The Exposed Organs

Akihiko Hirano, Curator, Iwaki City Art Museum

In her works, Yoko Nishinarita utilizes a wide-range of unwanted daily articles and miscellaneous goods. (For instance, for the works in this exhibition, she has adopted such items as curtains, a quilt cover used for a foot warmer, cardboard, newspaper, rubber hoses, electric wire cord, a briefcase, and a Daruma doll.) Furthermore, she uses worn-out clothing items, such as sweaters, trousers, blouses, jackets, vests, underwear, stockings and socks, as well as battered leather shoes, high heels, boots and rubber boots.
From the perspective of art history, Nishinarita’s works, created from diverse consumer goods that have become unwanted items, might be regarded as a type of Junk Art. (Note) But it would be difficult to find meaning in defining her works from societal attributes such as “disposable waste” or “consumer goods,” concepts that the above-stated articles have in common. This is because her works do not imply any satirical or critical spirit toward our consumption society. And above all, it is hard to think that
Nishinarita takes interest in discarded, daily consumer products themselves.
Then why does she utilize the forementioned articles in her works? I would like to discuss the reasons behind this, through closely examining the word “memory,” which is used in almost all the titles of her works exhibited up until today.

Our bodies are in a close relationship with the consumer goods we use in our daily lives, because they always exist around us. And among them, clothes and shoes are extreme physical existences from the perspective that they directly touch our bodies and limbs. The smooth, pleasant touch of a silk blouse, or the sore skin caused by the friction of wearing brand new leather shoes or high heels — such images arise from a tactile sensory memory perceived via cutaneous sensation. Thus, it can be surmised that coming in contact with those articles allowed Nishinarita to perceive fragmental memories that originated from various sensory organs of her body.
Everyday consumer goods gradually deteriorate through the passage of time and steady use, while also eventually losing their value and utility as commodities. The use of the term “deterioration” is applied based on the sense of value in our consumer society. Such a state of deterioration allows consumer goods to cast off the homogenized and symbolized images that have been applied to commodities. They are then transformed into “things,” each of which contains its own unique passage of time. Based on this interpretation, the traces of the time embedded in a “thing” would allow one to recall the physical relationships between “the thing and its passage of time” or “the thing and the person,” seen as the indications of a memory given to “the thing.” Those traces of time are manifested in such images as faded colors, frays, and rifts in clothes that are found in jackets and sweaters, or also as scratches in leather shoes and high heels.
In other words, if we were to interpret her works from the perspective of “memory,” we would understand that Nishinarita does not consider articles used in everyday life to be art materials that are categorized under “disposable waste” or “consumer goods.” Rather, she regards them as “things” that have been ingrained with the traces of time and memories involving her own body or those of others, through the passage of time and the relationships between “things” and people. Such articles stimulate her visceral sensation, seen as the most primeval and fundamental sensory organ out of our various physical sensations. She perceives this via the physiological response caused by directly coming in contact with the articles that had begun revealing their appearances as “things.” And that sensation she feels likely extends to the depths of the primordial memories related to the body.

The exhibition title Forest of Memory derives from the group of works Nishinarita created with the core idea of an exhibit space “forested with memories.” Her relationships with these works are highly personal, for they were realized through her relying on the primordial memory of her own body. The works were generated at the extreme level of her personal relationships with “things.” They consist of many grotesque objects that stand erect as life-size human forms, with their skin stripped off and the organs exposed. Thus, they derived from her emotional and chaotic memories connected with her own life/being, and which were ingrained in the unconscious, that is—in the inner depths of her body.
Among those works, a particularly symbolic one that should be noted is Field of Memory 2011–UFU. This work is more likely to resonate for women, especially those who have given birth, for it is within women’s genitalia that primordial memories of the body concerning life and death dwell in. For this organ brings new lives into this world via the otherworldly microcosm of the human body.
For the reasons I have referred to in this essay, Yoko Nishinarita persistently exposes images of the organs in this world. That is to say, as an inevitable result of memories that have been ingrained within her own body, she exposes these organs (that is, the internal body) with their entire surfaces covered with poisonous red, which remind the viewer of bloody flesh. In addition, she also exposes women’s genitalia that possess huge holes, which conceal the primeval strength of the reproductive organ that connects this world with the otherworld.

“Assemblage” (French, meaning a work produced with gathered materials) tends to be applied to Nishinarita’s works, for she creates them through the act of gathering items. However, the term “gathering” does not quite describe the extent to which she intertwines and interconnects a myriad of articles through manual work. As with her other works, she creates and exhibits these life-size objects by adopting a great many materials, such as an enormous amount of clothes, daily articles and miscellaneous goods. She binds and sews these materials using wire, thread, string and rope, as well as pasting them with glue and a gloss medium. Due to these processes, Nishinarita’s works can be seen as “fiber works,” in which she merges a variety of articles through relying on the sense of her hands. Furthermore, her expression can also be interpreted as a type of “soft sculpture,” from the perspective that she adopts materials that have plasticity.