Japanese / English

Past Exhibition

Multiple Project

Yuko Shiraishi


2011.5.10 - 5.27

Yuko Shiraishi’s most recent project is entitled ‘Specimen’.
It is a multiple work that takes the form of an edition of square vinyl records encoded with insect sounds, each disc being housed in an entomological specimen box. There are four tracks in total. ‘Specimen’ is composed by Yuko Shiraishi. ‘The Passage of the Butterfly’ is composed by Yuko Shiraishi and Tadao Kawamura after the poem of this title by Edgar Allan Poe. ‘White White Whale’ after Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is also jointly composed by Shiraishi and Kawamura. The fourth track, composed by the English sound artist John Matthias, is entitled ‘Ten Mile Bank’. Each disc and its specimen box constitute an integral whole that compels us into Shiraishi’s unique world of creativity and imagination.


This project was born out of a variety of circumstances and my own particular history. I have always been interested in natural science and as a child was very fond of animals. Thanks to the encouragement of a lepidopterist uncle, my enthusiasms came to embrace everything from insects to dinosaurs. The reason why natural science has been so important for someone engaged in the arts like me is that, in contrast to the human-centred disciplines of literature and philosophy, it offers a completely different set of perspectives on the world.

I have known Mr Yokota of the Shigeru Yokota Gallery for more than 20 years. When he suggested the idea of making a multiple edition of some kind, I immediately thought of music. Having painted, curated, created installations and been involved in various architectural projects, music was the next area I wanted to turn my hand to. Specimen is the coming together of natural science and music through art.

For me, the term specimen is inextricably linked to the name of Charles Darwin, and by extension to artists, authors and thinkers who lived at the time when he was developing the ideas about natural history he published in his On the Origin of Species. Among these were Edward Allen Poe and Herman Melville.

Our century has similarities to this earlier period in the sense that we are overwhelmed by a ceaseless flow of new information. The German filmmaker Werner Herzog has commented on how the rapid growth of forms of communications such as fax, mobile phone and email (as in last year’s Social Network) has resulted in a directly proportional increase in solitude. Paradoxical though this sounds, Herzog observes, these technologies seeming to help alleviate isolation, isolation is not the same thing as solitude: isolation can be overcome with a mobile phone, but solitude is something more existential.

Reflecting on Herzog and thinking about Poe, Melville, natural science and rock music, it strikes me that human solitude yearns for the insights that come from an understanding of the natural world.

I got to know Tadao Kawamura, my Band 36 partner, when he helped with the Kyoto Art Project I curated three years ago. The realisation of the music for Specimen owes much to his friends, including members of Hyogen. John Matthias, a Ninja Tune musician to whom I was introduced by Jonathan More of Coldcut, has been another key contributor. As well as participating directly in the project by composing one of the four sound tracks, he kindly introduced me to the top class mixers and master engineers who worked on the record.

Just when Specimen and its music were due to be released, the earthquake and tsunami of 11 March struck eastern Japan. I was shaken, Japan was shaken, totally and thoroughly. The isolation, solitude and uncertainty were overwhelming. Nature is munificent, but it is fierce and cruel as well. As Melville wrote in Moby Dick:

‘… but lulled into such an opium-like listlessness of vacant, unconscious reverie is this absent-minded youth by the blending cadence of waves with thoughts, that at last he loses his identity; takes the mystic ocean at his feet for the visible image of that deep, blue, bottomless soul, pervading mankind and nature; and every strange, half-seen, gliding, beautiful thing that eludes him; every dimly-discovered, uprising fin of some indiscernible form, seems to him the embodiment of those elusive thoughts that only people the soul by continually flitting through it. In this enchanted mood, thy spirit ebbs away to whence it came; becomes diffused through time and space; …

But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at midday, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!’

Excerpt from "Moby-Dick; or, The Whale" by Herman Melville. (Translation: Toshio Yagi. Publisher: Iwanami Bunko. 2004.)

Yuko Shiraishi