Employing systems of signs and symbols, Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi creates sculptures and installations that address geopolitical borders, national identity and history, and territories.Read More
Upon receiving his BFA (1983) and MFA (1985) from the Musashino Art University in Tokyo, Yukinori Yanagi moved to the United States to study at the Yale University School of Art. It was at this point the artist began to explore his longstanding interest in the notion of 'wandering as a permanent position'. He received his second MFA from Yale in 1990.
Central to the artist's practice during this period is the use of flags as symbols of stability and nationalism, as well as living ants, to investigate ideas of identity, wandering, migration, and territorial conflicts. Yanagi's World Flag Ant Farm (1990), for example, features 180 wall-mounted acrylic panels that contain coloured sand in the shades of different national flags. Each flag is connected to its neighbours by plastic tubes containing travelling ants, which spread the sand in an allusion to the collapse of geopolitical borders.
Yanagi first exhibited World Flag Ant Farm at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE) in 1991 and went on to show it at the 45th Venice Biennale in 1993. When it was included in the artist's first American retrospective exhibition at Blum & Poe Los Angeles in 2021, the number of flags increased from 180 to 200 to reflect the political shifts of the past three decades.
The artist continued to explore the notions of boundaries and borders for a 1996 project, in which he undertook two weeks of fieldwork at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary—then long out of use, but still among the most famous prisons in the United States.
Visiting the facility every day, Yanagi produced Wandering Position (1997), a group of four large-scale drawings depicting complex webs of red crayon made by tracing the movements of a single ant throughout the prison. Each drawing echoed the dimension of a prison cell, prompting contemplation over a space that is vast for a small insect but confining for a human body.
Yukinori Yanagi's website notes that the artist was drawn to Alcatraz's histories, including that of Tomoya Kawakita, a second-generation Japanese American who was sentenced to life for treason during World War II and later pardoned in 1963.
After living abroad for more than 20 years, Yukinori Yanagi returned to Japan in 2000. His works since have engaged with small islands and former industrial hubs in Japan. The Art Base Momoshima project, which began in 2012, saw the artist establish an art centre in an abandoned school building on an island near Hiroshima.
In 2000, Yukinori Yanagi began the Akitsushima project, named after the Japanese seaplane tender that was sunk towards the end of the World War II. Yanagi's installations revolving around the Akitsushima often comprise a cast-iron 1:50-scale model of the tender, its metal components, a blueprint of the tender's parts, as well as photographs of the wreck, quietly addressing the modern history of war and imperialism in Japan.
Exhibiting internationally since the 1990s, Yukinori Yanagi's recent solo exhibition include Yukinori Yanagi, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2021); Wandering Position 1988—2021, Anomaly, Tokyo (2021); Yukinori Yanagi, Ticolat Tamura, Hong Kong (2017); Yukinori Yanagi, Galerie Paris, Yokohama (2016); Money / Flower, Michael Janssen Gallery, Lock Road, Singapore (2014); New Works, Miyake Fine Art, Tokyo (2013); and Inujima Art Project, Inujima Seirensho Art Museum, Okayama (2008).
Selected group exhibitions include Mountains Carrying Suns, Blum & Poe, Tokyo (2021); Psychic Wounds: On Art & Trauma, The Warehouse, Dallas (2020); Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s Part I and II, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles (2019); A Colossal World: Japanese Artists and New York, 1950s—Present, White Box, New York (2018); Busan Biennale 2016; Roppongi Crossing 2013: OUT OF DOUBT, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2013); Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool (2012); and Cheer up! Art can make you happy — Selections from the Hara Museum Collection, Hara Museum ARC, Gunma, Japan (2010).
Yukinori Yanagi's website can be found here.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021
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