Yuko Mohri: Transforming Plant Fruit Decay into Melody and Meaning

Captivating the Venice Biennale with “Compose”

By Gayil Nalls

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Y uko Mohri is a contemporary Japanese artist renowned for her innovative immersive installations. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, in 1980, she earned a Master of Fine Arts from Tokyo University of the Arts in 2006. Mohri’s work is deeply influenced by Animism, the belief that all things, places, plants, rocks, and creatures possess distinct spiritual essences and psychological predispositions. By incorporating disparate recycled or discarded objects and botanical elements into her installations, she recontextualizes these materials into meaningful components of self-sustaining ecosystems, reflecting the bigger picture of how diversity, connections, and complexity bring stability to ecosystems. Her process mirrors the intricate puzzle of pieces that create ecosystem resilience, as she delves into her fascination with chance, unpredictability, and the forces of nature and destruction beyond human control. 

In 2024, Yuko Mohri once again took center stage at the Venice Biennale, representing Japan at this prestigious international art exhibition. Her floor-to-ceiling installation, titled “Compose,” transformed the Japanese Pavilion into an immersive kinetic sculpture. This work utilized decaying fruit placed on furniture alongside a variety of objects, allowing us to explore how each piece contributes to a network that generates movement, music, light, and scent.

Yuko Mohri Art exhibition global warming

Building on the experimental legacy of Erik Satie, John Cage, and Nam June Paik, “Compose” features a complex arrangement of organic and synthetic materials, furniture, and objects gathered on location in Venice, including fresh plant fruit. By utilizing sensors, the decaying fruit emits sounds, transforming the space into an interconnected environment. This not only offers a unique sensory experience but also encourages reflection on the synchronized cycles and traits of life.

“Compose” centers on the wisdom of a quote from the sixth-century BC philosopher Laozi: “Soft and weak like water,” a metaphor for change. The installation explores the intersection of sound, nature, sculpture, and technology, providing an opportunity to reflect on impermanence and decipher mysterious and unseen forces that shape our reality.

Mohri’s inspiration for this direction in her work originated from a calamity of leaks in the Tokyo underground system. Imaginative rail staff had temporarily addressed the situation using everyday items such as plastic bottles, buckets, and hoses, adapting to the changing environmental conditions of a warming world. This evolved into Mohri’s unique perspective, resulting in profound and engaging multisensory installations that offer new ways of experiencing and understanding the natural world around us. As nature’s fruit moves from fresh to decay, its moisture content fluctuates. These water changes can be measured, and the data signals feed into a synthesizer that translates the decomposition into a unique composition.

Yuko Mohri Art exhibition global warming

Merging art, science, and nature, the sensors embedded within the fruit of her acoustic sculptures convert the ever-changing moisture levels into varying electrical signals. Electrical conductivity converts to pitch, volume, timbre, movement, and light, relying on natural elements of water and time for their completion. Water emerges as the unifying force in her work and as an element of destruction and renewal as the musical composition emerges in real-time, revealing hidden rhythms of nature that usually go unnoticed. This recontextualizes the experience of the interconnectedness of life and the effects of the planet’s rising sea levels.

The exhibition’s curator, Sook-Kyung Lee, has said: “In a world with increasing climate emergencies, and especially in Venice, a city continuously threatened by flood,” Mohri’s work “signifies the inconspicuous power of creativity brought out by crises.” Yuko Mohri’s work at the 2024 Venice Biennale stands as a testament to her enduring vision and innovative spirit. In “Compose,” Yuko Mohri has crafted an installation that speaks to the heart of human experience, merging a seamless poetic dance of art and nature and the invisible forces that shape our reality.

The Yuko Mohri exhibition was curated by Sook-Kyung Lee, Director of The Whitworth, Manchester, UK and organized by The Japan Foundation

Gayil Nalls, Ph.D., is the creator of World Sensorium and founder of the World Sensorium/Conservancy.

Photographs by Gayil Nalls. Video by John Steele

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