Yuko Mohri: Confronting Nature’s Errors

Installation View of Voluta by Yuko Mohri.
Yuko Mohri, Voluta (detail – wire and lens), 2017.
Peter Fraser’s Mathematics (Installation view) at Camden Arts Centre 2018.
Oni-bi, Yuko Mohri, 2013-2017.
Asia Society

The Camden Arts Centre, a Grade 1 listed Victorian building on London’s Finchley Road (closest underground station is Swiss Cottage), has been gathering scale and momentum since the 1960s, and particulary since the directorship of Jenny Lomax in the 1990s, and its last refurbishment and redesign which was completed in 2004. Japanese artist Yuko Mohri’s two month residency at the centre came about through her winning of the Nissan Art Award’s Grand Prix in 2015 – thanks to the Camden Arts Centre’s partnership with Arts Initiative Tokyo, the residence was part of the prize. With high ceilings, wide parquet floors and period detail, this is a building whose limitations make it special – listed status means no humidity control, no air conditioning, no thick glass, no vacuum insulating the artist from the outside.  Two months of working here is to embrace history and inhale London itself.

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of the artist

Installation View of Voluta by Yuko Mohri.


Programme Curator, Gina Buenfeld remembers Yuko Mohri as being “highly attuned to her surroundings… interested in the immaterial, the invisible, the transient.” The fruits of an artist who engages with the transient are fully displayed here.

The Voluta exhibition splits into two rooms, the first airy, light, spacious, sheltering the largest installation, entitled Flutter, a second installation, called Voluta, and one of two framed untitled works. In the hallway outside these two rooms is the first of Yuko Mohri’s untitled works – this silkscreen, depicting ionic columns and sea shells hints at themes of sacred geometry, the force of the spiral, and the eternal and unseen energies that surround us.

Flutter incorporates 25 separate materials: at one end, light sensors attuned to the movements of fish control the spectral peddling of a 1934 Yamaha reed organ. In a fragile, sinewy chain, compass needles, a spoon and a Cuban bell open and close circuits which eventually operate blinds. In Voluta, sound is pumped through coiled wires with magnetic results, a concert of wired electricity and concrete gravity to tweak spindly thread.


Yuko Mohri, Voluta (detail – wire and lens), 2017.


Staff at the Arts Centre note that most people spend around 20 minutes in this room. To do so is to unconsciously open oneself to the immersion of transience. Traffic throbs as wind gusts through the open windows; as the clouds break, sunlight streams through and strikes the mirrored surfaces on the herringbone parquet; the organ hums in ghostly, tuneless variance, the bell chimes as the crackling blinds open; metallic spheres tinkle against the wood, whilst magnets palpitate against the glass. All life is here.

The second room is darkened, and is the forum for Oni-bi (fen fire). This beautiful work harmonizes fans at one end of the room with a gentle metallophone at the other. The attendant sparks and chimes are remiscent both of fireflies and of temple bells, an other-worldiness which emphasizes the spirituality of Yuko Mohri’s works.  In both rooms, chain reactions are logical but unpredictable, technical yet organic. The injection of electricity and magnetism serves not to underline mankind’s intrusion into the ineffability of the universe, but to mimic the universe’s own forces, the slender fragility of each outcome underscoring the tenuous threads of our science and understanding.

Shown simultaneously with Voluta is Peter Fraser’s Mathematics. Like Yuko Mohri, who includes tributes to John Cage and to Marcel Duchamp in her exhibition, Peter Fraser openly discusses his primary influences; these are mathematical first and foremost; Artistotle, Pythagoras, Galileo, who said: “The world is a beautiful book, written in the language of mathematics.” His two rooms of colour photographs of everday situations give life to Max Tegmark’s belief that the universe is a physical expression of mathematics. There is visual sympathy with Yuko Mohri’s work in the appearance of seashells, but more thematically, in their shared quest to unearth the hidden codes, formulas and energies which bring about what we might simply see as beauty.

We interviewed Yuko Mohri about Voluta and her experience at the Camden Arts Centre.


Peter Fraser’s Mathematics (Installation view) at Camden Arts Centre 2018.


What impact did your residence in Camden have on your art in general and on the creation of Voluta?

I stayed at Camden two years ago, I still remember that I was so impressed by the architecture. The artist’s studio, appearing at first glance to be empty, was actually full of elements, such as a high ceiling, a spiral stairs, a Victorian-style bay window, or invisible things like natural lights and winds coming through the window. And I am inspired by the space of gallery 3 where I exhibit now: it has a lot of historical features of the architecture, unlike the gallery 1 or 2, which are rather oriented for a basic white cube space. I am rather intrigued by a rain leaking, a dew condensation, draughts, or an exhibition room being occupied by cows (really happened in India)…In Japanese, we often use a concept of time, like Suki (Openness) or Manuke (out of tempo, a state in which something necessary is lacking), as a metaphor to express architectural features.

I like these Suki and Manuke blemishes found in any architecture, things all architects probably want to hide. Any white cube contains a “nature” that can not be hidden. I like amplifying this “nature” in my work. The nature, for me, is error, improvisation and feedback. The high ceiling of Camden Arts Centre is my favourite. I realized during my residency program in the Centre, the reverberation of sound lasts a long time in the space. I decided to use the organ so as to make use of this architectural feature.


What connects your new Voluta series to Oni-bi?

The exhibited works, especially Flutter and Oni-bi, play instruments through invisible materials. Both are developed from a series of work that I started to make, when I inherited a hand-made instrument of a composer-organist who passed away. I cleaned and fixed his instrument which was completely broken at that time, and I added a function of automatic performance system playing through a solenoid. Then it was reborn as a new work which generates sounds varying from different elements (lights, movements…) in a space. That means it creates music without human existence. He – the composer – is absent in any case. Oni-bi, in East-Asia, is said to be the appearance of the soul of dead people appearing as fire.


Oni-bi, Yuko Mohri, 2013-2017.


Is there any psychological link between this show and your More More/Leaky Situations project?

More More is another project and it is made from another context. Using different objects, the installation showcased improvised ways to react to leaky situations, which we often encounter at station yards in Tokyo. However, I can say that it is in a way related with error, improvisation and feedback, that I mentioned earlier.

Furthermore, the title of this exhibition, Voluta, evokes a movement of energy in circle. In my show, a circle-shaped object such as a coil, generates invisible energy. It influences electric circuits, animating space in a circle, before finally creating a situation like an ecosystem. I think this circular system can also be found in More More.


What writers or philosophers particularly inspire you?

Heraclitus, Epicurus, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Georges Didi-Huberman, Daisetsu Suzuki, Fujio Akatsuka.



About the artist

Yuko Mohri (b. 1980, Kanagawa, Japan) is an artist whose installations detect invisible and intangible forces such as magnetism, gravity and light. In 2015, Mohri received a grant from the Asian Cultural Council for a residency in New York. She has participated in a number of exhibitions both in Japan and abroad, including the 14th Biennale de Lyon 2017 (France), Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016 (India) and the Yokohama Triennale 2014. Mohri is the Grand Prix winner of the Nissan Art Award 2015 and is also the recipient of Culture and Future Prize at the 65th Kanagawa Cultural Award in 2016 and the New Artist Award at the 67th Japanese Ministry of Education Award for Fine Arts in 2017.


1) Enfance: Encore un jour banane pour le poisson-rêve [group]
Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France
22 June – 9 September, 2018
Curation: Sandra Adam-Couralet and Yoann Gourmel


2) Sensory Agents [group]
Govett-Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand
4 August – 18 November, 2018
Curation: Sarah Wall
Artists: Len Lye, Yuko Mohri (JP), Sergei Tcherepnin (US) and Danae Valenza (AU)


3) Same as it Ever was [solo]
Project Fulfill Art Space, Taipei, Taiwan
29 September – 3 November, 2018


4) Assume That There is Friction and Resistance [solo]
Towada Art Center, Aomori, Japan
2 November, 2018 – 24 March, 2019
Curation: Kodama Kanazawa


5) The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT9) [group]
Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA), Brisbane, Australia
24 November, 2018 – 28 April, 2019




Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.



Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply