Worlds Within: Contemporary art from Japan

2 JUNE – 7 JULY 2023
The Alison Richard Building, Cambridge

Kaori Yoshikawa | Makoto Morimura | Marie Nohara | Shin Ikeda | sonsengocchabacco | So Shimada | Hajime Wada

Artworks often afford glimpses into the inner worlds of others: the forms and textures that populate artists’ minds. While some of the artists in this show describe their creative process as an imperfect replication of these inner landscapes, others emphasise the material qualities of the objects they make, and how these gradually percolate into their consciousness along with the ideas they receive from the world around them. The outcome may be unexpected, and imperfectly known in advance; the worlds sensed must first be made in order to be understood, through a process of trial and error that is always subject to material constraints.  

This exhibition forms part of an ethnographic research project in which seven contemporary artists and makers from Osaka, Japan, engaged in a year-and-a-half long exchange with an anthropologist (Iza Kavedžija), sharing details of their creative practices through conversations, studio visits, and a variety of creative diary formats. By engaging with their artworks alongside the stories of their creation, visitors are invited to reflect on the intersections of inner and outer worlds.  

As people become enskilled in particular techniques, these direct their attention in specific ways. For instance, as we read or hear more stories, the inner voice in our head matures and the narratives that unfold in our mind become more varied. Similarly, listening to music, or making it, might enrich our ‘inner soundtrack’. These might usefully be called ‘techniques of imagination’.

Some of the processes, or techniques of imagination, described by the artists and evident in the artworks on show include stacking, intersecting and erasing, stitching, sounding out, seeing form, organizing, and slicing. These are related and often entwined, and each has been used by more than one of the artists whose work is presented here.

  1. Stacking

Wada san uses stacking or layering to add contrasting qualities to his work, as in Dance, in which the combination of two different types of images evokes movement.

Hajime Wada, Dance, 2020. Etching, aquatint.

2. Intersection (and erasure)

So Shimada often uses writing in his work, like signal, or iroha (ABC), both on display here. Sometimes Shimada spends time looking at old magazines, drawn to different letter shapes and typefaces. When sketching and combining their shapes into a whole, a more abstract shape is crafted. By adding and erasing, removing and layering observed shapes time and again, something new emerges, on occasion.

So Shimada, abc, [イロハ], 2020. Acrylic on canvas.

3. Stitching

Makoto Morimura’s studio is located in an area of central Osaka that has been undergoing rapid transformation. Invitations to local events or exhibitions typically take the form of postcards that include small stylized maps to help people find their way. Morimura uses these to create his own maps of a fictitious city, erasing the place names, stitching streets together, as in the series City of Patchworks (CoP).

Makoto Morimura, OTW_32. 2021. Embroidery. Wooden panel, cloth, map, correction fluid, thread.

4. Sounding out

In many of her works, Kaori Yoshikawa plays with words, often attending to homonyms, or words that look similar when written but carry different connotations.  In kawai kawai kawai kowaii, she uses a series of similar-sounding words that slide from ‘cute’ (‘kawaii’) to ‘scary’ (‘kowai’). In addition, the final (‘i‘) letter from ‘kawaii‘ is misplaced, to be found at the end of  ‘kowai‘, turning it into ‘kowaii‘. “By losing its final (‘i‘) letter, ‘kawai‘ (‘cute’) becomes abrupt and somehow harsher, and in turn, ‘kowai‘ (‘scary’) loosens up with the extra ‘i‘ at the end with ‘kowaii‘,” says Kaori.

Kaori Yoshikawa, かわいかわいかわいこわいい (kawai kawai kawai kowaii), Mixed Media (Newspaper cutting, tippex, pencil, acrylic, label maker labels.)

5. Organizing and classifying

Shin Ikeda’s series For decoration only features hand-embroidered patterns (‘moyou’) that were found on the everyday objects he had at hand, like boxes or the paper book covers. In his work, Ikeda combines elements or qualities which are unexpected (‘igai‘), drawn to the particular kinds of amusement or intrigue (‘omoshiriosa‘) in these counterpositions.

Shin Ikeda, For decoration only: National Treasure ‘The Fifty-seven Years of Yang Yuden’ [デコレーション 国宝「漢書楊雄伝五十七」], 2023. Embroidery thread, felt, book. Photo credit: studio J.

6. Seeing form

‘I can see the shapes of sounds when I listen to music,’ Marie Nohara told me when I visited her studio in April 2023. ‘I know not everyone does, so I try to convey them in my works. I listen to sounds and, like a score, I try to note it down,’ she said, pointing to her recent work, Score 4.

Marie Nohara, Score 04 [スコア04] 2023. Acrylic, paper.  

7. Slicing

sonsengocchabacco creates a small painting or drawing every day. Looking at the small sized drawings and their titles in succession gives us a daily glimpse into what sonsengocchabacco attends to: what he notices in the world around him. Take these two recent examples: Bicycle tyre (pictured below) and I saw a man walking with a bottle on his head.

sonsengocchabacco, Bicycle tyre [チャリのタイヤ], 2023.

The exhibition is accompanied by an online exhibit, created using 360° photography.

Find further information about Worlds Within here.

The project is supported by the AHRC. 

Iza Kavedžija
Assistant Professor of Medical Anthropology, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge