Noriko Yamaguchi

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Although still formally categorized as an ‘emerging artist’, Noriko Yamaguchi has created a body of work that is both critically aware of current artistic trends as well as being culturally investigative, and, true to her Japanese roots. Spread across a highly stylistic and adventurous series of installations, sculptures, performance, video and print, Yamaguchi evokes a truer sense of contemporary Japan than that of her predecessors.
Her most known series, ‘Keitai Girl’, immortalizes modern society’s obsession with technology and communication. Yamaguchi herself adds a second layer of skin, in the form of cell-phone keypads, across her body creating an almost robotic figure that encapsulate the Japanese fascination with manga, the traditional geisha, and technology. Yamaguchi uses her own body as a physical example of society’s obsessions and presents extreme juxtaposed arguments in regards to the importance of the female gaze, the digitalized world and our further disconnection from the natural state. Her performances are astutely choreographed yet remain undetermined and involve a high degree of audience participation. Although these ‘girls’ are a being of their own obsession, they also thrive on their interaction with others – quite a personable and vulnerable emotion. Yamaguchi has formulated a synthetic being that has evolved from technology yet still harbours ‘contact’ to one degree or another. Is this a sign of the times, or merely a preordained fact of our future?
The use of the female form is a fundamental part of Noriko’s practice. However, it is the use of her own body that arouses debate about current feminist theory and its place in contemporary art making today. Yamaguchi envelops the body in material; whether that is cell-phone keypads, beans, tacks, chains or peppermint gum. The desired objects crawl, sit, sleep, flash and interact with Noriko’s bodies like entities of their own – it is hypnotic, beautiful and incredibly warming to watch. Her photographs are well produced and show a high regard for the medium as a communicative tool for performance. The process of creating a second skin for herself is reminiscent of groundbreaking female artists of the 80’s, yet, it is this relationship to Japanese culture that is most surprising, and is what perhaps sets Yamaguchi apart from other practitioners producing work today. Her materials not only relate to current themes in contemporary society, they act as a haunting message of Japan’s history, pride, and even struggles, throughout years past.
The interpretations vary from piece to piece. Yamaguchi has created a mysterious persona for herself as a performer and artist. Her message is elusive yet her process is striking and provocative. The work exudes a highly charged element of sexuality yet they work only to communicate the broader idea of the body and its metamorphosis throughout history. Yamaguchi has a long career ahead of herself and it enlightening to see someone so young already creating a body of work that rivals that of her mentors.







Courtesy Art Asia Pacific magazine

Yamaguchi Noriko
Projects in the Making…

By Eric C. Shiner

Yamaguchi Noriko is Under Our Skin

Emerging Japanese artist Yamaguchi Noriko gets under our skin thanks to what covers hers. Currently in her last year of an MFA program at the Kyoto City University of the Arts, this 22-year-old artist from Kobe tackles issues as diverse as technology, mythology and feminism through bodily transformation and endurance. Yamaguchi uses her body to challenge present-day social mores by quite literally camouflaging herself with materials such as red azuki beans, golden thumbtacks and silvery cell phone keypads which become a constructed second skin that acts as a meaning-laden barrier against the world beyond. The art world in Japan has already recognized Yamaguchi as an up-and-coming talent: in 2004, she was selected by famed photographer Hosoe Eikoh as a recipient of the Panel of Judges Award at the 21st-Century Asia Design Competition award held by the Kyoto University of Art and Design and again by Morimura Yasumasa as a winner of a young artists’ competition hosted by the Osaka Contemporary Art Center.

Yamaguchi’s work is awash in sexual politics due to the extreme modifications she enacts during performances or in front of the camera. In Keitai Girl (2003), the artist dons a skin-tight body suit reminiscent of metallic fish scales that is carefully crafted from cell phone keypads. Her face painted in the traditional powdery white makeupof Butoh, Yamaguchi wears large headphones and is draped from head to toe with wires seemingly ripped from a telecommunications command center, setting her adrift and alone in the ether. The suit, thanks to its digital keypads, begs to be dialed, thus showing the vulnerable position of the artist within the grasp of any number of anonymous hands that might reach out and “touch someone.” In fact, certain guests are given the telephone number of her body suit and can dial her up from their own cell phones and engage Yamaguchi in conversation during her performances. Thanks to the widespread use of cell phones, or keitai, in Japan, Yamaguchi created this suit—a full-body prosthetic that turns her into a walking and talking cellular device—to investigate the future development of the human body and its interaction with technology.

In another series, “Ogurara Hime,” or “The Princess of Ogura” (2004), Yamaguchi covers portions of her body with red beans to visually recreate the Japanese myth of Princess Ogura who became a human garden whose body sprouted forth azuki beans. Yamaguchi uses this ancient Japanese tale as a metaphor in her visualization of the female body as a site of production on a multitude of levels. In one image, long cords of red beans sprout forth from Yamaguchi’s head and attempt to take root in the ground just below her recumbent body. Her pale white flesh and exposed breasts become fertile ground that gives rise to crops and, perhaps more likely, to male desire and sexual objectification.

With her sexually charged examinations of the human body and its potential transmutations at the hands of technology and society, Yamaguchi Noriko’s skin trade is bound to remain on the Japanese art market for some time to come.

>>Noriko Yamaguchi Official Website