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Sally Clark
Binh Danh
Ian Everard
James Fee
Shelby Graham
Hanna Hannah
Robin Kandel
Aaron Kerner
Elyse Koren-Camarra
Keith Muscutt
Katsushige Nakahashi
Rebecca Ramos
Hideki Shiozawa
Robynn Smith
Kenji Yanobe
Kenji Yanobe

Kenji Yanobe was born in Osaka Japan in 1965, and received his MA at Kyoto City University of the Arts in 1991. While still a student Yanobe traveled to Europe to see the ‘great masterpieces.’ He returned less than impressed, not because the work failed to meet his standards, but rather that he felt that they bore no relationship to him. So he explains, “Europeans are Christian and have a different background from Japanese people,” Contemplating this difference further and citing that he had no grounding in the European or American traditions of art, he instead refers back to his childhood. He asked himself, “When I was young, what excited me? It was things like animation, like science fiction. I was really excited by this culture. I wanted to try to look for the idea of beauty in this culture.” He continues by posing another question, “Why am I so excited by the Godzilla movie?”1  The enthusiasm expressed with Godzilla illustrates Yanobe’s own interest in the Japanese catastrophic imagination, but this excitement also might say something about unfinished business: that Japan is still dealing with its catastrophic history and it is the Godzilla narrative that assists in that process. While it is not just Godzilla that captures Yanobe’s attention, but rather the whole tradition of post-atomic narratives, it is Godzilla nonetheless that is emblematic of this whole tradition. One of Yanobe’s most known works is a piece called Foot Soldier (Godzilla), which is the bottom torso of the Japanese monster. Perched above the torso is a seat from which Yanobe can operate his animatronic sculpture, and in a sense become Godzilla.

Yanobe’s acute sense of humor is matched only by his engagement with post-atomic issues. His environmental suits reflect his interest in Japanese animation, each looking as if it were a prototype for an episode of Star Blazers (known in Japan as Space-Battleship Yamato). And while there is an unmistakable sense of humor present in Yanobe’s work there is also paranoia, and an obsessive focus on the catastrophic.

Included in the Collapsing Histories exhibition is Yanobe’s Cinema in the Forest, which features a child-sized survival suit, and has become something of a trademark for Yanobe. It is the artist’s sense of humor that makes his work so appealing and curiously emotive. The playfulness that we find in his work, we might infer, is derivative of 1970s Godzilla films, which despite their campy character always attempted to deliver some social cultural message. And moreover, the playfulness of his work - the central feature is a dollhouse-like structure that only children are allowed to enter - references the significance of narratives directed towards younger audiences. That sense of excitement that Yanobe expresses when seeing a Godzilla film is yet another manner in which we perceive history even as youngsters. Narratives about the past, about politics and social issues are not reserved to the discipline of History alone, and in fact the discipline itself (i.e., as subscribing to the ‘rules of evidence’ and objectivity) is a fairly recent development. Traditionally ‘history’ has been presented in the form of genealogy, myths, plays, poetry, religious chronicles, and what Yanobe does in his work is to reveal the history in contemporary narratives. The excitement that we feel when for example watching Godzilla is recognizing even unconsciously that there is 'more to the story'; that these stories embody History not according to the ‘rules of evidence,’ but rather a visceral history. It is very fitting that Cinema in the Forest be exhibited in the context of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru Exhibtion Hall, because behind all the campy Godzilla films lurks March 1, 1954.

1. Kenji Yanobe cited in Alvin Lu, "Doom Patrol," San Francisco Guardian (March 12, 1997).

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Yanobe Cinema in the Forest