“Art and design permeate everyday life in Japan,” explains Masako Shinn in the foreword for art book Tokyo Visualist, but lack of visibility for Japanese artists on the international scene has been a long-time problem.

Tokyo Visualist

'Tokyo Visualist, 2009'

The book, published in 2009, hopes to address this gap with a survey of 32 cross-media practitioners representing the best of contemporary visual creation in Japan.

Selected by curators, museum professionals and design practitioners from both sides of the Pacific, this work is choc-full of essays and interviews in both Japanese and English. Lack of translated writings as well as a lack of forums for critical discussion are named in Tokyo Visualist as two of the causes for the poor exposure of Japanese art outside of Japan.

Kengo Kito‘s art has been referred to as ‘bio-pop‘, a “vigorous style of art that interjects sub-cultural noise into the cool restraint of the city; art that connotes the complexity, variety, chaos, and vitality of nature and the biological world that we identify with jungle trees, nebulae, and viruses.”

Kito established and ran a collective space called Art space dot, and was an active member between 1999 and 2001, and has curated shows for fellow artists. After completing a residency in New York in 2009, he moved to Berlin where he currently works.

Keng Kito

Kengo Kito, 'Flimsy Royale', 2009, mixed media installation, dimensions variable. Photo: Tsukasa Yokozawa. Image from azito-art.com.

Miwa Yanagi Windswept Women

Miwa Yanagi in front of her 'Windswept Women' works. Image from telegraph.co.uk.

Miwa Yanagi is concerned with the roles of women and ageing. Her “Windswept Women” series was first presented at the Japanese Pavilion of the 2009 Venice Biennale.

Kumi Machida, born in 1970 in Taksaki City, trained academically in a traditional painting style called Nihonga. Drawing on Surrealism and folklore, she has developed a unique cultural vocabulary with which she has created “a universe populated with hybrid humanoids of indeterminate gender engaged in uncanny vaguely troubling situations.”

Kumi Machida lens

Kumi Machida, 'Lens', 2007, Sumi mineral pigments pencil on kumohada linen paper, 53.5 x 45.5 cm. Image from kestnergesellschaft.de.

Shimabuku likes to take the unknown discovered on his travels and make them known through his art. For example, during his trip to Liverpool for the city’s Biennial he encountered the British dish of fish and chips and made a video documenting the first meeting of the dish’s component parts, a video that “sees the artist diving with fish while potatoes mysteriously fall from above.”

Shimabuku Fish and Chips

Shimabuku, 'Fish and Chips', 2006, video. Image from artrabbit.com.

Tokyo Visual is an enormously valuable resource only slightly marred by the under-sized pictures and the difficult-to-read text. At the back there is a short biography on each of the eight curators: a handy who’s who for the Japanese art world.

Click here to buy the bookTokyo Visual, on Amazon.


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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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