The Hearing-Impaired Artist Yoshiaki Nakamura Talks about "Sound and Communication"

June 10, 2022
Ginza, Tokyo

From June 3rd to July 2nd, 2022, the Whitestone Ginza New Gallery is holding a solo exhibition by Yoshiaki Nakamura entitled "In Between-Resonance". Nakamura is an artist who has explored the connections and limitations of sound and communication. Behind this pursuit is his personal experience as a person with congenital hearing impairment who started to use a cochlear implant in 2012. In this interview, we unravel the possibilities of communication as expressed by Nakamura as a deaf artist.

Exhibition of “In Between-Resonance”

ーWhat aspired you to become an artist?

Nakamura: In my past works, I have tried to explore and express the relationship between sound and communication from the auditory and visual perspective.

Ever since I was a child, I have always wondered about the nature of language, from hearing faint sounds and seeing the lip movements and gestures of the people around me. This is why I decided to express the theme of "sound and communication" in my works. Because of my hearing impairment, it was not easy for me to communicate with other people or obtain information. Which is why I decided to explore the boundaries between people and the possibilities of dialogue which overcomes those boundaries.

In particular, I want to explore how sound and language interact with the sense of sight and hearing. This idea came from my own experiences as a congenitally deaf person.

Yoshiaki Nakamura and his The "Noise-12" in the exhibition

ーYou underwent cochlear implant surgery in 2012. What kind of changes did you experience after that?

Nakamura: After getting a cochlear implant in my right ear, I experienced many changes in my auditory and visual senses as well as my perception of time. These experiences have had a strong influence on the colors I use and the sense of space and language in my work. Of course, the way I communicate with others also changed greatly.

ーIn 2020, 8 years after getting a cochlear implant, you completed a Master’s degree in an art college in the USA. How did living abroad change your life?

Nakamura: Before going abroad, I spent a lot of time working on new paintings and studying for the TOEFL. I think that that helped me expand my horizons and my capabilities. In the USA, I learned many new things about art and different ways of thinking and seeing things, thanks to the Program Director Prof. Luca Buvoli, Prof. Stephanie Barber, and the other professors and curators at the art college, as well as Prof. Mark Harris whom I met in Cincinnati.

Utilizing the things I learned, I’ve tried new approaches to my work by using different materials, new technologies, and taking part in collaborative projects. I believe that through these methods, I can connect people who are separated by boundaries. I also feel that using language as a motif for non-linguistic expression has great hidden potential for overcoming disabilities and other boundaries between people.

A Pure Sound World (installation) (2021) at Wave Pool Gallery, Tree, found objects, resin, 710 x 710x 300cm

ーYou often use words such as"disconnection" and "boundaries" when describing your work. What are your thoughts about "disconnection" and "boundaries"?

Nakamura: In Japan, disconnections and boundaries are often swept under the rug or deemed to not exist. I think this is because Japan is a country that values empathy, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. But as someone with a disability, when non-disabled people disregard my disconnection from the world as a way of showing empathy, I am often put in the ironic situation where neither of us can empathize with each other.

As you may know, in the United States, strong discrimination exists in some, and they often instinctively reject others whom they do not fully understand. On the other hand, I also felt that many actively try to understand others who are separated by certain boundaries.

I think the same holds true for art. In Japan, some people who look at American art have difficulty understanding it. I think that's because in the United States, art is more than just for amusement or therapy. Art is considered to be universal, a form of communication between people. I think this is related to an experience I had during my first year at an American art college. There, I met a contemporary artist who advised me: “Don’t create art that is easily understood. It won’t lead to any deep or meaningful communication.”

Exhibition of “In Between-Resonance”

ーWhat is the meaning behind the exhibition's title "In Between―Resonance"?

Nakamura: The exhibition is divided into four different series: "A World without Sound", "Pink sounds", "Timbre", and "Noise". All of them are connected to the theme of "sound".

In Japan, people with disabilities continually face issues of disconnection and being constrained by boundaries. One reason behind this is because disabled people are not able to stand on the same footing as non-disabled people. I think diversity can open up closed societies, and is a necessary development for any civilization. Differences in perception and awareness can cause us to question our identities or experience misunderstandings in our communication, but I believe that it also helps us discover new meanings.

In this exhibition, I want visitors to feel that they can live a full life in society even if they are somewhere between deaf and hearing. I also hope that visitors can empathize or find a kind of resonance with the artworks and thehearing-impaired.

The "A World without Sound" in the exhibition

The "Pink sounds" in the exhibition

The "Timbre" in the exhibition

The "Noise" in the exhibition

ーThis solo exhibition features only canvas paintings, which was your starting point in art. How do you feel about going back to your creative roots?

Nakamura: The exhibition's main visual element is entitled "Noise", which refers to the strange chaotic sound that I can constantly hear in my silent world. My image of that noise is something I have had in my mind since my birth as a deaf person, and I tried to visually express that inner world of mine through those paintings.

The "Noise" in the exhibition

In my attempt to visually express this strange sound, I considered the three types of signs in semiotics: the icon, the symbol, and the index. I also made use of writings and English phonograms (which are necessary tools for me to communicate with others). Through these methods, I hope that I can make visitors feel and consider the differences in the mentality, visual and auditory sense, and perceptions between deaf and non-deaf people.

ーWhat are your plans for the future?

Nakamura: Expression and communication through art are quite different, but I think they are the same in the sense of "conveying the heart". Through this exhibition, I’m exploring the possibilities of dialogue which can overcome boundaries between disabled and non-disabled, or between different kinds of people.

Furthermore, in creating artworks that deal with the complex theme of "sound and communication", I want to think about what I can do, and come up with creative ways in expressing the truth.

Exhibition of “In Between-Resonance”

ーThank you very much. Do you have a parting message for our readers?

Nakamura: While art is universal, expressing your personal history or experience creates communication amongst people. This is perhaps the very history of life itself, which crosses between particularity and universality creating dynamic currents. Perhaps it is our duty to create a civilization that does not undermine the greater flow of things, while still respecting our individual histories.

Exhibition of “In Between-Resonance”

After exploring the use of different materials and new technologies in his artworks, Yoshiaki Nakamura returns to his painting roots in this solo exhibition entitled "In Between-Resonance".

Nakamura visualizes his inner world and experiences as a deaf artist on canvas. Through the appreciation of his artworks, he aims to reveal the "boundaries" and "disconnections" that separate not just disabled and non-disabled, but people from all walks of life. Can resonance be generated through our separation from others? Can we discover new possibilities for dialogue? We invite you to see the exhibition to find out.

View Exhibition Details »

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