Artist inspired
by Japanese consumer culture

Ella Knapton says the artist residency she undertook in a small, seaside city in southern Japan not only provided her the opportunity to develop a series of works but also to learn about Japanese culture, and make new friends. Ella was supported to take part in the residency by an Asia New Zealand Foundation arts grant.
Ella sitting on the ground in an art gallery

Ella: "The landscape has a strong familiarity to New Zealand and yet is so culturally different. I kept thinking of the location as a parallel reality."

Itoshima is a small coastal city surrounded by a diverse landscape of rice fields, mountains and the sea on Japan’s southern Kyushu Island.

The landscape has a strong familiarity to New Zealand and yet is so culturally different. I kept thinking of the location as a parallel reality.

Itoshima has a small, tight-knit community of farmers, craftspeople and the best coffee roasters I’ve ever come across. While there, I visited a local salt maker’s factory, traditional indigo dying, and even a local sake distillery.

The hospitality I experienced in this community was very special. The locals were so welcoming and genuinely intrigued to learn about New Zealand and its culture.

I arrived in the area at the peak of Sakura blossom period, which was so magical and gave a real excitement to the community.

Fukuoka was intensely busy and buzzing with energy, yet it flowed so easily and in such an ordered, prompt way.

I found it so easy to navigate my way through the city, despite the complete language barrier. The locals were so polite and helpful; if I ever brought out my Google maps, someone would ask if I needed help and go out of their way to walk me to my destination.

Everything in japan is so pristine - the fashion, streets, houses. Every surface was sparkling clean. Everything has its own particular place.

Walking through streets and supermarkets my eyes were drawn to the impeccable displays and packaging. Every product was twice, or triple wrapped in a glossy plastic packaging.

Absolutely everything was wrapped, partly for hygiene precautions but I found that the wrapping is an ingrained part of Japanese hospitality culture and to upkeep a sense of luxury, even if it is unnecessary and quite harmful to the earth as single use plastics.

This obsessive packaging and consumer culture was something I really took notice of, and the body of work I made converses with this.

Playground in Japan with cherry trees

When Ella arrived at the residency, the region was in a festive mood for the sakura (cherry) blossom period

During the four-week residency, I made a series of work ‘Peels’, which are layered textile drawings using fabrics sourced locally.

The drawing process of the work makes reference to traditional Japanese Ukiyo-e screen paintings and has an installation element.

Pieces were made site-specifically and exhibited at the end of the four week period.

Alongside the textile works, I made a corresponding photographic series that were exhibited online on DIRT gallery in Wellington in June and July. 

My work engages with notions of control and complexities within systems and spaces, so I was definitely heavily inspired by the chaos and movement of the city of Fukuoka, and I think residing out in the country was a good way to digest and process that contrasting atmosphere.

The residency housed fellow international artists from Portugal, Poland, Usa, United Kingdom and India, and it was such an enriching experience to work alongside each other and share our practices.

We lived together in some very beautiful traditional Japanese country houses and engaged in critiques, talks and workshops together. It not only provided me the opportunity to network with local and international artists, but I also made some very close friends.