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Hanae Utamura is a Japanese visual artist based in both New York City and Buffalo, New York.  Utamura’s body of work encompasses video, photography, performance, installation, and sculpture. She connects human beings with the Earth, using the physical human body as a conduit. The central focus of her practice is negotiating and conflicts that exist between the human and the non-human, and how all the varieties of the wills of life manifest themselves. By decentralizing the human perspective, Utamura diversifies historical narratives, and enters the imagination of nature.

Utamura received her Masters of Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design, London and her Bachelor Fine Arts at Goldsmiths University, London. She has received support through numerous international residencies and fellowships including: Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart, Germany), Künstlerhaus Bethanien (Berlin), PACT Zollverein (Essen, Germany), Art Omi (Hudson, New York), Santa Fe Art Institute Residency (Sante Fe,New Mexico), Aomori Contemporary Art Center (Japan), National Museum of Contemporary Art, Changdong Art Studio (Seoul, South Korea), Seoul Art Space_GEUMCHEON (Seoul, South Korea), Florence Trust (London, U.K.), among others. 
She has been awarded the NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program, Shiseido Art Egg Award, Grant program by the Japanese Ministry of Culture, the Pola Art Foundation, UNESCO-Aschberg Bursary Award, and Axis/Florence Trust Award. She has been exhibited extensively in Asia, Europe and the United States.  She was a visiting scholar at New York University in 2019, supported by Japanese Ministry of Culture and the Japanese government as a part of  the Japan/United States Exchange Friendship Program in the Arts.


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Spotlight: Germination Series

The Germination series captures the emergence of life. Using watercolors, this series contemplates the space of water in landscapes from lakes and rivers to the oceans where different life emerges.

The work imagines water as a mediator of various life forms, such as microbes, plants, animals, and the fetus in our own bodily fluid, connecting the life of micro-organisms to macro-organisms.

The brush strokes come with a breath, which is also a source of life.

Approaching the land as an extension of our body.  For example, the soft flow of water evokes our blood vessels as streams of rivers. Their strong expression conjures up imagery of volcanic eruptions, as well as ruptures in our body from inside to outside.

Thus, the work uses water to explore the space between the landscape and our body; capturing the dynamic life of the earth and our body as one.

Additional Projects and Performances

Ancient Air - Seafloor Core Glass Volcanic Moment Glass, Seafloor sediment, 2019

When magma touches underground water or sea water and its temperature rapidly falls, glass is formed. Imagining that situation, I placed in high-temperature glass, parts of the stratum collected from the deep sea floors around the world.

Then, ancient air escaped from the stratum and the glass expanded. Its expression and how the air came out were different depending on where the piece was collected. For example, the stratum from the North Atlantic Ocean reacted to the temperature of the glass with  the air from the stratum both expanding  and shrinking  as if it were breathing.

This piece of glass got cracked after it was cooled down and later broke in two. Even now, the air pressure within the glass still fluctuates. The glass is breathing and alive while sealing the ancient air inside.

Photo credit: Tadasu Yamamoto
Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist
Photo credit: Tadasu Yamamoto
Photo credit: Tadasu Yamamoto
Photo credit: Courtesy of the artist
Photo Credit Bryan Zimmerman

World and The Beginning of the World - Circulated Water ・ Memory

Glass, 2 Channel video projection, seafloor sediment, Glass, mixed media installation, 2019 Aomori Contemporary Art Center, Japan

In the process of thinking about the relationship between humans and nature, Utamura has constructed a situation where self and others face each other based on a new body sensation. Sixty-five percent of our bodies are made of water. Taking up the theme of water in Aomori which is said to be the best drinking water in Japan, she explores water sources that we are no longer aware in the process of modernization. And she probes into people’s connection with nature and brings back the memory of ancient times that we no longer remember after modernization through the water, based on and the stratum conveying the environment and changes of Earth.

In Spring Water, Fault, Body, she organized a performance  to connect different parameters of time; water in eternity, Earth existing for 4.5 billion years since its birth, a tree living from hundreds to thousands of years, the body dozens of years old, and animals. In the performance, the participants close their eyes, followed by Utamura’s storytelling. When people see nature and are awed, they close their eyes and join their hands. When they try to recall something, they close their eyes, and when they go to sleep, they do likewise. They close their eyes, feel connections with hands and fluctuations of life.
One of the methods to determine the age of substances that exist on Earth and geological strata is “radiometric age determination.” The age of Earth is said to be based on the data acquired from the radiometric age determination of meteoric stones fallen on Earth. This method is based on the assumption that the concentration of carbon 14 in the atmosphere over the globe has been constant from the past to the present. This assumption, however, broke down due to many nuclear bomb tests conducted in the 1950s and the 1960s. As for the air collected after 1950, it is not possible to carbon-date it.


Spring Water, Fault, Body HD Video, 2021
Ancient Air – Seafloor Core Glass Volcanic Moment

Secret Performance series (2009 – 2014) (Order vs. Chaos)

A series of performances in which the artist, always a small, anonymous figure, makes subtle, insistent intervention in edge territories where human physical capacity meets its limits next to the force of wild nature, such as cliff’s edge, desert, deep snow, shoreline beach, atop an iced lake. The action is never rehearsed or acted out, it happens only once and therefore the weather is a crucial element, thus the performance is realised in collaboration with the force of nature itself. (Red Line, Scrubbing the Edge of Salt Lake, Wiping the Snow, Wiping the Sahara Desert, Casting the Wave, Splashing Water at Trafalgar Square, Splashing Water at Sahara Desert)


Red Line, 2011
HD Video
Dover, England
Duration: 1 minute 40 seconds
From the Secret Performance Series

The artist attempts to create a red line to connect land and ocean by pouring water based red paint from atop white cliffs in the South of England. A strong wind forces the paint back onto the artist as she runs to the back of the cliff, repeatedly running back and forth towards the edge of the cliff and back again

Scrubbing the edge of Salt Lake2010
HD Video Performance, C-type
Chott el Djerid, Tunisia

From the Secret Performance Series

The artist is scrubbing the edge of Chott el Djerid; a large salt lake located in southern Tunisia.

Wiping the Snow2011
HD Video
Haukijärvi, Finland
Duration: 15-20 minutes (Duration variable)
From Secret Performance Series

The artist is wiping the snow with a broom in Haukijärvi, Finland, moving from bottom to top of the drift and from edge to edge of the screen.


Wiping the Sahara Desert (2010)
HD Video Performance, C-type
Sahara Desert, Tunisia
Duration: 5 minutes 40 seconds
from Secret Performance Series

The artist is wiping the Sahara Desert with a broom, moving from bottom to top of the dune and from edge to edge of the screen. The performance takes place in the space of the actual landscape as well as the theatrical space of the video itself.


Casting the Wave, 2010
HD Video
The Hague, The Netherlands
Duration: 1 minute 3 seconds

The artist is  attempting to cast a wave in plaster in The Netherlands.



Splashing Water at Trafalgar Square 2010

HD Video, C-type
Trafalgar Square, London
Duration: 5 minutes

from Secret Performance Series

The artist is splashing water at Trafalgar Square in London

Splashing Water at Sahara Desert, 2010

HD Video, C-type
Sahara Desert, Tunisia
Duration: 5 minutes

from Secret Performance Series

The artist is splashing water at the Sahara Desert in Tunisia.

When A Line Becomes A Circle

When a line becomes a circle, 2013
Baengnyeongdo island, South Korea
HD Video
Duration: 6 minutes 46 seconds

The performance video ‘when a line becomes a circle’ was performed at Baengnyeongdo island, one of South Korean islands closest to North Korea. The perforance is based on conversations the artist had with islanders at Baengnyeongdo. The islanders recalled that the affect on their island after North Korea’s threat was similar to affect the earthquake had on Japan and the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Performed at a political site, the work contemplates the idea of ‘borders’, from a political realm to ontological level, and then to pure geometrical form, as the work proceeds through sensorial experience of visibility and sound. The performance video consists of 3 actions around the pole in the middle, as a symbol of ‘being’. First, the artist draws lines resembling the border between North Korea and South Korea; then in the 2nd act, circles are drawn resembling the danger zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The last action shows the artist drawing one big circle which goes out of the frame, so that only line is seen within the frame. But the sound of drawing the line can be continuously heard, so it is left up to the viewers whether lines are actually drawing the circle or not. The line can be read as division and the circle can be interpreted as reunification, vice versa in Fukushima’s case. The final scene shows the artist leaving the stick next to the pole, which resembles the ‘rén rén shì’ charcater symbolizing ‘human beings’. In the Chinese character set the ‘rén rén shì’ charcater symbolizes 2 human figures supporting each other as a definition of ‘human being’.

Inverted Horizons (Triptych)

Inverted Horizon (Ground Zero),2011
Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, Japan
Slaked Lime, Fine Art Print

The work was photographed just after dusk, just as the last light from the sun vanished.

The artist drew a circle with slaked lime, which radiates brightly in the blue light. The way the slaked lime is spread is shaped by the wind from the seashore, the same sea that brought the tsunami. Utamura, who used this technique in all the works in this series, drew the slaked lime circle by tethering herself to her mother, who stood at the circle center.

To safeguard against future tsunamis, a 41 foot wall was erected and Rikuzentakata city was buried underground with soil, raising its elevation. The city became a lost landscape, and many of the victims of the tsunami were never found. Many of the victim’s relatives feel that the memory and the remains of their relatives are buried there, underground.

Lime traditionally plays several roles relating to life and death: it is used as a fertilizer to speed the growth of crops, and it is sometimes thrown on the bodies of the dear to assist with decomposition. Soil is essential for the cycle of life, it both takes our dead and nourishes us by providing our food. The circle symbolizes this continuum. Thus this work situates itself somewhere between grief and hope, as well as representing the cycle of life; its emergence, its decay, it’s decomposition. For even aft er an environmental tragedy, life, when left on its own, finds a way to take root and recover, like in Fukushima or Chernobyl, where trees, insects, and animals have managed to thrive in the ‘toxic land’.

Inverted Horizon (Mother),2011
Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
Fine Art Print

In early spring of 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami hit japan. At the time, Utamura was planning on traveling from London, where she was participating in a residency, to Finland. She was born and raised 80 miles away from the site of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant, and her home town was affected both by the tsunami and the resulting meltdown. As the scale of the disaster became apparent, she decided to return home to witness the devastation for herself, and to assist in the relief efforts by delivering food.

The daytime photograph titled ‘Inverted Horizon (Mother)’ took place in the ruins of a rice farm in Natori City. Utamura took a piece of rope and a hoe found on the site and tethered herself to her mother, almost like an umbilical cord. Her mother stood in what would be the center of the circle and Utamura used the hoe to excavate a perfect circle in the salted, lifeless earth.

After completing the circle, the hoe was left where it was found and appears in the left foreground of the photograph. This act commemorates the land and the survivors, and mourns the loss of farming as a way of life.

Inverted Horizon, 2011
Minamisanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, Japan
Fine Art Print

A Green Tree with Cherry Blossom Petals, 2010
Hampstead Heath, London