for his salt-based sculptures and installations began working with salt as a material following the death of his sister in 1994 from brain cancer. An indispensable funerary element in Japan to banish harmful spirits, Yamamoto was prompted to use salt as a gesture of remembrance, to reflect on the impermanence of life and the need to let go and allow nature to reclaim what belongs to her. Many of his salt installations are based on labyrinths or complex networks, and the laborious and meandering process with the unpredictability of the eventual curves and pathways are, for Yamamoto, an act of tracing his memories. For his salt installations done for exhibitions, Yamamoto stages a performance titled Return to Sea on the last day of the exhibition, to return the salt to the sea and nature, and to support the life of the sea creatures.

Katsuyo AOKI, Predictive dream Ⅸ, 2009, Private collection, Courtesy of Röntogenwerke

Katsuyo Aoki’s delicate porcelain works on display, including Predictive dream IX and Trolldom, combine both decorative patterns and paints of blue and purple baked on parts of the white porcelain, creating a smeared-like appearance. Presented in an entirely stark white room, the sculptural pieces which bear a mixture of traditional ornamentation decorum of symmetry together with fantastical depictions of other-worldly creatures and skulls, draw viewers into an enclosure befitting a religious and mythical experience. Aoki creates these works based on what she terms her “inner shadow” of imagination and fantasies, and strives to convey both a sense of strength and fragility to parallel the nature of human societies anchored on the advance of technology and progress, while remaining fractious and imperfect.
The show is curated by Akio Seki and goes on till 11 April 2010. The other participating artists are Atsuo Ogawa, Kiyoshi Kuroda, Asao Tokolo, Nao Matsumoto, Hiroshi Mizuta, Junichi Mori, and Kentaro Yokouchi.