Hanae Utamura’s work combines a raw energy with a tightly scripted conceptual basis, two forces which play out to great emotional effect. In “Red Line” (2011) Utamura repeatedly runs back and forth towards the edge of a cliff throwing red paint in the face of a strong headwind acting against her. She is attempting to draw a red line in paint to connect the top of the white cliffs of Dover to the sea below. The work combines a visual drama with a dizzying sense of futility in the face of nature. Utamura has also made some poignant work in response to the damage caused by the Tsunami in her home country of Japan.
I met up with Hanae Utamura to learn more about her practice.
Kate Neave: Your artwork can be understood instinctively and doesn’t rely on the viewer’s knowledge of artistic traditions. I wondered if this immediacy is something that motivates you?
Hanae Utamura: I wanted to create art about life in general, not just about art. I studied for my BA at Goldsmiths between 2002-4 and then went back to Japan and worked there full-time for five years. I had studied only art but my gaze was towards society and I decided that I could not say anything through my work without having my own experience of working life. In Japan there are a lot of “salary men” who work from early in the morning until midnight. These people became my focus and I wanted to make art that could reach them. I had an unconscious rule that I should not make any work during this period because my aim was to understand how these people were feeling. I think of this period as part of my artistic practice.
Kate Neave: In the same way that you understand your working life as contributing to your artistic output, a lot of the work you produce today is performative. The energy and vitality in your work suggests a comparison with action painting of Jackson Pollock and the New York school of the 1950’s. Have you thought about that connection?
Hanae Utamura: One of my first works “Splashing Water at Trafalgar Square” (2010) involved spraying water on the ground in front of the National Gallery. I always think about energy and this work was a version of action painting. I was making an impermanent version in collaboration with the visitors’ footprints. This work aimed to deconstruct authenticity because it was not created by the artist alone. It was durational and ephemeral rather than a permanent oil painting.
Kate Neave: This concept of fragility is an interesting one. The performance “Red Line” appears documented on your website as a video. Were you tempted to go back and revisit the site to see if the rain has completed the line you began making?
Hanae Utamura: The work is the action itself – it’s durational. I’m going backwards and forwards, pouring the paint against the wind. I wasn’t interested in re-photographing the site as I wanted to create a narrative without a clear ending. I’m very interested in the concept of myth. Today you can never get to the core of an issue. There are so many sources of information, in news stories spread on the internet for example, you can never know the true story. I’m also interested in Christianity and how the narratives of that religion have created art. The art object itself also has a power. That is one of my central concerns.
Kate Neave: That concern is expressed in the materials that you use in your work which have an importance in themselves. The drawings “Ground Zero”, for example, are made with ash from the wood of houses burnt in the Tsunami disaster zone. How do you approach using materials in your work?
Hanae Utamura: I’m very analytical about my process and for me it is important to have a good reason to use a particular material in the work. The material has to make sense in the context of the work itself. I get lots of ideas from the materials themselves. When I was thinking about “Red Line” I initially considered using blood, but for some reason that collapsed the possibilities of the work. Using red paint was less literal. Red was symbolic and reminded me of abstract expressionist painting. Throwing the paint and painting with the force of the nature expanded the concept of painting itself.
Kate Neave: There is a lot of interest in “expanded painting” at the moment with artists exploring how far they can stretch the boundaries of painting itself. Bringing another force into the process of painting adds a whole new dimension. From where does your interest in painting originate?
Hanae Utamura: All of my works come from my background in painting. As an artist, painting was my medium until I studied at Goldsmiths. For me, “Red Line” is making a temporal painting on earth. My works with plaster such as “Drop” (2012) are born from layers of actions, pouring plaster from the top of a wall, scraping the plaster, and lots of repetition to create an installation. I see these works as three-dimensional paintings.
More details about Hanae Utamura’s artwork and upcoming exhibitions can be found on her website at www.hanaeutamura.com.