MAstars 2010: Hanae Utamura, MA Fine Art

MAstars 2010: Hanae Utamura, MA Fine Art A Green Tree with Cherry Blossom Petals, 2010. Performance. Credit Hanae Utamura

Monika Bobinska selects Hanae Utamura from Chelsea College of Art & Design for MAstars

For her MA show, Hanae Utamura has presented a series of performances documented in film.

Within the work, there is a subtly layered engagement with a range of political and philosophical questions, from climate change and sexual oppression to issues of culture and identity.

In a group of short videos entitled 'Secret Performance series', the artist carries out a number of actions in public such as attempting to cast a wave from the ocean, scrubbing the edge of a salt lake, sweeping the Sahara desert or splashing water on the pavements of a London landmark.

The figure of the artist, dressed in black, is deliberately tiny and anonymous against her chosen 'stage sets', be they the vast Sahara or the hustle and bustle of Trafalgar Square. Her actions position her variously as observer, director, protagonist or witness.

The activities themselves suggest a range of associations – sweeping, scrubbing, pouring water is meditative, a repetitive quasi-religious ritual. There is a sense of the surreal, or an old joke being played out about the pointlessness of attempting to purify what is already intrinsically pure or trying, like Canute, to stop the unstoppable tide of the sea. But there is also a suggestion of a more serious point being made about the dangers inherent in humanity’s agenda to outwit and dominate nature.

In 'A Green Tree with Cherry Blossom Petals' (2010), the artist secretly deposits a carpet of cherry blossoms under a tree in Hampstead, documenting the visitors' reactions of delight and confusion when they encounter this unnatural, inexplicable and genetically modified phenomenon.

Utamura has written that her interventions are always a response to the site, and never planned. She observes the interactions of individuals, society and cultures: 'Sometimes putting her life at risk in politically charged sites, the work exposes a negotiation of life in nature and how nature survives in its own system'.

In the film 'Gift' (2010), the artist documents what happens after she has placed a bunch of white flowers outside every prostitute's shop window in a pedestrianised street in a Dutch red light district. The immobile camera records a memorable moment when a man picks up the flowers and hands them to a prostitute, and another when a women walks down the street, kicking the bunches of flowers out of her way as she goes. There is something disturbing about this 'ordinary' daytime scene: the artist has created a kind of stage set, and allowed the public to become unknowing, yet fully conscious and responsible, actors in her open-ended yet searching moral scenario.

The basis of all Utamura's work is the concept of the 'secret performance'. These performances are always executed without permission being sought or given, without rehearsal and without announcement.

Selected by Monika Bobinska
Published November, 2010

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