SHERIDAN — Advances in technology have made it easier than ever to connect with people around the globe. Friends and family are almost always a click or tap away. The advances also allow most people to follow news and receive information nearly instantaneously.
Paradoxically, though, the wave of information and connectivity can serve as a tool of isolation, leading to less in-person contact. How can people today slow down and process everything going on in the world?
Artist Jave Yoshimoto hopes his art exhibit will serve as a bookmark for people to ponder during this age of digital oversaturation. Yoshimoto opened his display, “The Splintered World,” Thursday at the Whitney Center for the Arts. Yoshimoto’s work explores the potential loneliness partly caused by information overload and also tries to bring to light humanitarian issues and awareness of people still suffering as a result of natural disasters.
“Regardless of the big thing that comes along, we move on because we forget these things,” Yoshimoto said. “My attempt in my work is figuring out things that I think are worth remembering.”
Those topics interested Yoshimoto because he was an immigrant to the U.S. and felt like an outsider growing up.
“I feel like I can understand and relate to peoples’ pain,” Yoshimoto said. “My best way to help people in need is to basically use my strengths — I don’t want to say talent, because it’s something I work at — to really best represent some of the struggles that people are going through.”
Yoshimoto was a Jentel Artist Residency member in May 2014, where he worked on some of the pieces currently on display. This was his first time back to the area since.
WCA director Erin Hanke said the WCA has not had any work similar to Yoshimoto’s before, which allows art students to study the unique display as well.
“Between his work and his character, he just was a really great fit for us to have here,” Hanke said.
Yoshimoto is currently an assistant professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. His artwork has evolved over time, from more joyous, lighthearted work like 8-foot bacon sculptures to focusing on natural disasters and humanitarian crises.
His more outwardly-focused work came as a result of a trip to Japan, where he was born. Yoshimoto wanted to rediscover his personal identity and figure out the next steps in his work and life.
Upon returning from Japan, Yoshimoto tried to use his work to help others and not only serve his own creative desires. In Chicago, he started community art therapy classes, which let people create work and express themselves without criticism.
During this time, a massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami killed at least 15,000 people in Japan. In response to the shocking tragedy, Yoshimoto created a 30-foot painting based on the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami. Yoshimoto wanted the massive painting — which took nearly a year to finish — to be a tool for a greater impact. He made hundreds of reproductions and donated the sales to art classes in Japan.
That painting led to his disaster series, of which many pieces are on display at the WCA. The series includes a piece on Hurricane Sandy, which affected a wide swath of the Caribbean and eastern United States in 2012, and artwork about the Syrian refugee crisis.
All of the paintings in “The Splintered World” include Godzilla, which Yoshimoto said serves as a portrait of himself. Yoshimoto was raised by a single mother who worked at night, so the TV became his friend as a child. He watched Godzilla reruns over and over and over, relating to the creature’s seeming loneliness. In the art, Godzilla is usually a passive observer to the tragedies taking place.
Gillian Malone, who is taking art classes at Sheridan College, observed that most of the work on display is grim yet colorful. She found the display extremely interesting and said the works reflect today’s troubled world.
Indeed, his works are vibrant pieces that contrast the tragedies depicted. Yoshimoto said this “visual trick” was done to make the artwork more accessible and seemingly light-hearted on the surface. That allows more people to look at them, with the hopes that they study the work more closely and grapple with the disasters and crises, instead of simply forgetting.
“When I’m researching these topics, I try to create works based on kindness and empathy,” Yoshimoto said, “My work is to inspire people to think about what they’re looking at and hopefully be encouraged to do something about people in need, be it their next-door neighbor or people from far away.”
Yoshimoto’s display is the WCA’s final visiting exhibit of the school year and runs until April 22.