Ever since Takashi Murakami created waves in the international art scene with his postmodern Superflat movement, a thriving contemporary art scene has sprouted in Japan. The last two decades have seen a boom of young visionary artists building up a richly diverse art scene and producing highly sought after Japanese artworks.


Takashi Murakami

Nowadays, Japanese art has evolved into an eclectic mishmash of creative streams coming together. Highly reflective of modern society, its interdisciplinary art scene is hugely relevant in many contexts, allowing it to grow into what it has become today. Japanese contemporary and urban artists have borrowed influences from traditional Japanese art, pop culture, anime, Western culture and eroticism to produce a range of sensibilities; from performative and theatrical, to pure and innocent, provocative and wild.


Flower Matango, 2001-2006 | Flowers Blooming in the World and Land of Nirvana, 2013 |
© Takashi Murakami

This new generation of Japanese artists have overhauled orthodox practices, injecting experimental vigour into their styles and methodologies, influencing contemporary art globally. We take a look at two very different artists who are part of this revolutionary passage; one an early pioneer, and the other an emerging artist.


Infinite Energy I, II, III, 2013 | © Mariko Mori

Starting out in the 90’s, internationally renowned visual artist Mariko Mori creates works of juxtaposition through photographic and video-graphic mediums and multimedia installations, centering around philosophical questions about our relationship with life and the universe. Mori herself appears in all her photographic and video-graphic pieces.  Over the years, Mori’s art has provided a synthesis of divergent concepts. Her work surrounds the duality between Eastern philosophy and Western culture, reality and utopia, nature and technology, pop culture and traditional Japanese identity, science and religion.


Play With Me, 1994 | © Mariko Mori


Play With Me, 1994 | © Mariko Mori

Play With Me (1994) depicts Mori dressed as a sexualised cyborg posing in normal, everyday settings. The imagery of this piece may remind some of Blade Runner’s neo-noir cinematographic style (though this is probably an unintended reference).

Empty Dream, 1995 | © Mariko Mori

Like much of her earlier work, Empty Dream (1995) takes a dig at consumerist culture. Mori inserts herself into the photo costumed as a mermaid. The main message here is in the setting, taken at a Japanese indoor theme park -the largest in the world- with an artificial beach. One quote sums it up, “hybrid world, hybrid creature; made for each other” (Cotter, The New York Times, 1999).


Wave UFO, 1999-2002 | © Mariko Mori


Inside the interior of Wave UFO

Minimalist and futuristic in her style, Mori’s conceptual artworks are thought-provokingly sensitive to the viewer, or rather the ‘experiencer’. Her first internationally acclaimed piece, Wave UFO (1999-2002) engages three individuals at a time, who step into its teardrop-shaped sphere to experience a light show based on projections of their brainwaves, followed by a Mori-created graphic animation (The Culture Trip, 2016). Over the years, Mori’s artistic endeavors have become more richly developed and well-bodied, with more recent artworks exploring global issues that transcend personal and public levels.


Primal Rhythms, 2011 | © Mariko Mori


Primal Rhythms, 2011 | © Mariko Mori

In 2010, Mariko founded Faou Foundation as a non-profit organisation to educate and promote to Earth-consciousness by dedicating a “series of harmonious, site-specific permanent art installations to honor the nature of six continents” (Sean Kelly, n.d.). Primal Rhythms (2011) was Faou Foundation’s first installation, and is located in the Continent of Asia, specifically in Miyako Island of Okinawa in Japan. It involves a 3 metre Plexiglas column as a sun pillar and a 3 metre floating Moon Stone equipped with LED lights.  The next installation is set to be in the Continent of South America in Resende, Brazil. The permanent installation, Ring, is to be placed over a waterfall in Visconde Maua this year (2016). These permanent installations are specifically intended to encourage people to get in touch with nature, and for viewers to understand that they are part of nature too (Contemporary Art, 2011).


Flesh Love Returns | Marijntje & Jaap | Eike & Melanie | © Photographer Hal

Professionally, he is Photographer Hal, as in reference to A Space Oddessey‘s HAL, to take photos in a purely mechanical fashion (minus the murder component). Personally, he is Haruhiko Kawaguchi. The Tokyo-native explores the theme of love and mutuality in his Flesh Love Zatsuran series which began in 2009. In his photography, Hal attempts to physically capture the wish to melt into your lover when you embrace them.


Couple Jam | © Photographer Hal


Couple Jam | © Photographer Hal

Initially photographing couples in small and cramped spaces, Photographer Hal’s series escalated with intensity to the point where he photographs couples in vacuum sealed bags. All the couples who model for him are strangers he meets anywhere and everywhere, including bars and clubs.

“The couples seem to come together, to “stick” until they reach the limit. I’m seeking the possibility that they can stick more. To transcend togetherness.” – Photographer Hal, VICE, 2015


Flesh Love | © Photographer Hal


Flesh Love | © Photographer Hal

Over 400 couples have participated in his series. In the vacuum packs, couples can only last up to 10 secondsHowever, Photographer Hal ensures their safety by doing the shoots in less time than this -allowing for only 2 shutter presses per take- and with an assistant to help open the bag, as well as being equipped with oxygen sprays. The shooting itself continues over several takes, where the vacuum seal becomes stronger each time, allowing a communication between couples bodies taking shape, positioning themselves closer and closer as one.


Zatsuran | Hanako & Tomohiro | © Photographer Hal


Flesh Love | © Photographer Hal

Whilst Flesh Love only features couples with or without clothes, Zatsuran features couples with their favourite and essential daily belongings in the vacuum packs. Hal keeps it metaphorically simple; the intention here is to depict couples and their necessities for life condensed and harmonised in the packs, like how an embryo requires nutrients in the amniotic fluid to sustain itself (Photographer Hal, 2016).


Zatsuran | Nic & Motoko | Yayoi & Koichi | © Photographer Hal

To respect and depict who they honestly are, Photographer Hal’s subjects choose how they are photographed. Some bring their own costumes and clothes, whilst others opt to go nude -it all depends on personal preference, none of which are dictated by Kawaguchi himself. His work symbolises something so universal and essentially human -love, intimacy and communication- which is what makes Photographer Hal’s photography simply beautiful.


Zatsuran | Hayaki & Natsuki | © Photographer Hal


Zatsuran | © Photographer Hal

Written by Alice Pearce

Edited by Christina Wright

Wide Walls (2016). Famous Japanese Artists – 10 Young Contemporary Art Talents [Online] Available at: http://www.widewalls.ch/10-japanese-artists-under-50/

The Culture Trip (2016). 10 Japanese Contemporary Artists who are Revolutionising Art [Online] Available at: http://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/10-japanese-contemporary-artists-who-are-revolutionising-art/

Sean Kelly New York (n.d.). Mariko Mori Biography [Online] Available at: http://www.skny.com/artists/mariko-mori

Contemporary Art (2011). Mariko Mori [Online] Available at: http://www.marthagarzon.com/contemporary_art/2011/08/mariko-mori-cybergeishas-technonolgy/

Holland Cotter (1999). ART REVIEW: Drawing on a Rich Lode of Shinto-Buddhist Culture. [Online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1999/04/16/arts/art-review-drawing-on-a-rich-lode-of-shinto-buddhist-culture.html?pagewanted=all

Vice (2015). The Artist who puts Couples in Vacuum Packs. [Online] Available at: http://www.vice.com/read/haruhiko-kawaguchi-vacuum-seals-couples-in-plastic-bags-for-art

Photographer Hal (2016). Statement Zaturan. [Online] Available at: http://www.photographerhal.com/zatsu.html