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“Kenji Yanobe : Sun Child, Taro’s Children” at Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum

"Sun Child", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

“Sun Child”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

The first thing that caught my eyes, as I approached the?museum,?was a gigantic 6.2-meter-tall statue of a child wearing a yellow hazmat suit. This is the “Sun Child”, a brand new work by Kenji Yanobe, triggered by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl, following the March 11 Tohoku earthquake.

The Geiger counter set into the Sun Child’s chestplate indicates “zero” and his helmet is in his hands. We find that he survived successfully through hardships. His face is dirty in some spots and sticking plaster is applied on his cheek, and yet his bright eyes give us a feeling of “hope”. A neon sun shines for us who will go on living toward the future.

2011 is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Taro Okamoto, who greatly influenced Yanobe’s life as an artist. In celebration of Okamoto’s centenary, several exhibitions have been held in Japan this past year. The last one is this one, “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”. Collaborating with Okamoto’s work, Yanobe presents a novel and exciting view before our eyes.

exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

In what was once Okamoto’s living room,? a life-size figure of Yanobe stands next to that of Okamoto. The room is littered with a number of “Mini Torayans”. Geiger-counters set into “Mini Torayans” show various numbers such as “057”, “346”, “489”… Is this space contaminated with radiation? You can also see a ventriloquist dummy version of “Torayan” in the corner and cats wearing space helmets. What a chaotic and crazy sight to see!

Danger of nuclear power is a long-term theme for the artist. The origin of the yellow hazmat suit is the “Yellow Suit” (1991) made soon after the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant Accident, which occurred in 1991 in Western Japan. In 1997, he visited Chernobyl actually dressed in the “Atom Suit” (1997). Since then, yellow hazmat suits have been an icon of the artist.

exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

Like Kuya Shonin, a Japanese monk popularly known for spreading Pureland Buddhism without discrimination of rank, the life-size figure of the artist is spewing out small clones of himself from his mouth.

"Mini Torayan", exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

“Mini Torayan”, exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

"Mini Torayan", exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

“Mini Torayan”, exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

"Mini Torayan", exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

“Mini Torayan”, exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

When I went upstairs of the museum, there was a large concept board titled “Sun Child Island” on the wall.

concept board of "Sun Child Island", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

concept board of “Sun Child Island”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

“Sun Child Island” is a progressing plan for a magnificent cathedral, where people who worship the “true sun” can get married. All over the island is Yanobe’s art work.

In one part of the concept board, you can see the “Turtle Island- THUMP!”, presented in the past as a part of the picture book “Torayan’s Great Adventure” (2007).

detail: concept board of "Sun Child Island", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

detail: concept board of “Sun Child Island”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

detail: concept board of "Sun Child Island", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

detail: concept board of “Sun Child Island”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

Here, too! “Torayan Picking Up the Small Sun”.
You can get a lithograph version of these works below. Check out the “Related Works” section.

concept model of "Sun Child Island", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

concept model of “Sun Child Island”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

The view of “Sun Child Island” reminds us of Mont Saint-Michael, the beautiful World Heritage in France.
Far away on the horizon, a big sun is symbolically shining above the center of the island.
Like Moses’s Miracle in the Old Testament, when a couple comes and pledges their future together, the lake splits and a road appears that leads to the inside of the island.

concept model of "Sun Child Island", at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

concept model of “Sun Child Island”, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

Inside the island, couples are led by a small sun to the inner cathedral, where a big marble statue of the “Sun Child” stands, and then the small sun becomes the big sun, exposed to the light gleaming from the ceiling. Under that sun, couples swear eternal happiness.

Yanobe says, “We may have created a wrong cathedral for the fake sun”. Here, he means nuclear power plants by the “wrong cathedral” and nuclear power by the “fake sun”. Human beings have worshiped the “true sun” since ancient times. He believes that we need to regain the “true sun” for our future, not the fake one of nuclear power. This is why he’s working on this architectural plan.

Kenji Yanobe working over "Sun Child", exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

Kenji Yanobe working over “Sun Child”, exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

documentary film "Sun Child, Child of Taro", exhibition view of "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

documentary film “Sun Child, Child of Taro”, exhibition view of “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

Along with the “Sun Child Island”, you can watch several documentary films sitting on chairs designed by Taro Okamoto. Among them is “Sun Child, Taro’s Children”, in which you can see how the “Sun Child” was created.

Portrait of Taro Okamoto, at exhibition "Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro's Children"

Portrait of Taro Okamoto, at exhibition “Kenji Yanobe: Sun Child, Taro’s Children”

text by Yoshiko Anetai

 

Exhibition Info
Date: 28 October, 2011 – 26 Februrary, 2012
Place: The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum, Tokyo
Address: 6-1-19 Minami Aoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan