Yukinori Yanagi | Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, Diriyah, Saudi Arabia

December 11, 2021 – March 11, 2022

More information on the exhibition

Yukinori Yanagi

Participating in the
Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, Diriyah, Saudi Arabia
Feeling the Stones

Curators: Philip Tinari, Wejdan Reda, Shixuan Luan, and Neil Zhang

Yukinori Yanagi addresses themes of national and international sovereignty, globalization and borders, and Japan’s imperial history. Many of his works are large-scale, site-specific installations that engage with symbols of nationalism. Yanagi’s family history has greatly informed his art: his father was a fighter pilot, and his paternal grandfather worked in border control in Japan’s former colony Manchukuo; the latter was detained for more than a decade in Siberia and China following Japan’s surrender. In his work, Yanagi investigates the continuity and diversity of Japanese identity and the country’s geopolitical standing throughout its history. His sculptures and installations probe the contested boundaries and limits of national myths and politically and ideologically constructed territories. As his tutor, the celebrated artist Vito Acconci, once stated, “He takes on the position of both victim and surveyor, and he urges his audience to assume a similar posture... of being both amused and at the same time possibly intimidated.”

Icarus Container (2021) takes the myth of Icarus as its point of departure. In the story, Icarus and his father were once confined to a labyrinth. They made wings with wax and feathers to escape, but Icarus flew too close to the sun, melting his wings and falling to his demise. Yanagi’s contemporary interpretation sees this story as a warning against overreliance on technology. Inside the large-scale, repurposed shipping containers, a seemingly straight path guides the audience. However, as the viewer continues on, the dark passageway begins to bend and turn. In the context of the Icarus metaphor, this represents an assumption of modernity’s ceaseless, linear progress. Though as the artist notes, “It is much more complicated, and we always get lost in the search for what is right.” The artwork also references a poem by the author Yukio Mishima from the epilogue of his experimental text Sun and Steel (1968). Mishima’s poem is also a reinterpretation of the myth of Icarus, reimagining the narrative as a flight in a Japanese Self-Defense Forces supersonic fighter plane. Yanagi sees this poem as intricately linked to post-war debates in Japan, as Mishima claimed that rapid economic modernization was ruining Japanese culture. Through the appropriation and deconstruction of myths, histories, and symbols, Icarus Container evokes the cultural specters of war, national identity, and technological advancement that continue to haunt us today.

About the Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale

Diriyah Biennale Foundation (DBF) presents Saudi Arabia’s first contemporary art biennale, Diriyah Contemporary Art Biennale, which opened December 11, 2021 in the JAX district of Diriyah. Featuring more than 60 acclaimed artists from Saudi Arabia and around the world, the Biennale showcases work in a wide variety of mediums, from site-specific commissions to celebrated pieces by leading contemporary artists. Serving as a platform for global dialogue and exchange, the Biennale cultivates an interactive art experience by bringing together Saudi and international artists in a celebration of contemporary culture, and an accessible and engaging platform for all.

The Biennale takes its title from the concept of “Crossing the River by Feeling the Stones,” a slogan that emerged during the 1980s as a metaphor for action at a time of social and economic transformation. The Biennale unfolds in six sections: Crossing the River, Experimental Preservation, Peripheral Thinking, Going Public, Brave New Worlds, and Concerning the Spiritual. At every turn, the exhibition creates dialogues between the rapidly evolving artistic context of Saudi Arabia and the wider world, putting work by the 27 participating Saudi artists into conversation with their international counterparts.

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