Sep 21, 2011

PROFILE | Yuken Teruya

Yuken Teruya, Notice-Forest (Burger King) Paper shopping bag, glue. 2005.

Shopping bags and toilet paper rolls may have been supplies for your second grade dinosaur diorama and cutting up a book might have been a high school art project. What do these favorite past times have in common? The Japanese artist Yuken Teruya. Japanese born, but New York resident, this artist presents an interesting concept to our current consumer culture in the most minimalistic, yet traditional way. If someone described the works of Yuken Teruya to you in words alone, you would not be in the least bit wooed. The idea of cutting out trees from shopping and fast food bags, toilet paper rolls, and even books doesn’t seem like much of an innovative one. The idea, to put it simply, is basic. Not until you see the works that he is doing and think about them as more than traditional crafts do they really come to light as art in a form so simple that it is beautiful.

Teruya’s ideas at the surface seem to be basic until the concept of art from fast food packaging and high end designer bags is really thought about. In his series, Notice-Forest, the artist cuts out a precise and detailed tree from a side of the bag itself and then places it inside of the same bag. In the work, the tree comes from the paper, oh the irony. The idea from this series touches the base of our growing consumerism as a contemporary society. Mc Donald’s, Krispy Kremes, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany’s are just a few of the brands that Teruya uses in his work. The text Creamier describes the artists’ concept extremely well: 

"In the enclosed confines of these bags from corporations that manufacture for global consumption, Teruya restores a delicate piece of the natural world. These fragile works convey the artist’s interpretation of landscape painting and the diorama, prompting recollections that paper was once a tree. The opposing forces of mass consumerism and nature cohabit within them, yet they are not mere social criticism, but lyrical expressions of survival through recycling the disposable."

I find the work of Teruya as not only visually appealing, but also easy to digest. Although he is making a strong statement about the way most of us currently live, he does it in a way that is almost appealing. He isn’t being a one of those PETA supporters that throws fake blood on people in fur coats, he’s being one that hands out a flyer at a coffee shop with a smile. There is no denying that he is being critical, but his work is so simplistic and pristine that his criticism feels like a compliment.
Yuken Teruya. Notice- Forest. 7 paper shopping bags, glue. 2005.
Yuken Teruya, You-I, You-I. Linen, coulour pigment. 2008.
Like many artists, contemporary or not, Yuken Teruya uses the irony of two concepts and places them together in his work. In You-I, You-I, the kimono made by the artist himself, employing the traditional Okinawan dyeing technique called bingata, he imprinted the history and culture of his birthplace. Okinawa is mostly known for its military activity, after being placed under American military rule after World War II it still remains the largest presence of the US in Japan. The kimono artwork made by Teruya depicts traditional Japanese trees and flowers as well as fighter planes and paratroopers. Although politics play into this piece by Teruya, he presents the US military and Japanese culture as harmonious. Just as he uses consumer products and nature within the same realms. The parallels presented by Yuken Teruya (just mentioned) are what make his work. His pieces aren’t just visually appealing, but also make statements about society and the world we live in. And the statements he makes are usually ones we don’t like to hear but somehow he presents them in the most subtle ways. While I appreciate strong work that yells it’s ideas in your face, there is something to be said for work like Teruya’s and has made me appreciate the more subdued artists as himself. His website displays all of his works as well as some of his ideas, including a Rat Race Park Project located in the subways of New York and placing lifesavers in places where water is not near, for anyone that might just need saving. Yuken Teruya has had shows displayed in the Guggenheim as well as the Ambassador’s Home in Japan, but I believe he has much more to give to the arts and the world itself.

-Amelia Navarro

Yuken Teruya. Making Corner Forest. 2008.

Sources: Various, Creamier, New York: Phaidon, 2008.


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