“Yonaoshi” comes from kanji, a Japanese writing system of symbols that represent words or ideas. “Yo”, meaning world or society and “naoshi”, meaning renewal. In Japanese mythology the term Yonaoshi has also been attributed to a giant catfish called the Namazu that causes earthquakes.
After a devastating earthquake in 1855, woodblock prints were circulated of Edo people enacting their revenge on the Namazu. As the working classes had to rebuild the city and could charge far more for this work than previously; the elite had to stop hoarding their wealth. With this, prints started to depict images of the working classes celebrating with the Namazu. This mythical creature of destruction now became a symbol of good fortune and with Edo’s reconstruction a symbol for renewal.
At a time in which society lives with a constant threat of ecological collapse, the concept of ‘world renewal’ is increasingly present. Wab explores our relationship to the idea of world renewal throughout the exhibition, taking imagery of the Namazu from Edo woodblock prints and our relationship with the more-than-human as a starting point.
Wab’s practice explores the multi-layered nature of our contemporary imaginaries, informed by an attention to animistic and non-human presences and agency, and how this mode of being can operate in a time of ecological pressure. The clay mines of Cornwall where Wab is based as an artist, act as a signifier for our relationship to the more-than-human, our continued extraction of resources and our increasing ability to use material to shape the world to human need. Porcelain is often seen as pure and of refined human hubristic culture. Wab, however, strips it down to its materiality by giving voice to it through porcelain sound bowls and through images of The Great Treverbyn Sky Tip, created through mining waste, in his new film “Round, round, waterwheel go round”.
Wab delves into historical uses of clay, such as our first ability to collect data in cuneiform tablets (one of the earliest forms of writing on clay) to ask questions about how languages of mythology can situate themselves alongside our increasing management of the world through data systems and their languages. Wab offers an alternative, more mysterious relationship through activating the sounds of clay, healing practices, asemic writing and imagery and symbolism that resists being known or fixed.
In Wab’s paintings polyphonic creatures and voices create ecologies. Through the exhibition the different works including painting, sculpture, textiles, film and performance are orchestrated in a polyrhythmic play, inviting us to consider some of the themes explored. One way of understanding polyrhythm is mathematical, scientific and compartmentalised. Another way is through feeling and invokes a different kind of knowledge, one that works through relation, entanglement and symbiosis.
Through a wide scope of techniques that inform the visual language of “Yonaoshi”, Wab ties seemingly disparate references, scales and locations to create a web of relations that reflects on our place in this world.
Huhtamaki Wab's practice operates within an animistic and non-anthropocentric world where interconnected spirits and humans populate landscapes to create ecstatic realities. Complex entanglements between persons and landscapes create a rich ecology of non-hierarchical relations. These depictions are situated within the lineage of representations of animistic belief from his birthplace of Japan, in wide-reaching references from contemporary manga to ukiyo-e prints of the Edo period. Wab's mixed heritage offers connection with themes of unbelonging and explores this often complex and difficult space through humour, play and radical ownership of semantic material within the work. They also look and reflect upon personal experiences of hearing voices and addiction, acting not only as a critically engaged practice but also a means for recovery and relearning. A part of this relearning is resisting and decolonising ways of looking and seeing, manifest in ways of understanding these personal experiences and the way we collectively view the myriad of life-worlds around us.
Huhtamaki Wab was born in Tokyo, Japan, 1984, Lives and works in Cornwall, UK
Huhtamaki Wab is one of two artists selected for The South West Showcase 2022. SWS is a recurring open call platform (est. 2013), showcasing artists from across the South West region. The showcase aims to support artists working and living in the South West through a year-long programme of mentoring and support with an exhibition outcome; presenting a long-term commitment to profiling and supporting the practises of artists in this region.