Exploring world renewal, ‘Yonaoshi’ comes to MIRROR
‘Yonaoshi’, a solo exhibition of work by South West Showcase artist Huhtamaki Wab will open to members of the public in MIRROR at Plymouth College of Art on Saturday 18 March, with the opening drinks reception on Thursday 17 March from 5pm to 7pm. Featuring paintings, textiles, performance and sculpture, this free exhibition combines influences from Japanese mythology with concepts of ecological collapse and world renewal.
‘Yonaoshi’ comes from kanji, a Japanese writing system of symbols that represent words or ideas; ‘Yo’, meaning world or society and ‘naoshi’, meaning renewal. In Japanese mythology, the term ‘Yonaoshi’ has also been attributed to a giant catfish called the Namazu, a mythical creature of destruction which became, throughout 19th century Japanese history, both a symbol of good fortune and renewal.
Working in the context of a society facing the threat of ecological collapse, Wab explores our relationship to the ideas of world renewal throughout the exhibition, taking imagery of the Namazu from Edo woodblock prints and our relationship with the more-than-human as a starting point. Through a wide scope of techniques that inform the visual language of ‘Yonaoshi’, Wab ties seemingly disparate references, scales and locations to create a web of relations that reflects on our place in the world.
Wab said, “I’d like people to come away from the exhibition being able to rethink our place in the world as humanity. The work explores multiple ‘worldings’ to give audiences a way of situating ourselves, both locally and globally and outside of human timescales.”
“In our times, we are constantly aware of the possibilities of ecological collapse which is forcing us to consider longer timescales. This has not happened to previous generations. If we carry on thinking of the world around us as lifeless matter, we are going to carry on the same destructive course and endless extraction. ‘Yonaoshi’ explores agency within the more-than-human as a way of thinking ecologically.”
“I was really surprised and overjoyed when I heard I’d been selected for the South West Showcase. There are always going to be peaks and troughs with such a huge body of work and such a long time to work towards a show, but I’ve had some amazing experiences. Looking back on some of the ideas and variety of conversations, different techniques of making and using the college’s facilities; I’ve never worked like this before and it’s been a huge journey. There’s been a conversational nature with what I’ve been making, with things revealing themselves to me; developing this work has been great for that. There’s been some things unknown, others more decided, creating a really interesting negotiation and a sense of working in two completely different ways. It’s really exciting to think of a year’s worth of thought, conversation and experience going into this body of work.”
Wab’s practice operates within an animistic and non-anthropocentric world. Interconnected spirits and humans populate landscapes that create ecstatic realities. Heavily informed by the culture from his birthplace of Japan, depictions of yokai in ukiyo-e prints as well as contemporary representations of this heritage, for example manga culture, can be seen in his work.
Now living and working in Cornwall, Wab’s mixed heritage offers connection with themes of unbelonging and explores this often complex and difficult space through humour, play and radical ownership of semantic material within the work. Wab also looks at and reflects on personal experiences, acting not only in an critically engaged practice but also as a means for recovery and relearning. A part of this relearning is resisting and decolonising ways of looking and seeing, manifested in ways of understanding personal experiences and the way we collectively view the myriad of life-worlds around us.
Wab said of his practice, “I predominantly work with paint, but I also make with other things; textiles, performance, sculpture. I was out of the art world for a long time, I only started painting again in 2017 after going to art college years ago, so I didn’t know what I was doing. I really like that though and I still retain an element of that in my practice! I like to have a conversation with what I’m making while I’m making it.”
Huhtamaki Wab is one of two artists selected for the South West Showcase (SWS) 2022. SWS is a recurring open call platform, established in 2013, showcasing artists from across the South West region. The showcase aims to support artists working and living in the South West through a year-long programme of mentoring and support with an exhibition outcome; presenting a long-term commitment to profiling and supporting the practices of artists in this region.
The panel of artists, curators and academics who selected the two South West Showcase 2022 artists consisted of Turner prize-winning artist Helen Cammock, Zoe Watson, curator at The The Lowry (previously The Holden Gallery), artist Mohini Chandra and Rosie Mills Eckmire, Head of Learning at Turf Projects. They were joined by Plymouth College of Art academics Stephen Felmingham, Academic Dean and Stephanie Owens, Head of School of Arts + Media, as well as Hannah Rose, curator at MIRROR.
‘Yonaoshi’ runs in MIRROR at Plymouth College of Art until 11 June 2022 with the opening event on Thursday 17 March from 5pm to 7pm. MIRROR is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm and closed on Sundays. It is free to visit MIRROR.