By Shosha Adie • BSc Anthropology
Hidden in Harajuku, Tokyo, you’ll find the ‘UltraSuperNew Gallery’ that prides itself on showcasing ideas that go against the grain and facilitate cultural exchange. It was here were the artist Yeka Haski held her ‘Plastic Party’ exhibition from June 21 to June 28, 2019. Coincidentally, the last day of her exhibit also marked the start of the G20 summit, held in Osaka, in which impressive lengths were taken to minimise plastic use at the event. The question is, will these measures be reflected in the Japanese government’s promises to reduce plastic consumption in the country as a whole? With an impressive resume, having worked for big-names such as Reebok and Vogue, as well as having her work exhibited and published all over the world, Yeka Haski is not only an inspiring artist, but in her recent work she demonstrates how through ‘play’, art can be used to promote awareness about issues of global importance in a way that encourages balanced, cross-cultural conversation.
Yeka Haski moved to Tokyo last August, a decision that was inspired by a collection of events throughout her life that built a ‘curiosity’ around Japan, a place that seemed like a ‘mystery’ to her. An early memory of this feeling she describes is as a five-year-old, when she was taken to an ethnographical museum where she was introduced to Japanese material culture for the first time. From then, ‘drop by drop’, as she phrases it, aspects such as Japanese minimalism, and a ‘love for tiny details’, led her to where she is today. This project is special to her in particular since she primarily identifies as a visual artist, so this was experiment in many ways as this social aspect was something new to her, and also she had no expectations as to how it would be received by locals. She tells me that the idea was to be ‘not serious about serious things’ as ‘humour goes much deeper’. Her work is primarily based around characters, or motifs, and their distinct personalities.
At the gallery, Yeka Haski didn’t just stick with the traditional kind of canvas to display her work. In one display she uses blue plastic sheets, two of which are hung, the third being curled into a wave frosted with white plastic bags. This was interesting from an anthropological perspective because in many ways this medium is an important part of Japan’s modern material culture. During Hanami, cherry blossom viewing time in Japan, most parks will be strewn with these sheets which are popular as picnic blankets since they are cheap plus you can gather all the rubbish in them and throw them away at the end. I myself am guilty of using one to this end without even thinking about it, but seeing them in this context made me reflect on this. My favourite of the three is the first, in which she depicts how plastic is in many ways a drug, and we’re addicted. On the far wall, she mounted a collection of plastic bags, one holding the title, and another reminding us that ‘This piece of art will stay forever’. The rest support an array of her characters. When I asked her about these unconventional choices, she explained that in many ways it was a form of recycling, ‘these are mundane objects… it is only art when we say it is’. To her, this was central to her message because; ‘We live in a world where so much already exists, you have to question the need to produce something… there needs to be purpose… this is the necessity of being an artist.’
As I was interviewing Yeka Haski on the exhibition’s last day of opening, she was able to share with me her reflections on how much she enjoyed the overall experience of ‘Plastic Party’. To her, this project was an avenue in which ‘at last [she] could talk about something meaningful’, in a way she felt was ‘fun’, and that ‘took away the pressure’. She’s really enjoyed talking to the people who visited the gallery, and hearing their stories about what her work makes them think about. The title ‘Plastic Party’ really embodies what she described as being important in the reception of her project— again, the concept of ‘play’— and it also creates a space to discuss this topic lightheartedly, which is important when addressing audiences from such diverse backgrounds. She describes herself as hating ‘being pushed’, so for her it was important for people to go through the exhibition and look and read and make decisions for themselves about what they’re seeing. This attitude is so relevant to what has been said at the G20 Summit, as although many world leaders have set exciting targets, it is also the public’s responsibility to ensure that words are put into action. Yeka Haski is optimistic and excited for Japan’s future, especially considering that the upcoming 2020 Olympics has put the country in a global spotlight. With the enormous incoming domestic and international audience Tokyo will be hosting it will be impossible to sweep anything under the rug metaphorically and literally; especially when Japan’s waste disposal systems are stretched to their limit.
Yeka Haski’s next step will be creating, ‘Plastic Party Vol.2’, which she wants to be a much more collaborative endeavor and include performances for which she will be seeking participants based in Tokyo. For those interested in getting involved, or simply learning more, her email address is email@example.com and her website is yekahaski.com if you wanted to see more of her work. It is also really worth checking her out on instagram, @yekahaski.
Ultrasupernew is a creative agency that began in Harajuku, and now has a branch in Singapore. If anyone was interested in this venue, to view their upcoming events, or learn more about them as a group, the website is: https://ultrasupernew.com.