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With a sort of color reportage of her existence, Yu Hirai fixes in images the experience of a life lived between Japan and several European countries (Belgium, Spain, Germany, France) in which, however, a spatial vision of reality is cancelled out in favor of a standardization of the world. Her reflections on what is important in human life pass through banal and everyday events, the experience of her living abroad, and her story finishes by constructing the universal theme of comprehending the contemporary world.

Her works oscillates between two worlds: the everyday and the fantastic, inside and outside of reality. The situations created in her photographic work, between fiction and autobiography, immerse us in an uncertain and transitory space. And this tension is reinforced by a chromatic duality: red and blue oppose external space, distant and often disquieting, with the artist's interior world, more familiar and reassuring.

The images in Yu Hirai's photographs are not portraits but become as icons, every featureless face can become ours and define our relationship with the world.

Yu Hirai was born in Tokyo in 1963. From 1983 she has lived in Europe. From 1985 to 1989 she lived in Belgium, frequenting the Ecole Supérieure de Beaux Arts La Cambre in Brussels, training in design. From 1990 to 1993 she lived in Barcelona and from 1994 to 1999 in Berlin, where she began to work with photography. From 2000 to 2001 she lived in Dublin, and in 2002 moved to Paris, where she currently lives.

She has held various shows, both individual and collective, in Europe, including Next Generation / Art Contemporaine d'Asie at the Galerie Passage de Retz in Paris and in Japan, including The Future of Paintings at the Osaka Contemporary Art Center, Future Recollections at the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art and Mysterious Visitors from the Land of Ephémère at the Shiseido Gallery in Tokyo in collaboration with the Fondation Cartier of Paris. She has participated in international art fairs such as Art Basel and the FIAC of Paris.
She has won scholarships associated with such important institutions as the Cité Internationale des Arts of Paris and the Irish Museum of Modern Art of Dublin. Her work is included in important public collections including the Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris.




1983 Left Japan for Europe; since then I have lived most of my life abroad
1985-89 Ecole Supérieure des Beaux Arts "La Cambre" Brussels, Belgium (Fine Arts -Drawing)
1990-93 Lived and worked in Barcelona
1994-99 Lived and worked in Berlin (started photography)
2000-01 Lived and worked in Dublin
Since 2002 Lived and worked in Paris

Artist in Residence Programmes & Grants
SYRACUSE/ U.S.A. (1999) Light Work
DUBLIN (2000) The Irish Museum of Modern Art
MEXICO CITY (2000) The National Centre for the Arts - bursary from UNESCO ASHBERG and FONCA
DUBLIN (2001) Studio rental assistance grants - bursary from The Arts Council
PARIS (6/2002-11/2003) Cité Internationale des Arts


SOLO SHOWS (selected)

1989 Cache Cache/Europaria Japon, Galerie Camille Von Scholz - Brussels/Belgium
1995 Dress Diary, Art Space Niji - Kyoto/Japan
1996 BEOBACHTETE beobachten, Galerie A VON SCHOLZ - Berlin/Germany
Mysterious Visitors from the Land of Ephémère, Shiseido Gallery - Tokyo
(in conjunction with the Fondation Cartier )
1997 Berlin Blues, Galerie A VON SCHOLZ - Berlin
1999 Escape Diary, Gallery La FENICE - Osaka/Japan
2000 VERLAUFEN, Galerie A VON SCHOLZ - Berlin
2001 Basement Flat, Art Space Niji - Kyoto
2003 OSCILLATION, Cité Internationale des Arts - Paris
2004 KITCHEN CIRCUS, Galerie Rachelin Lemarié - Beaubourg Paris
2005 KITCHEN CIRCUS, Galerie Le Salon d'Art - Brussels
2006 FUTA-AKARI, Gallery OUT of Place - Nara/Japan
KITCHEN CIRCUS, Art Space Niji - Kyoto

GROUP SHOWS (Selected)

1995 Uit de Klere(n), Galerie van Laethem - Oud-Rekem/Belgium
1996 The Future of Paintings 96, Osaka Contemporary Art Centre - Osaka
1997 Future Recollections, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art - Kyoto
1999 Pink for Boys, Blue for Girls, Kunstamt Kreuzberg /Bethanian - Berlin
2000 The Crawford Open, Crawford Municipal Art Gallery - Cork/Ireland
2001 NEXT GENERATION/, Passage de Retz - Paris/France
Art Contemporain d'Asie
2002 Le Mois de la Photo, Cité Internationale des Arts - Paris
2003 Jeune Création, La Grande Halle de la Villette - Paris
Voies off le festival off (des Rencontres Arles) - Paris
2004 Far East Vol.1 Agenzia 04 - Bologna/ Italy
2005 Gallerisum Osaka Contemporary Art Center - Osaka

1990-1999 participated in a number of art fairs through Galerie Camille von Scholz and Galerie A.von Scholz
Art Cologne, Art Basel, Art Frankfurt, Art Fair Stockholm, Art Brussels, La Fiac
2003-04 Art Paris Through Galerie R&L Beaubourg


Musée des Contemporains HONRU (Belgium)


Kitchen Circus - A word by Yu Hirai

I am always thinking about how I can I interpret the events in my life both great and small and absorb them into my work.

I create work inspired by daily life but which swings between the real world and my fantasy. Having been living in Paris since 2002, I was searching for a subject which suitably caught the spirit of the city during my time there. After much reflection, the theme which seemed most appropriate was that of the circus. In Paris there is the traditional circus and every variation thereon, right up to the new contemporary circus ‘cirque nouveau’ and every week one can see a different performance somewhere in the city.

Moments When Human Beings are Transformed Into Something Else 2003
The ephemeral and the fun and danger and solitude. These are the aspects of the circus which appeal to me and connect it to real life. I went to many different circuses to take pictures. I knew that I was not interested in taking documentary or reportage photographs of the real circus. My aim was in fact to capture the moment when reality and fantasy come together and human beings metamorphose through photography into something else. When this happened, it was often seemingly by accident, so I could never feel satisfied that the result was entirely my own creation. The more I went to the circus, the more I began to question whether the photographic approach could ever fully express my personal creative vision.

Kitchen Circus 2004
Using a process of trial and error, I began to take pictures of my own table-top circus using small model figures and objects which I have collected or made over the years. To create interesting background scenes, I employed some shiny kitchen objects and thus my ‘Kitchen Circus’ series began. I found that I could imbue these small performers with my own feelings and create what was truly my own fantasy world.

Audience 2005-2006
On one occasion, while photographing the real circus I accidentally took a shot of the audience instead of the performers. I found the resulting blue silhouette of the audience very interesting. Inspired by this photograph I began to go back again to the real circus, but this time for me the audience was the star. I began to take pictures which captured the magical space between audience and performer.

My photographs are taken on traditional film and are not manipulated digitally at any stage.

Paris April 2006

Kitchen Circus - WHY?

Why have I chosen the theme of the circus ?

I'm not actually particularly enthusiastic about the real circus. But my mental image of the circus connects with my reflections on daily life and offers a stage onto which I can project my innermost feelings:danger, transcience, compassion, absurdity, sadness, solitude, cruelty.

Yu Hirai

Entre chien et loup

About my work

I am a Japanese visual artist working mainly in the medium of photography.

I swing between two worlds. One of these is my daily life, documentary. The other is that of my fantasy, beyond reality. Some artists look for inspiration from important events as seen through the media. I, however, prefer to work through my own personal experiences and the little insignificant happenings of daily life. I concentrate on those events which particularly impress themselves on me and I try to establish a universal theme which links them and so gain a fuller understanding of today’s world.

When I was twenty years old, I first moved to Europe. Since then I have lived most of my life abroad. Despite this I have become more and more conscious of my situation as a foreigner and an outsider. I will always struggle with this problem but I do not want to view this situation as a bad one. I have decided to accept my destiny and make this one of the themes of my work.

Entre Chien et Loup -Twilight

A major theme in my current work is an obsession with the colours red and blue. I use the two colours to express the ambiguous nature of my identity, the relationship between my emotional life on the inside and my daily life on the outside. Red evokes dreams, blood, my emotions, the unconscious, my inner world. Blue makes me feel loneliness and the fluid nature of time, my outer existence.

Over the past year I have been continuing a series of self-portraits begun in Berlin. I take pictures of my self in the studio using a red lamp at twilight. These are self-portraits but my aim is not to record my physical form. I want to express the ambiguous nature of my identity, the relationship between my emotional side and daily life on the outside.

My photographs are all ‘traditional’ photographs, taken with film not digitally; nor do I manipulate my photographs digtally afterwards.

Paris April 2006

“[…] a strange photo, obviously a selfportrait, take in "metaphisical" and yet familiar deep red setting,in front of a window. The face was rubbed out.

What a beautiful way of putting on oneself, denying oneself, pointing at what questions an identity maybe erratic, probably in quest of itself.

From this unique attempt, she made a series. Very intense.”

Michel Nuridsany
[ extrait du catalogue “Next Generation Art Contemporain d’Asie” PASSAGE de RETZ 2001 ]

Futaakari - Twilight

As daylight fades into night, the lights turn on indoors. The moment when these two sources of light meet is called futaakari, twilight.

I have chosen the colour red to represent this indoor light. The red means my internal world, my dreams, my memories and intimacy. Blue, on the other hand, stands for the world outside, reality, the universe and the unknown.

At futaakari time, the red and blue worlds start to come together and I regain the freedom of my early childhood.

Yu Hirai




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