Makoto Morimura literally finds hope in the news

by Edan Corkill

Staff Writer

Osaka-based artist Makoto Morimura was surely not alone last year in feeling that the newspapers were full of gloom and doom. But he probably was the only person who in response set for himself the task of searching for hope, literally.

Morimura began purchasing copies of Japan’s most prominent English-language newspaper (The Japan Times, of course) and then used correction fluid to delete every letter of the alphabet besides “h,” “o,” “p” and “e.” The results are 120 pages of newsprint scrubbed of everything but photographs and those four letters — and they are on display through June 3 at Tokio Out of Place, a gallery in Tokyo’s Minami-Azabu district.

“Of course with the Great East Japan Earthquake in March, it really seemed appropriate last year to be searching the news for signs of ‘hope,’ ” Morimura told The Japan Times, “But I actually started the project in January, three months before the quake. The mood in the country was already kind of negative back then, and there were also some things that happened in my private life that motivated me to do this.”

By accident or perhaps serendipity, there are no anagrams of the word “hope,” and so once Morimura deleted all of the other 22 letters of the alphabet from the pages of the newspaper, he was left with a smattering of letters that made no sense — except where the word “hope” was originally part of an article. Viewers are thus naturally inclined to pore over the pages, which are exhibited under clear Perspex sheets on the gallery floor, searching for instances of “hope.”

Morimura, 35, has done similar work in the past. In 2009, he exhibited what he called his “Dear Thomas” series, in which he deleted all letters of the alphabet except the nine in those two words from English-language art magazines. “I had received an email that was meant for an artist named Thomas, so I decided I could search for Thomas by looking for those letters in art publications,” Morimura said.

The use of English-language publications to search for a non-Japanese name made sense. But why did Morimura decide to conduct his search for hope in an English-language newspaper?

“In English there are only 26 letters (of the alphabet), so even if you leave (every instance of) just four, you still end up with quite a few letters (per page). In Japanese, because there are three different alphabets (hiragana, katakana and kanji), if you were to delete everything but the two characters for ‘kibō’ (‘hope’), you would end up with a page that is pretty much white,” he explained. “The other reason is that English is the international language.”

Exhibition-viewers who are familiar with The Japan Times will perhaps notice something interesting. The word “hope” is less likely to appear on the news pages, which describe what is happening in the world, than it is to appear on the Editorial and Opinion pages, on which various scribes convey their “hopes” for the future.

“Daily Hope,” a solo exhibition by Makoto Morimura runs till June 3 at Tokio Out of Place; www.outofplace.jp.