The works presented in this new exhibition by Emi Kuraya, an artist who is part of the Kaikai Kiki collective, were all painted during the pandemic. Its title, Long Vacation, refers explicitly to this period outside of time, a paradox of freedom under surveillance, where she found herself face to face with an infinite amount of time on her hands, but locked up.
The gap between the extraordinary, special moments and the uneventful daily life that goes on at home brings out the various lightness and darkness that have accumulated inside me. By depicting the past through the filter of the present, I am exploring such lightness and darkness.
The lockdown environment seems to have pushed Emi Kuraya to her limits, and her new works show that she has nevertheless managed to get out of her house, seeking to confront the unknown. Always halfway between a lucid approach and the exploration of her own unconscious, the young artist provokes an encounter with the other, whether it is premeditated or born by happenstance...
In Lovers, Kuraya portrays a couple by the seashore, painted from a photo-booth image she found on the ground, while she was going to a beach to look for a new point of view on the bay of Suruga... Photography imposed itself on her, and so, for the first time, the 26-year-old woman tried to paint a male figure. "Boys don't just represent the opposite sex for me, they are the absolute unknown. That's why I wanted to start drawing portraits of boys, something I had never dared to do before: I needed to explore this territory."
And indeed, if Emi Kuraya's favorite theme remains female figures — whether they are inspired by characters from mangas that fascinated her as a child, or simple silhouettes crossed in the street, friends or celebrities seen on TV — the young artist needed to step outside herself, to reach out to others. Therefore, Kuraya broadened her perspectives and sought to multiply the points of view on this familiar world that surrounds her, and which nevertheless conceals so many mysteries.
In Mackerel Sky, the artist depicts a young girl leaning against a railing, turning her back on the landscape. It is in fact the view from the balcony of her room at the university, which she saw so many times without seeing it. Or My Heart and the Sky, a romantic landscape with rabbit-shaped clouds in the background. Here we see the complexity and paradox that lie within Emi Kuraya's painting. She manages to sublimate the ordinary into a poetic moment, and hence retranscribes the state of weightlessness that characterizes all those moments that we go through without really living them.
The same feeling of strangeness is conveyed in Hammock: Girl and Hammock: Boy, large formats of two children in a hammock, a girl and a boy — again — painted from photographs of herself and her brother. There occurs a dizzying feeling of absence from oneself when the artist discovers this portrait of herself so intensely happy, a moment of which her memory has retained no trace. The immensity of the joy has given way to the immensity of the void. By reproducing these photographs with meticulous fidelity, Emi Kuraya has sought to find the place and memory of this moment, to plunge into her memories, to dive into the painting as if it were a window looking out into vanished time.
I was reminded that there used to be such boring and monotonous days when I saw a photo of my brother and I taken when we were children.
The picture of us in a hammock captured a special moment and it in fact made me vividly recall the long days with nothing to commemorate in photos during my not-so-merry elementary school years.
Thus, always connected to the other through the medium of drawing and painting, Kuraya multiplies her experiences. Sketches are born under her pencil in a spontaneous and organic way, like so many revelations about herself or about the other, archetypes of the process of divine inspiration.
Text by Ludovic Perrin
Born in Kanagawa, Japan
Lives and works in Kanagawa, Japan
Emi Kuraya, born in 1995, is one of the most interesting and refreshing new voices in the contemporary Japanese art panorama. A graduate of Tokyo’s Tama Art University, in spite of her young age Kuraya has already had a few high-profile solo shows, in Japan and at Perrotin Seoul in South Korea, and has been exhibited at the Hong Kong edition of Art Basel and also at Frieze New York, receiving wide acclaim for the freshness, and the deep layers of meaning that make her work so captivating. Since 2018, Kuraya has been a member of Kaikai Kiki, the art enterprise founded by Takashi Murakami.