By Celma Costa
Noriko Takahashi (高橋 典子) appears in front of me like a vision, emerging from behind an intricately patterned veil of washi paper, the unfurled end of an enormous scroll. I later learn it will be a focal point of her upcoming exhibition, Return to the Matrix, which will be held November 21 through 29, 2020.
From the way Noriko delicately unfolds her piece of art, I can already sense the care and sensitivity with which she expresses herself, not only visually, but also through the insightful blog posts she shares with the public occasionally. I'm optimistic that our interview will become a shared exploration into the mind and heart of the artist.
Beauty without borders
As I’m fumbling through the questions I'd written up a few days before, she beats me to the punch and begins introducing her work to me by sharing her thoughts on the role of beauty in her art:
NT: "There is this concept of animism, in which objects, places, and creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence and inherent beauty. A kind of beauty and life that is in everything and in everyone, so that between nature and human beings, there are no borders. When painting an apple, for example, I'm interested in the process of decay. As I slowly paint, I can observe the change of the skin and the way it ages. There is a kind of movement in this process wherein the object is alive, and I'm moved by the beauty of the universe in the smallest of movements."
This aliveness she speaks about is evident the way she continuously fine-tunes her own aesthetic. Takahashi's world begins as a look inside a "micro universe," a place where she explores her curiosities around the internal human world: the body parts, the DNA, eventually leading down to an indivisible point inside ourselves that is not separate from the ether of the universe.
By finding beauty in that which is decaying, she finds and connects these “points of beauty” and conceives macro-worlds that encompass her feelings and experiences.
Visually, it makes sense. Her body of work has seen changes and experimentations throughout the years, but her attention to detail, and her fondness for the slower things has become palpable through her adoption of Pointillism. Pointillism, a technique developed in 1886 after Impressionism, is still very much alive today, ubiquitous even, in the form of pixels, the constituent components of every image we view on a digtal device.
This will be Noriko Takahashi’s tenth solo exhibition, an emblematic number. As such, the show is taking place at Nakamoto Seishi Contemporary Art Museum, a museum that first hosted a solo exhibition of hers eight years ago. Return to the Matrix is a return to her inner world, and she hopes to create a space where audiences can connect not only to her work, but to themselves.
NT: "Working with washi usually takes two months, but this time, it took me seven months because of my compounding sadness."
Noriko is just like the rest of us. The ongoing pandemic has taken a toll on her usual process. She recounts the harder moments throughout the last three years, when she has had to deal with loss.
NT: "That is why this is so important to me. I want to recreate the process of being born. I think about the warmth of the womb and a mother's body. After painting the outside world, and observing all the problems that have become apparent in our society, I wish to create new life."
I leaned closer, wanting to understand a bit better what she meant by "warmth." She wasn't just talking about the overall change of themes throughout her career. If before her artwork was evocative of water and sky elements filled with different hues of blue, this time audience members can expect to enter into a world of ephemeral green and pulsating tones of red.
NT: "Working with renowned performers such as Tokiko Oyama1 has been a great source of inspiration for me and my art.
"In 2018, I built and set up a stage for a butoh dance performance, using washi to build a dome. I witnessed a special type of performance, called sumi-uchi2. It's a kind of art, in which a male performer (Koji Ogushi) and a female (Tokiko Oyama) go into a white dome and Ogushi sprinkles ink over Oyama. The audience cannot see the dancers. We (the audience) can only see the moving shadows, and hear the sounds."
"While inside, the male performer holds a brush, wet with ink. The audience watches as the strikes appear, one by one, against the delicate walls of this dome-like structure. The performance ends with the female performer emerging from within, carrying a red object which signifies childbirth."
At this point I take a breathーit’s clear that this kind of installation demands a kind of immersion from the audience that most gallery goers are not used to. And yet it is precisely this discomfort that Takahashi seeks to challenge through her work. As she writes, “I think it’s art[‘s purpose]:
to resist rationality.”
Return to the Matrix asks each of us to take an active role in how we see beauty and intimacy, and ultimately how we experience Noriko’s art.
NT: "Audiences should step inside [my world] and simply feel. The lights will be off, and you should rely on your senses as you move through the venue. I want you to imagine what it’s like to be in a mother’s womb. The feeling of comfort, of wanting to stay there forever. This is my process of giving birth to a new self."
1. A Sendai-based butoh dancer, Oyama was one of the original students of the Butoh pioneer Kazuo Ohno.
2. Sumi-uchi (墨打ち) in a dome is a performance style of sumi artist Tokiko and Koji Ogushi. They have performed this style for twenty-five years all over the world. Their performance style is an allegory of sexual intercourse.
Special thanks to Naoko Sakazume for her interpretation, fact-checking, and ability to dive into the complex world and work of the artist.
Return to the Matrix exhibition details
Dates: November 21–29, 2020
Hours: 11:00–18:00 (~16:00 Nov 29)
Closed days: Tuesdays
Location: Museo de arte contemperaneo de Seishi (中本誠司現代美術館)
Access by subway: 24-minute walk from Kita-Sendai Station
Access by bus: 1-minute walk from Kita-Sendai Junior High (北仙台中学校前) bus stop. At Sendai Station West Exit Bus Pool (仙台駅西口バスプール) platform #4, board bus bound for Niji no Oka Danchi Campground (虹の丘団地キャンプ場) via Shiyakusho・Higashi-Katsuyama (市役所・東勝山経由).