Leading Japanese contemporary artist Yukinori Yanagi uses national symbols to question the politics and ideology of contemporary Japan. In the past Yanagi has used live ants, neon lights and plastic toys to create his work. The central work of this exhibition is the Chrysanthemum carpet (1994) - a huge red carpet embossed in the centre with a chrysanthemum crest, emblem of the imperial family. Here, however, the petals of the chrysanthemum are scattered over the carpet and labelled 'loves me, loves me not', as if plucked off by an insecure lover. The script is written in each of the languages of the countries that were once to be included in the 'Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere', the intended empire of Japan's wartime leaders.
Printed on the underside of the carpet, hidden unless the carpet is turned over, are the articles of the 1947 Japanese constitution that guarantee freedom of expression. In this work Yanagi not only questions the emperor system and its relationship to Japanese nationalism, but also raises the issue of individual responsibility. For the carpet resembles a giant Japanese passport and hints at the burden of history carried by the passport-bearing citizen as a representative of his/her nation.
The themes of nationalism and cultural identity are further explored in Hinomaru, a series of lithographs playing with the chrysanthemum motif and another potent symbol of military aggression, the rising sun of the Japanese flag. A photographic work dealing with the Emperor Hirohito's renunciation of his imperial divinity at the end of World War II is a final critique of the shadows cast by Japan's militaristic past.
The works are on loan from the National Gallery of Australia and will be accompanied by a complementary display of Japanese prints, both traditional and modern from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
This exhibition is part of a rich program of Japanese exhibitions planned for the 2006 Australia-Japan Year of Exchange. Already showing in the main Asian gallery is an exhibition of exquisite traditional lacquer works by contemporary master Kitamura Tatsuo (art name Unryuan). Yet to come is Zen Mind Zen Brush, a spectacular collection of Zen ink painting from the outstanding Gitter-Yelen collection, due to open in mid-June.
Yukinori Yanagi - Chrysanthemum Carpet/Hinomaru