Yuko Mohri returns to her favourite material to showcase the properties of Uniqlo’s Blocktech
When we last spoke to artist Yuko Mohri as part of our Ones to Watch project back in February, she told us about a Japanese expression, “you no bi”, which loosely translates to “the beauty of use”. It refers to the way we can elevate everyday objects through using them and it’s something with which her artistic practice has long been fascinated.
We first became aware of Yuko’s work, when we spotted her Moré Moré Tokyo (Water Leak Tokyo) project, a series of photographs created in 2009 documenting the ingenious “sculptures” that metro station staff in the city build in order to prevent leaks. Yuko was intrigued by their resourcefulness and innovative spirit, as they found everyday items – plastic bottles, buckets, umbrellas and bits of tubing – and used them to stem the flow of water down onto the platforms and tracks.
So amazed was she by this practice that Yuko began creating her own improvised water sculptures, also using quotidian objects and responding to “leaks” of her own creation. This eventually became the 2015 project, Moré Moré [Leaky]: The Falling Water Given. “I came to think that I could maybe find an unexpected creativity in a state of emergency, like a water leak,” the Kanagawa-born artist recalls.
Ever since that time, water has remained absolutely central to Yuko’s practice, a core material she returns to time and again in her installations. “It’s difficult to control, always unpredictable, beyond my expectations,” says the artist, who received a BFA from Tama Art Universityand an MFA at Tokyo University of the Arts. “It might appear at first glance to be easily controlled by humans, but it never works as expected. That’s why I see great possibilities in water; I’m interested in flux.”
It was this obsession with water that meant Yuko was the perfect creative for us to collaborate with on an open creative brief to demonstrate the unique properties of Uniqlo’s Blocktech range of water-repellent (and windproof) coats. Her initial response to the brief was one of “surprise”, she says. “I think we all have a negative impression of a situation like a water leak, but I was pleased my Moré Moré work could contribute to such a project. And in the end I came to think, I’m just going to have to try!”
As a first step, Yuko was sent some samples of Blocktech coats, which are made from a technical fabric that’s both breathable and highly water-repellent. “As soon as I received the Blocktech coats, I poured water on them,” Yuko says. “They’re totally waterproof and I said, ‘Wow.’ I was so attracted by the beauty of water drops jumping on it that I kept putting water on the coats for a long time. I was convinced I could play with this material.”
From that point onwards, Yuko followed her usual creative process, which often relies more on improvisation than painstaking plans. “For this project, I set a lot of value on spontaneity, thinking and responding in the moment to the nature of the objects, rather than following sketches,” she says.
Having said that, Yuko did send us some initial sketches right at the start of the project, which gave us a feel for how she was thinking about approaching the brief. Here’s one we particularly liked.
She first assembled a small crew to help her create and document the installation, including an assistant, cameraman, sound recorder and lighting expert. Then she fashioned a “water-leak situation in the studio”. As she was doing this, the subtle connection between her art and the broader worldwide political climate became increasingly clear to Yuko: “Creating a state of emergency by artificial means – that seems to be so similar to lots of recent societal issues at the moment.” Finally, all that was left was for her to use the Blocktech coats, and a variety of household and found objects, to control and repel the water leak.
Although similar to some of Yuko’s previous projects, this brief did conjure up a few tricky challenges and new issues. For one, she explains, she’s not used to being in front of a camera, as she rarely documents the creative process that leads to her final pieces. “I tried to work as usual, but I got quite nervous,” she says. “It was hard for me to be natural and I felt like I was sometimes ‘acting’ unnecessarily.”
She’s also less comfortable creating installations involving items of clothing, so this presented her with a new creative challenge. “I often use ordinary objects in my work, but I found it difficult to manipulate things that people wear, like jackets or wellington boots,” she explains. “I think that’s because I can’t help thinking about the human figure and motifs that relate to the human body tend to evoke something specific, whereas I always try to achieve a sense of universality in my work.”
On the other hand, this challenge did allow her to bring some of her other work to bear on this new brief. “I recently worked a lot with choreographers in the performance-art field and I have come to have a real interest in the human body,” she explains. “Through this project, I got to realise that there are many more issues for me to work on.”
After a full day in the studio, fastening umbrellas to the ceiling and positioning watering cans at just the right angle to ensure a continuous stream of water, Yuko and her small team completed the installation. But for her, the most interesting thing is always the journey, the creative process, the act of responding to water’s unstoppable flow. In the end, the structures she creates are always transient. This is something she learned very early on from the metro station staff in Tokyo, way back in 2009. “Once the water leak is stopped, these structures also vanished,” she says. “Their fragility attracted me.”
The process also answered the brief, which called for demonstrating the unique properties of Blocktech, Uniqlo’s range of coats that are armed with water-repellent and windproof technologies, while also maintaining a high level of breathability. Speaking about the technical fabric, Yuko says: “I would like viewers to see how beautifully Blocktech repels water. It repels better than my umbrella.” And she would know, having used dozens of umbrellas in her work in the past.
And what’s next for Yuko? She has already exhibited across the globe, from London to Taipei, Brisbane, Paris, Hong Kong and Havana. But the next year is going to be an exceptionally busy one, as her career continues on its upward trajectory. Over the next few months, she’ll be showing her work in a solo exhibition at Mothers tank station gallery in Dublin, at Frieze London, at the Ural Industrial Biennale in Russia, and as part of a group exhibition in Sharja in the UAE. Then in 2020, she already has two exhibitions lined up, including a solo exhibition in Oslo. Well, we did tell you she was one to watch.
As part of our Ones to Watch 2019 campaign, It’s Nice That is working with Uniqlo to explore a variety of its products through a series of original creative commissions. This piece and the accompanying videos of Yuko’s artistic process are the third instalment in the series, which will continue throughout the year. For the first piece, we asked Micaiah Carter to interpret Uniqlo’s linen range from a new perspective; and for the second, we asked Jee-ook Choi to take Uniqlo’s AIRism range as the inspiration for a series of illustrations.
Blocktech is Uniqlo’s smart range of coats armed with water-repellent and windproofing technologies. Spring showers simply bounce off this all-season wardrobe mainstay, while Blocktech is also fitted with a protective laminate film designed to shield you from winds, perfect for keeping out the cold.