File Note 111: Yuko Mohri - Camden Art Centre

Essay by Sam Belinfante



Letting it go as it will Images References Quote Biography Credits

Letting it go as it will

Moré Moré (Leaky) is the title of an installation by the artist Yuko Mohri, but as a phrase it is also a useful way into thinking about her work and its effects. I mean way in quite literally, as Mohri’s installations demand movement, and the kinetic energy of her works is curiously paralleled in the focused meandering of their audience. 

To describe works of art as ‘boundary breaking’ or ‘boundary crossing’ has become a bit of a cliché, but it is impossible to engage with Mohri’s work without thinking about boundaries and liminality: thresholds between media, between disciplines and between languages. Moreover, the anthropomorphic nature of many of these works means that the boundaries between our bodies and theirs are not so easily discernible. At times these articulated forms reach out and gesticulate; they are both poised and balletic in nature. These arrangements are as much a choreography of objects as they are an orchestration or sculptural assembly. 

As ‘articulate’ objects these constructions speak to us. They voice both as individuals and as a choral grouping. Through each of her constructions Mohri has developed a unique lexicon of materials and the work undoubtedly clatters and gabbles in its own confused and, at times, unintelligible language. The work is not self-consciously impenetrable however, but generously discursive and conversational.

In dialogue with Mohri it is clear how interested she is in language; in slippages of sense and meaning, of linguistic elucidation and obfuscation. Her objects speak with and in tongues; not only in Mohri’s mother tongue – Japanese – but in mixed hybrid languages and at times in their own unique babble. The flailing wires and appendages that hinge on Mohri’s work (that the work hinges on) are constantly vocalising and the nature of these sounds is extremely indeterminate. But above all, the persistent din – the buzz – of Mohri’s installations functions to expose the slippery and leaky nature of both language and meaning. 

Though there is an evocatively clumsy quality to her work, the rhythm of Mohri’s work is an inventive and musical one, not merely a dumb and awkward expression. It would be easy to draw parallels with the work of Jean Tinguely and present the works as quasi-nihilistic, auto-destructive mechanisms. To me however, the humming of these machines is the result of a special kind of thinking; the whirring of the cogs of thought. 

Mohri’s work is striking in its ripple and flow of material and ideas, and the dynamics of her pieces function to constantly remind us of their machinations. The tick-tock of some of the works is reminiscent of orreries; mechanised solar systems that gracefully wind in perpetual orbit. Like the orrery and other clockwork contraptions, Mohri’s work demands us to consider the passing of time, or to be more specific, the effects of time’s passing. Beyond their obvious temporality however, the works are also full of poetic references to time; to the music in the movement of things and to time’s relentlessness and untameableness.

Like boulders sitting in a stream, all things are inevitably shaped and propelled by time. This is paralleled beautifully in the ways that Mohri mobilises her audience. Similarly, the fineness and fragility of Mohri’s objects remind us of their ongoing and inevitable entropy. There is a Zen quality to thinking and working in these ways. I can’t help but be reminded of the ancient Buddhist proverb nichi nichi kore ko jitsu [every day is a good day], which was a favourite saying of the pre-eminent composer and thinker John Cage. This paradoxical statement encourages us to accept the chaos of the world and to see the beauty within all the chaos. For Cage as well, this statement connected to his interest in chance as a way of emptying his ego from his work, and for things to take on a life of their own. In Mohri’s work however, the use of chance is augmented through a love, taste and instinct for materials. 

In talking about Mohri’s work and its connection to music and performance we must be careful not to overwrite its strength as sculpture. As much as I think of Cage in Mohri’s installations, I am also reminded of the work of Eva Hesse whose interest in malleable and impermanent materials is often misinterpreted as nihilistic and morbid, paralleling her own premature death. Far from it; in handwritten notes scrawled around a sketch for her Untitled (1970), Hesse wrote affirmatively:

…letting it go as it will.
allowing it to determine more of the way it completes itself.

Like Hesse, Mohri revels in the possibility of materials going ‘as they will’ and the sonic landscape of her work is comprised of the thud, bang, clank and clatter of materials behaving in their own idiosyncratic fashion, with their own aleatory logic.

These sounds and images collide noisily in the artist’s love of onomatopoeia. In Japanese, onomatopoeia often presents itself as a form of repetition and isn’t necessarily confined to sounds. However, sonic iterations of this phenomenon provide considerable inspiration and material for Mohri in her work. Ideophones, translatable as sonic or vocal ideas, resound strongly in the work and challenge the visual paradigms at the heart of western thought. Theory and ‘thinking’ (both etymologically tied to looking) manifest synaesthetically in Mohri’s practice, part of a wider trend in contemporary art to redress the balance between disciplines and their accompanying modes of thought. Moré Moré is paradigmatic of the way that Mohri dissolves the distinctions between sensory language and experience; a necessarily leaky term for the limitless potential of the audio-visual. 


Erik Satie, Vexations (1893–94)

Judee Sill, Jesus Was a Cross Maker (1971)

Hirth Martinez, Altogether Alone (1975)

V.A., No New York (1978)

Aksak Maboul, A Modern Lesson (1980)

The Raincoats, No One’s Little Girl (1982)

Yumi Matsutoya, Pearl Pierce (1982)

OOIOO: SOL (2009)

The Internet: Get Away (2015)

Louis Auguste Blanqui, Eternity by the Stars (1872)

John Cage, Silence (1961)

Bruno Munari, The Circus in the Mist (1969)

George Didi-Huberman, Ninfa Moderna (2002)

Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (2005)

'If there is a catastrophe, do the opposite.' Billy Klüver


Yuko Mohri (b. Kanagawa, Japan, 1980) lives and works in Tokyo. Mohri’s recent solo exhibitions include: Towada Art Center, Aomori, Japan (2018); The National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto, Japan (2018); WhiteRainbow, London (2017); Jane Lombard Gallery, New York (2016); Project Fulfill Art Space, Taipei (2016). Mohri’s work has been included in the following group exhibitions: Asia Pacific Triennale, Brisbane, Australia (2018); Sensory Agents, Len Lye Centre, New Plymouth, New Zealand (2018); Childhood, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France (2018); Going Away Closer,  Spiral Garden, Tokyo, Japan and Centro de Arte Contemporaneo Wildredo Lam, Havana, Cuba (2018); New Japan, Solyanka VPA, Moscow, Russia (2018); Sapporo International Art Festival, Hokkaido, Japan (2017); 14th Biennale de Lyon (2017); Japanorama: New Vision on Art since 1970, Centre Pompidou-Metz, France (2017); Kochi-Muziris Biennale, India (2016); Yokohama Triennale, Kanagawa, Japan (2014). The artists’ work is in the following collections: M+, Hong Kong; Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France; Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan.


Sam Belinfante is an artist and curator based in London.

Supported by Arts Council Tokyo, Arts Initiative Tokyo, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, the Japan Foundation, Nissan Art Award, Terumo Foundation for Life Sciences and Arts, White Rainbow, Angela Koulakoglou and the Yuko Mohri Exhibition Circle.