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Yuichi Higashionna at Nadiff

by Monty DiPietro

There are those who get a warm fuzzy feeling when they are reminded of the trappings of their middle-class childhood: The lace curtains over the sitting room window that wafted in the afternoon breeze; the old wooden wardrobe that sat in corner of a bedroom; the bowl of peppermints at Grandma’s.
And then there is Yuichi Higashionna.

Tokyo-born mixed-media artist Higashionna remembers these sort of things from his own quasi-Western adolescence, but the feelings they trigger are not nicely nostalgic but rather deeply disquieting. These reactions to childhood memories are the subject of the artist’s recent work, a sampling of which is now showing at the Nadiff Gallery, located just off Tokyo’s Omotesando strip in Tokyo’s fashionable Shibuya Ward.

Nadiff is a combination art book and CD shop. It hosts a half-dozen art shows each year in a small gallery located dead center in the 120 square meter space, and consistently tuned-in curating has helped this little room emerge as one of Tokyo’s most interesting contemporary art showcases. (The rest of the shop is rather nice, too, what with a wide selection of Japanese and foreign art books and a cozy café to relax in!)

This time around, what is inside the gallery stands in sharp contrast to the peaceful groove that flavors the rest of the Nadiff: Higashionna has built a surreal neon and fluorescent space that swallows the viewer in a nightmare of pink and yellow, of scrunched up silk and horrorshow dribbles. Higashionna means to take us back to his childhood, and it is a very weird ride indeed.

The rectangular room has been completely taken over by the artist. There are no "works" here as per se, but instead a paint-and-object-on-wall installation that produces an ensemble of ambience which, if it could speak, would pronounce a cacophony. The north wall is covered with tacky fake wood paneling and a green mat over which six black velvety ribbons dangle from the ceiling. The atmosphere of a prison is further suggested by the cold light from the ceiling to floor fluorescent light tubes which occupy two of the corners and a baseboard fluorescent that lies across the entranceway. The floor of the installation is a patchwork of vaguely decorative designs reminiscent of the "superflat" anime-style patterns of Takashi Murakami. The west and east walls, meanwhile, are painted shocking pink, and both have frightening-looking bleeding lace curtain paintings that look like windows on hell—an effect Higashionna achieved by affixing actual lace curtains against the wall as stencils, spraying them with black paint, them removing them.

This is a sinister space, and a dizzying op-art effect produced by the yellow and black-striped rear wall delivers the coup de grace to visitors who want out.

Higashionna built the room with a little help from curator Azumaya Takashi ("I consider myself both an artist and a curator, so I use the word ‘curatist’"). With the smell of fresh paint still lingering in the space, a rough-looking Takashi describes his concept of the installation as a "poison room, like a Nazi concentration camp except that it looks nice on the surface."

"I wanted to make something excessive," says Higashionna, who does not divulge his age. "I took my motives from my daily life, they represent the Japanese middle-class persons’ aesthetic, something sweet but something strange."

What lies beneath the surface is what interests Higashionna, an artist who made an impression at the hit 1999 Setagaya Museum show "Art/Domestic: Temperature of the Time." There, like here, the artist worked a great deal with curtains, drapes, kitchen sets, and so on.

"I grew up in a so-called middle class home and so I’m very familiar with these things, but I feel something uncomfortable about them. With this work I’d like to analyze why I feel this way."

The show is called "Hina-gata," a play on words indicating a miniature model or sample. With all that is loud and garish in the Tokyo urban environment, Higashionna manages to take the extreme to the extreme, which is no small feat.

Notes: "Hina-gata" by Yuichi Higashionna runs until Mar 27, 2000 at Nadiff (3403-8852) Pictured is an Installation View from Higa-gata, 2000 (mixed media), by Yuichi Higashionna (courtesy Nadiff and the artist)
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