Report by Katie Forster for Fukuoka Now.
Marie Suzuki’s abstract bodily depictions, an oozing mass of breasts, sharp objects and genitals, greet all unassuming visitors to the ‘Art Brut Japonais’ exhibition at Fukuoka Art Museum. Disembodied body parts are shrunken and multiplied, then consumed by anonymous bulging orifices in her work, creating a phobic collage which screams out its disturbing vision of violence, sexuality and memory. Her 2007 work Nobody Can See (pictured below) has been chosen as the poster for the collection, which aims to grab attention for its showcase of work by non-traditional Japanese artists.
‘Art Brut’ is the French term for artworks created by those who have received no prior artistic training or exposure. The creativity of the mentally ill or disabled is particularly emphasised in this exhibition, positing the visual arts as a possible form of therapy as well as self-expression. This exhibition of Japanese ‘art brut’, or ‘outsider art’, was originally displayed in the Halle Saint Pierre museum in Paris in 2010-11. The contemporary pieces on display are vastly varied in media, theme and scope, and with over 600 sharing a relatively small space, the exhibition feels as intense as some of the works themselves.
The high volume of artworks has been approached by grouping the exhibits into rough themes. In the ‘portrait’ room, the trauma of separation is recounted through Takako Shibata’s repeated rectangular renditions of her mother in the same blue suit. Meanwhile, in the ‘transport’-themed room, Ninofuo Mizuta’s remarkably detailed record of different train fronts and scale paper models of each carriage are a reminder of the powers of the human mind for recall and precision.
The ‘locations’ room mirrors this detail with large pen drawings of Nagoya city by Yuji Tsuji, whose attention to detail rivals Street View for accuracy, and certainly paints a more evocative picture of the what it feels like to live in a busy city – at times both comforting and claustrophobic.
Whether or not it is possible to classify such original works in this way, the unofficial organisation of the exhibition allows the viewer to cultivate a train of thought that develops from one room to the next. In a section concentrated on the written word, a cabinet houses a scroll covered in 6 months’ worth of tiny calligraphy. Although no one knows what it says, the patterns of the vertical kanji form darker clouds and lighter spots, transforming the shape of the characters into art itself. Hiragana characters are also used in colourful collages (pictured below), their overlapping forms used as a visual diaries by artist Sakuta Yuichi.
From the simplest tracing of favorite magazine photos, their very flimsiness hinting at the fragility of our mental condition, to ambitious traditional-style sculptures in the final room, the works share one common theme: what is it to create, not as an ‘artist’, but as a human, expressing oneself with no regard to what ‘should’ be made? One of the largest and most striking works in the collection is an abstract depiction of a body by Seizo Tashima, made from small, pointed organic pins, which spread outwards where the head should be, as if a fatal explosion of the vital creative organ had just taken place.
Whilst it is easy to be inspired by the collection, the merits of some works are to be debated – as we stare at a row of scribbled-on underpants and pyjamas, my friend turns to me and asks: ‘is this art?’ Good question, and one the entire exhibition tries to turn on its head. Yet although the collection was conceived of as a way to keep the artworks together and to stop them from becoming lost on their return to Japan, perhaps some further selection and editing would further enhance their effect. However, this does not apply to every work, which between them tackle philosophy, creativity, utopias and nightmares: this glimpse into the inner minds of Japan’s ‘non-artistic’ artists is fascinating.
Art Brut Japonais is at Fukuoka Art Museum until 11/24. 9:30~17:30. Closed 11/5. Adult ¥1000, high school and college student ¥700. Official HP: http://www.fukuoka-art-museum.jp/english/