What is the essence of Japanese culture in the 21st century?
Art Radar profiles 3 exhibitions around Asia that explore contemporary and traditional Japanese art and reflect on the nation’s cultural legacies.
The National Museum of Art, Osaka is hosting “Nostalgia and Fantasy: Imagination and Its Origins in Contemporary Art” from 27 May to 15 September 2014. The exhibition features the works of nine individual artists and one artist group.
According to curator Yasugi Masahiro, the theme ‘nostalgia’ responds to the sentiments of an ageing Japanese society and a nationwide longing for the ‘good old days’. As the press release states:
nostalgia seems to be a changeable, whimsical emotion in the sense that it is unrelated to actual experience […] it is this emotional aspect that imbues nostalgia with infinite possibilities.
Such a fluid notion of the nostalgic reverberates among the varied works of the artists. Graphic artist Yokoo Tadanori, the oldest participant in the exhibition, often works with memory. Childhood nostalgia serves as a major source of the artist’s creativity as he manoeuvres the boundaries between reality and fantasy, life and death.
With a more painterly, expressionistic style, Konishi Toshiyuki evokes a haunting sense of longing that is just as strong. Using a muted palette and raw, gestural strokes, the artist’s own family is his subject, creating a gentle melancholia imbued with human warmth.
Finally, Hashizume Sai uses a realistic form of expression known as Real Fantasy. Her portraits of young women exude a vague sense of loneliness and unease with regards to the contemporary world.
The Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) presents “Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints” from 12 July to 13 September 2014. The exhibition showcases ukiyo-e prints from Edo Japan (1615-1868) and ukiyo-e inspired works in today’s globalised world.
‘Ukiyo‘ means ‘floating world’, and ‘e‘ means ‘pictures’. Ukiyo-e was a popular art form of woodblock prints and paintings that reflected the daily life and common interests of people in Edo and major Japanese cities. The ukiyo-e aesthetic is defined by fluid yet distinct outlines, bold areas of clear colour, off-centre subjects and dramatic cropping.
Highlights include works by ukiyo-e masters such as Katsuhika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige, whose influences in contemporary art are evident in the works of Japanese-American artist Masami Teraoka and Hong Kong artist Wilson Shieh, among others. With over 60 works from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Singapore Art Museum, STPI brings forth a kaleidoscopic view of Japanese influence on popular culture then and now.
As the exhibition’s press release states, the ukiyo-e aesthetic
became an important source of inspiration to many famous European painters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Edgar Degas Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edouard Manet and Claud Monet whose art captured the culture of leisure of nineteenth century Paris.
The Drawing Room (Contemporary Art) Gallery in Singapore is currently showcasing the work of Filipino artist Miguel Aquilizan in an exhibition entitled “DISCORDANT” until 27 July 2014.
“DISCORDANT” began in second hand junk stores of Aquilizan’s native Philippines, where discarded Japanese manufactured goods abound. Upon undertaking research, Aquilizan discovered that second hand trade between Japan and the Philippines had increased after the 2011 tsunami and collapse of the Fukushima nuclear reactor. Rumour has it that the goods came from deceased estates and general debris.
Aquilizan began collecting traditional-style Japanese figurines including geisha, samurai and noblemen. He removed them from their protective glass display cases and tweaked each statue with accoutrements and overabundant accessories. The sheer mass of surface details and embellishments functions like an eerie mutating force, bringing to mind the effects of radiation that lurk at the corners of viewer’s minds.
The exhibition’s press release states:
As if burdened by their cultural transition between Japan and the Philippines, the statues struggle to remain erect, trapped between two cultural oversimplifications – Japan as a minimal, elegant society rooted in its traditions and the Philippines, a brash, maximalist conglomeration of island cultures and tribal groups. These sculptures are as much about the difficulties of cultural translation as they are about the complicated history of interaction between two distinct societies.
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