The slow drip of time

Japanese artist Yasuaki Onishi will present his dreamlike installation ‘Vertical Emptiness’ as part of the Fresh Paint Art Fair in Tel Aviv.

April 5, 2016 20:42
4 minute read.
Yasuaki Onishi

‘ONE OF the reasons to use glue, for me, is that we cannot see the glue part in daily life.... It’s like molding the invisible. To take something we can’t usually see and build something out of it,’ says Japanese installation artist Yasuaki Onishi.. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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Yasuaki Onishi is not a man of many words. He does not wax poetic about his installations or give flowery descriptions of his inspiration. At 37, using little more than plastic sheets, tree branches and, most importantly, hot glue, the Japanese artist has carved out an aesthetic niche that speaks volumes in its simplicity.

“I hang a tree upside down and drip glue to the ground, connecting the other world to this world and filling the empty space,” he says over Skype. Onishi is preparing to travel to Israel in the coming weeks to present his installation Vertical Emptiness as part of the 8th Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair’s International Exhibition.

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Seated in his home in Osaka, Japan, a bespectacled and smiling Onishi prefers not to elaborate about what “the other world” means to him. “I want people to think and see whatever they do,” he adds.

Empty space is a major element in Onishi’s work, taking on the role of the clay from which he models his pieces. In nearly all of his previous works, Onishi has in one way or another used physical materials to delineate negative space. In his first sculpture, or rather the piece that kicked off the wave he is currently riding, Onishi threaded iron lattice through a tree trunk, then burned the wood away, leaving only the scorched metal structure.

“I used a pine tree that I cut into 10 cm slices that created a donut shape. I used metal to cover everything and welded it together and then burned it with fire. The inside of the tree disappeared and was deleted, it was like a shapeless tree and was only the outside,” explains Onishi of Gawa(ring).

During his previous and first visit to Israel, Onishi showed Inner Space at the Wilfred Israel Museum of Asian Art and Studies. In a solo show curated by Shir Meller-Yamaguchi, Onishi hung a white plastic sheet from the ceiling using thousands of strands of dried, black glue. The painstaking process, which took several days to accomplish, outlined a type of floating shape in the middle of the gallery. Viewers could pass beneath it and consider the negative space created by the hanging sheet.

“He uses the space as his material,” says Meller-Yamaguchi.


Meller-Yamaguchi is responsible for both of Onishi’s invitations to Israel. As a longstanding curator of the Wilfred Israel Museum, Meller-Yamaguchi was able to present Onishi his first opportunity to show work in Israel.

“I was asked to bring a Japanese artist and I immediately thought of Yasuaki,” she says.

It was during his solo show that art director and head curator of Fresh Paint, Yifat Gurion, first saw Onishi’s work. Three years later, she invited him to return to Israel to participate in what has quickly become the most important and prestigious fine arts showing in the country. Gurion specified Vertical Emptiness as the work she wanted Onishi to create in Yarid Hamizrach in the Tel Aviv Port.

Upon arriving in Israel, Onishi, an assistant and Meller-Yamaguchi plan to scavenge for appropriate branches. Then, they will install themselves and the branches in the gallery space, tailoring the concept to fit the exact dimensions of the room.

“I really like to sit in the empty exhibition space and to see how my work fits in the room,” says Onishi.

The dripping process, from start to finish, will take a bit under a week. Over the past several years, Onishi has become an expert in the behavior of glue, coming to know exactly how it moves, congeals and maintains shape.

“I came upon glue during a time that I was moving between work spaces. It was very convenient and easy to carry and I could find it anywhere. One of the reasons to use glue, for me, is that we cannot see the glue part in daily life. We put the glue on the paper and attach it to the wall, we never look at it. I mostly show the glue part. It’s like molding the invisible. To take something we can’t usually see and build something out of it.”

Whether the work is Japanese, Onishi can’t say definitively.

“A lot of people have told me that my pieces are very Japanese but I don’t know myself. I don’t use a lot of color, it’s mostly black and white, and I usually stick to industrial materials.”

And though the nuts and bolts of his installations may not hark from the natural world, Onishi manages to create structures that communicate something deeply innate, phenomenal and seemingly natural. He is perhaps capable of defining a second, or new nature.

Fresh Paint’s International Exhibition deals with the topic of displacement, violence, refuge and the quest for peace. Other artists to exhibit include Romanian sculptor and performance artist Szilard Gaspar, Senegalese photographer Fabrice Monteiro and installation artist Noa Ginzburg.

The Fresh Paint Contemporary Art Fair will take place at Yarid Hamizrach in the Tel Aviv Port from April 6-9. For more information, visit

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