Asia Week New York 2013

Deconstructing Tradition : Contemporary Japan
Maio Motoko and Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo

Exhibiting: The Fuller Building, Level 5, 41 East 57th Street, New York, NY USA

‘ We must be careful not to fall into the trap of defining “contemporary” and “traditional” as irreconcilable opposites. “Traditional” is increasingly seen by Japanese scholars as an imposed translation of Western art theories not relevant to Japanese history and practice …How ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ interrelate, particularly with respect to Japan, is an important point of discussion in today’s art world.’ Yuji Akimoto, Director of the 21st Century Museum of Modern Art Kanazawa Japan.

Tradition as a source of inspiration is a vital ingredient in the works of contemporary screen artist Maio Motoko and contemporary lacquer master Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo. Respecting the works of illustrious forbearers, each artist creates an original reinterpretation in the international context of the 21st Century. With mastery of technique, individual creativity and articulated conceptual approaches, they deconstruct and innovatively reconstruct the folding screen and the lacquer object.

Maio Motoko returns to the form of the folding screen with a radical deconstruction of the traditional formula. Her multi-screen installations of differentially sized screens and individual panels challenge the uncompromising rules of tradition while simultaneously adhering to the innate soul of the Japanese screen as a dual artwork and functional piece of interior furniture. Her radical approach is further expressed in a unique choice of controversial materials- crushed shell, dirt, sand, iron rust, found items of textual material and antique fabric, and persimmon juice. Conceptually she expresses traditional Japanese themes of the transience of life and seasonal cycles, both literal and metaphorical. Seeing these as universal to the human condition, she explores the use of mundane materials to manifest her concepts in a visual idiom that is universally interpretable and emotionally impactful.

Represented in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Maio combines the physical and metaphysical dimensions of human experience. In work that is double-sided and rendered endlessly flexible with butterfly hinges, she transforms physical and psychic space in one of those precious Zen ‘fleeting moments’.

Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo is challenged to master the astoundingly complex techniques of Japanese lacquer and create works the equal of Japan’s golden age of lacquer in the Edo Period. Unryuan has not only reinvented the collaborative studio system, but has continued intensive research and experimentation in a quest to recover lost techniques. This has culminated in the recent perfection of a new lacquer technique using minute pieces of shell in increasingly intricate designs. Recognized academically, it is appropriately named ‘Unryuan technique’.

Represented in the V&A Museum, London and LACMA, and Australia’s three leading public galleries, Unryuan identifies himself in an international context and arguably his originality is best seen in works inspired by the confluence of Eastern and Western cultures. In the tradition of earlier Nanban art (art influenced by Western culture, particularly that of the Dutch, Portuguese and Jesuits of the 16th and 17th centuries), Unryuan has created a number of works that embody cross-cultural influences. Inspired directly by the works of Carl Faberge, Unryuan is currently creating a series of decorative eggs featuring the new shell technique. The Sacred Egg featured in this exhibition is a tour de force of lacquer: A lotus bud sits atop a leaf in the kanshitsu (no wood substrate) technique. Philosophically representing the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism and the new life of the Easter Christian tradition, the work speaks to both East and West.

Featured recently in a ground-breaking exhibition at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art Kanazawa, Unryuan is at the forefront of the re-emergence of lacquer as a major force in international art.

Unryuan’s works will be complemented by a selection of significant historical lacquer works.

Asia Week New York 2013
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Lesley Kehoe