Tamotsu Murakami making Airship in Barrow, alien artwork under close scrutiny from a responsive new audience

Tamotsu Murakami

We first met Tamotsu Murakami in The Year of Japan (2001) whilst he was undertaking a twelve month research residency at Tate Modern, London. The Tokyo based sculptor, having seen our studios and gallery on a brief visit, agreed to returned to England to undertake a residency at Art Gene in 2002 and make a major new sculpture: Airship in Barrow, which was exhibited in the Art Gene Gallery alongside other specially imported works.

Flying Project

Barrow has important historic links with Japan, building ships and submarines for it’s Navy. Britain’s first rigid airships were built in Barrow and the town continues to make nuclear submarines today. Murakami’s works draw heavily on Japanese mythology but draw out poetic and aesthetic references to Barrow’s industrial heritage, achieving with ease what at first may have been perceived as an unlikely example of cross cultural transference through art. Many of his works exploit an adapted traditional Japanese dry lacquer (tree resin) technique normally used in the production of much smaller ‘votive’ pieces.

Murakami was the first of many International Artists in Residence at Art Gene and helped Art Gene establish a reputation in Japan though strong and ongoing links. Tamotsu took full advantage of the newly refurbished studio space to create much larger work than was possible in his typically small Tokyo studio. Airship in Barrow began to emerge over a two month period amidst the massive cardboard packing crates in which his earlier works had travelled from Japan. It seemed as if the crates were being transformed and shaped into the new work which evolved and grew gradually larger to fill the length of the studio. Made in sections like Barrow’s Nuclear submarines before final assembly in the massive Devonshire Dock Hall, the piece was finished in the Art Gene Gallery shortly before Flying Project was launched.


Image above: Tamotsu Murakami making Airship in Barrow, Art Gene Studio 2, 2002



‘What do people perceive from Tamotsu Murakami’s three-dimensional works? They might first feel something familiar from the forms he creates. This impression derives from the colour, which has particular tactile warmth, like that of earthen vessels. At the same time, his work reminds the viewer of Haniwa, clay figures placed inside ancient burial mounds, and also of certain forms that appear in Japanese stories. The forms are not taken from any specific story, but seem to possess a Japanese lineage, conveyed over generations, and inherited unconsciously.

The forms Murakami creates are simple but when viewed closely, many different expressions begin to unfold. At first, the works seem to have a solidity and weight but upon closer look, they seem weightless. They resemble ancient Japanese forms, but soon begin to look like alien craft from a future world.’

Listen to the WindEri Muroi, Art Critic.



Tamotsu also spent time at Barrow Island Junior School, situated amidst the shipyard, making traditional Japanese box kites with the children.

Mikasa Battleship

Image below: Tamotsu Murakami Flying Project, Art Gene Gallery, 2002 Ship of the Wind II (front)

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