PRINT Summer 1987


Noriyuki Haraguchi’s studio on Tokyo Bay.

NORIYUKI HARAGUCHI'S STUDIO IS in Taura, an industrial section of the port of Yokosuka, near Yokohama on Tokyo Bay. Haraguchi, a leading figure in Mono-ha, a Japanese artists’ group of the decade beginning in the mid ’60s, first became known for paintings, “crudely realistic and brutally materialistic” oils, in the words of the critic Toshiaki Minemura. In the early ’70s he began to make three-dimensional objects and installations out of such materials as steel, canvas, oil, water, clay, and glass. These had a considerable sensuality, of an industrial kind, in their impact, but their materials also lent them anonymity, a playing down of emotion, in which, as Minemura again points out, they differentiated themselves from the “passionate and ethnic” elements within Mono-ha.

Haraguchi has spent most of his life in Yokosuka, and he is a longtime observer of the activities of the port and of the American naval base there. He grew up looking at the flat open space in front of the navy base with its rim of barbed wire, the crowds of workers going to and from the docks and shipbuilding yards in the mornings and evenings, the American military trucks carrying big wooden boxes and oildrums; from this period he remembers in particular the smells of oil, gasoline, the metallic smell of butter from a big military supply can. By the time he was 15 or 16 Haraguchi was sketching every day, walking the port, military, and industrial districts of the city with a thick pad of straw paper and a pencil. Warehouse walls, rusty steel doors, piles of empty oildrums, waste lumber on construction sites, oil stains on asphalt—he was fascinated with the things he called “inorganic.”

Over the past several years Haraguchi has spent a lot of his time on site-specific installations, drawings, and a kind of constructivist sculpture. The drawings, if that is the right name for these works, are done in black pastel or granular charcoal on sheets of tent canvas, some as large as 16 feet or so by 16, others as small as a square foot. Materials such as liquid metal and glue may be applied to their surfaces. They are raw and direct—unsoftened by color, unmediated by conventional pictorial elements such as foregrounds and backgrounds, unframed, just themselves. At the same time, Haraguchi has worked on sculptures, usually large constructions made of the discards of an industrial port town—rubber, iron, steel, oil-stained wood, felt. The artist thinks in terms not so much of images as of the physical actions of the body—the movements of arms and hands, the logic of piling, juxtaposing, and inverting in ways corresponding to the logic of the material. Creating drawings that are not drawings and sculptures that are not sculpted, proceeding to sculpture from the measure of his own body rather than from any notion of trying to meet a mental image or form, Haraguchi’s work is a kind of evolutionary biography.

Haraguchi’s studio is a warehouse which was formerly a grain depot for the Japanese army. As in many European and American cities, a number of artists and dealers in different parts of Japan have taken over old warehouses as studio, living, or exhibition space; Haraguchi chose this one for the neighborhood and its amenities. The studio is one of a group of warehouses and workshops still more or less engaged in their original functions. If the artist chooses, he can find all kinds of the anonymous and discarded materials he likes on the spot. Here Haraguchi can be at home.

Kazue Kobata is a contributing editor of Artforum.