Sculpting No Utopia


By Tanya Silverman

Space Jam detail. By Yo Fukui. 2009. Mixed media.

Yo Fukui’s perplexing sculptures materialize humanity’s everlasting strive towards utopia. The Tokyo-based artist maintains a clear position on the idealized society: it doesn’t exist in our world, and it never will.

When I first discovered Fukui’s art, I became drawn to its hilarity and variety. One noticeable theme is the comical ceramics where dismembered figures are attached to recognizable commodities. Another is curvy sci-fi blobs decorated by dotty felt collages.

Intrigued to learn more on their meaning, I inquired the artist.

Fukui responds firstly that his work is difficult to describe, yet still developed an elaborate and eloquent explanation. His process is multi-dimensional; he engages playful psychological exercises while replicating decorative patterns that resemble classical Japanese Jomon-style pottery. He also adheres to his aesthetic philosophy of “impractical stupidity” for its power to create fantastic situations.

The artist often thinks to the future, but doesn’t forecast a pleasant progression where all problems are solved. Rather, it’s an apocalyptic, survival-driven environment where people scramble to build their lives from the rubble.

My Future House after World War 9-10 detail. By Yo Fukui. 2007. Felt, paper, found objects, fabric, wire netting, acrylic dome hemisphere, wire mini lights.

To translate his dystopian vision into today’s material world, Fukui sculpts paper mache over bent chicken wire and found objects, then repeatedly covers layers of little rectangular felt for a “pixilated futuristic appearance.” He designs his own future house and battleship for this era. However, until these creations are utilized correctly in the tumultuous time, they look like morphing masses that blur the lines of digital and tactile.

Fukui’s take on our contemporary culture emanate more through his comical ceramics. He rejects the sense of artificial, delusional utopia we falsely create for ourselves through consumption.

“I would like to make objects that ‘do nothing’, that don’t participate in this illusion,” he states.

He therefore creates “unsociable characters” like the greedy man in Catching the Sea Horses, who has extra hands to grip as many of these innocent creatures as possible and cling on for his shambled self.

If Time is Stopped 0.00005 Second. By Yo Fukui. 2006. Clay, glaze.

Another goofy couple seems as though they’ve succeeded in attaining life’s comforts, dressed prim-and-properly as they relax over a cup of coffee. Yet, everything explodes away in just “0.00005 Second” when their eyes pop out and their heads rupture during that minuscule measurement of time.

Time is but one of the paradoxical elements seen in Fukui’s work, which he describes as simultaneously futuristic yet nostalgic, friendly yet unfriendly, cool yet disgusting.

“I am trying to change something around me,” he states, “but also I know nothing is going to change.”

All photos courtesy of Yo Fukui.