Hanna Fushihara Aron is a Japanese fine artist and curator based in New York City. Since graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 1995, Hanna has been steadily importing visual work she finds relevant between the United States and Japan, including shows in Tokyo at HaNNA Gallery by Providence artsists Mat Brinkman and Leif Goldberg, Floridians Friends With You, and Tokyoites Yusuke Gunji and Ai Tsuchikawa. Hanna brings some of the most exciting young contemporary art to Tokyo, injecting a very selective yet raw sampling of genre-hopping artists into the Tokyo gallery scene.
Hanna’s own New York gallery space Little Cakes opened in 2003 in her apartment in Manhattan, showing “art by unknown artists in an unconventional but friendly way.” The current gallery operates out of the front portion of another Manhattan apartment on East 6th Street, with a regular gallery schedule and an amazing roster of artists exhibiting, including Anna Fidler, Patricia Fernandez, Joseph Buzzell, Christina Toro, and others.
Besides directing the HaNNa gallery space in Tokyo and Little Cakes in New York, Hanna occasionally curates other exhibitions. Hanna is currently curating the group show “Sticky, Messy, and Sweet” at hpgrp gallery New York. The show is comprised of the work of a group of contemporary Japanese artists, namely Akinori Shimodaira, Ai Tsuchikawa, Yui Kugimiya, Mumbleboy, Reiko Tada and Gunji Yusuke.
Quoting the show press sheet:
“Sticky, Messy, and Sweet” focuses on a particularity found not only in contemporary Japanese art but also in its culture where at first glance things may look candy colored sweet but there are other layers and depths which are opposite to the stereotypically orderly and clean image that outsiders have of Japan.
How did you choose this particular group of artists for this exhibition?
Well, there are a handful of artists that I have been working with from Japan that I knew I wanted to feature when I was originally asked to put together a group show of Japanese artists, and I thought about what I like about them and why I like their work and it evolved from there.
What drew you to these artists?
Well, all of them have their “thing” and their “thing” generally fits into the theme of the show in one way or another. I’m actually not going to give you a blow by blow because it’s in the press release, but I will talk about the two people I knew I had to have for the show.
Chie Fukao and I have been working together for a good five or six years. Her work actually used to be a lot messier, and I personally preferred it that way, but she still has an obsession with garbage as personal history, which is a unique view, and the way she decides to incorporate it into her work is always interesting to me and always ends up looking cute or pretty at the same time.
Ai Tsuchikawa is another character who has really gone messy with her newish melted-plastic-as-slime objects. She too is incredibly obsessive, which was first seen in her drawings and is so prolific that she has dragged many large bags to our meetings in Tokyo filled with hundreds of photos, dozens of small sculptures. I love that her aesthetic has gotten messier and messier in the few years I’ve known her.
Although these were two of the first people that came to mind to include in the show, after I came up with half of them, I made sure that more than half were women because I have always thought that in Japan, women are still not considered worth as much as men in general.
To focus on one of the artists, Mumbleboy‘s work has departed from the more slick, vector graphics that were his signature in the ’90s to a mix of more traditional hand crafts and a rougher, collage-based form of animation. How do you perceive this trend in his artwork?
Well, actually, when I first met Kinya at RISD in the early-mid ’90s, he was making handmade plush dolls, so for me it isn’t a departure. He was the first person I saw making and selling handmade dolls as art; before any of the other people got famous and started selling more commercially. And even his first flash animations had a sort of lo-tech quality to them. I do LOVE the new work though. The paper-maché pieces are really starting to get to a point where the underlying structures really reflect Mumbleboy, instead of just the painted exterior. It’s starting to feel like a real style of his.
How do they reflect Mumbleboy?
Well, even Mumbleboy’s “slick” style was still sort of this self-taught, somewhat analog-feeling flash animation and the paper-maché pieces, especially this new batch, is like taking the video and making them into three dimensional forms.
In the promotional essay describing the show, you talk about liminal spaces such as manga kissa (manga cafés): spaces that are privatized, but not necessarily private. How do you see this Japan-specific form of neither public-nor-private space influencing the work of young Japanese contemporary artists?
I would definitely not want to say anything that blankets all young Japanese artists as I only have the pleasure of working with a small group of them as my time in Japan in very limited every year. But the ones that I do work with seem to either not care too much about their public face and private face or have just made conscious decisions to break through that. The ones that I work with all are very genuine and put out a lot of their own dreams and emotions in their work for everyone to see.
What other cultural observations do you feel help inform this type of work from Japan and make the work stand out from their international peers?
Japanese people are obsessive. I’m not really sure why but we all tend to be obsessive about something. I would say most or all of the artists are working in some kind of obsessive manner and or have obsessions in their own lives.
You state that these artists are a “faction” in the essay. How would you describe them as an organized, dissenting group?
I guess I have made them a faction through grouping them in this manner by myself. I am pretty sure all of them (I do not know three of them in the same personal way that I know the rest yet as I only have met them recently) have unhappiness towards mainstream culture in general either in a societal flow way or the daily grind. None of them are really the types of people to be out protesting anything, but I would say they rather show another way of life just by how they live themselves and what choices they make in terms of career or through making art and even calling it art.
When did you first become interested in organizing shows of other folks’ artwork?
It happened by accident. My store HaNNa in Tokyo had empty wall space, so I started hanging artwork — at the time, mostly from Providence artists — to fill up the space, and people started getting interested. We also had friends doing performances and whatnot since the beginning of the store.
How do you see curating others’ work and making your own artwork relate?
I’ve gotten a lot better at editing my own work and sticking to a theme, but I haven’t really made anything of my own in a while. The curating started to become my art form.
How did Little Cakes come into being?
An ex-boyfriend of mine and I went to see Daniel Reich‘s old space in his apartment in Chelsea, and we were disappointed in how he had decided to use the space. Someone buzzed you in and opened the door for you but never said hello or made eye contact and swiftly hid behind a curtain. It was like being in a regular gallery in one sense but it was his apartment. I thought it was a shame that they didn’t take advantage of the fact that it really was an apartment and not pretend like it wasn’t. So we decided we should try to do it “the right way.”
What was the impetus to have shows in your home?
Besides what I just said above, we wanted to show art in an intimate environment where people could relax and really spend time with the work and also envision them in their own homes.
The Little Cakes tag line is “Home to the Gentle Arts.” Have you, as a curator, ignored that with any shows that you’ve curated?
Very rarely. None of the shows have ever been of a dark nature, and I have made sure never to have any fur or leather in any of the work because of my love for animals. The only thing that comes to mind is that we used PVC piping in one show to make a large spinning wheel. I suggested to the artist about using a wooden dowel but they had already bought the piping, and I admit it worked a lot better than if we had used wood.
Alternately, what is the most “gentle” artwork you’ve shown at the gallery?
Aesthetically, I would say Guillermina Baiguera’s show called “Pink Waters Delay Their Hearts” was the most gentle feeling. Very delicate drawings with soft colors and lots of embroidery and small stuffed objects. But I guess at the same time, if you look at it in terms of carbon footprint, we used a good amount of jet fuel to ship her pieces from Argentina.
What is your role with the HaNNa gallery in Omotesando?
Well, the gallery is actually now a mini window space on the first floor of Laforet. We had a nice space in Ginza that was attached to the old HaNNa store but we now have this little diorama-like space. The fashion company HP France owns and operates the gallery as well as my store, and I am an employee. My official title is “Buyer and Director.”
Are there any particular real-life factions or loose collectives of artists whose work you are appreciative of at present?
I am more interested and inspired by nature lately, so I would say that I am inspired by all the organic and small farm owners as well as urban community gardens.
Is there any end goal with Little Cakes?
Nope, it just is what it is.