Goya Curtain, Tokyo

The name for Goya Curtain Art and Project Space emerged from the time of Japan’s earthquake of 2011, the consequent tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. The nuclear plants were shut down and summer was on its way. Electricity had to be rationed but summer in Tokyo can get very hot and humid. So, instead of air conditioners, companies and households were encouraged to grow green curtains of climbing plants, including the goya or melon (gourd), to battle the heat. Curtains of leaves were trellised over walls, balconies, and windows to keep room temperatures down by blocking the direct sun. Although this was not a new strategy, that summer many more walls of green appeared across Tokyo.(1) Noting these green curtains, the gallery’s founders Joel Kirkham and Bjorn Houtman started a zine to document the time after the quake, and called it Goya Curtain. In 2016 they opened the gallery, enjoying the way the name for the bitter melon plant also played on the great Spanish artist Francisco de Goya, who experienced his own kind of bitterness living out his life in France in self-imposed political exile.

The project space is located in the top apartment of a two-story building in Nakameguro, a quaint area of antique shops, art bookshops, European-style espresso, and several art spaces.(2) To get to Goya Curtain, you walk down a narrow side path and up equally narrow stairs to the porch of the 1950’s wooden apartment. It is a 1DK: one tatami room (with futon cupboard) and one kitchen/dining room. There is a toilet but there is no bathroom because when it was built people used the local baths.

Local visitors find the space very familiar and when entering might say ‘Ojama shimasu’, a term used for entering someone’s house, meaning ‘sorry for the intrusion’. Visitors from overseas, on the other hand, may need to be reminded to take off their shoes. Those new to Japan may never have seen this style of housing (and its tatami flooring), which used to be all over the city. Now, fewer and fewer of its kind remain while tatami is being phased out, partially because of a more recent trend towards Western style housing. Like many buildings of its era, this one is due for clearance (sixty years for a house is old here where land is valuable and structures less so), which is one of the things that makes it affordable to rent. Its pending demolition also reflects Japan’s culture of ephemerality.

Neither an artist run space nor a dealer gallery, Goya Curtain is somewhere in between. The directors pay for most of the running costs themselves, and Kirkham uses the space as a studio between exhibitions. The gallery shows artists from Japan and around the world, including New Zealand. For instance, the most recent two shows were by Andrew Barber and Patrick Lundberg, while last year Goya Curtain showed Jan van der Ploeg, a Dutch artist who has had an ongoing relationship with New Zealand artists, especially with Julian Dashper. (3) Dashper taught Kirkham and Houtman, and his influence is partially responsible for the ethos of Goya Curtain. Dashper encouraged his students and friends to hold exhibitions and events wherever and whenever they wanted. Once, in his living room, he showed two paintings, one each by visiting Australian artists Vicente Butron and Kathy Temen– the show was on for an afternoon and he offered only water. (4)

Kirkham describes this DIY approach as creating ‘a balance between well planned and casual. Because we are not commercial if there is no show for a few months, it’s fine.’ This easiness is also reflected in the range of work Goya Curtain exhibits, which has included sound works by Teppei Togashi and Shoko Yoshida, a recording by noise musician Madoka Kouno who was paired with New Zealand painter Matt Henry, an installation work by Naohiro Utagawa who lived and worked in the space for seven days, a book launch and reading by designer Ian Lynam, and photography by Patrick Tsai (his blog and images also chronicle living in Japan after the earthquake). (5)

In the most recent shows, Andrew Barber and Patrick Lundberg used the gallery in ways that drew attention to the space—both artists repurposed the tatami flooring—and to the temporariness of things. Given that Goya is an unconventional gallery space, with windows, doors, and large futon cupboards occupying much of the wall space, it makes sense that both Barber and Lundberg would choose to use the only large, uninterrupted surface in the gallery—the tatami mat floor. As part of his exhibition The small work is to the painter as costly as the large (May 19-27th, 2017), Barber spray (gun) painted the floor directly in diagonal stripes. The name of this work Existing refers to the term used on architectural plans to indicate what is already there before the proposed changes. The tatami floor comprises six rectangular framed grass mats, each with an approximately one inch border of dark green brocade. In addition to drawing attention to the texture of the woven grass and the layout of the rectangular mats, Barber’s work highlights tatami as an architectural feature, one which is gradually being replaced by the ubiquitous wooden floor. Visitors to Goya Curtain invariably use the tatami room floor, and Barber’s show was no exception with people lying all over the painting on the opening night.

In his show, No title: 32 parts 2014 (40 parts revised, 2017), Patrick Lundberg augmented an earlier work by adding eight pieces of slender wire approximately 12 inches in length. The additional pieces were accompanied by a plan and instructions for their placement, with the wires to be set out in an offset grid form, at a 45 degree angle to the tatami frames and grass matting. Once installed, the wire pieces, although slight, immediately transformed the floor space by providing a clear counterpoint to the rigid geometry of the mats. They also provided a quasi-frame for the 32 piece work, made up of stencilled balls, painted cylinders, ball bearings, and found brass pieces resembling eye hooks. In addition to containing the work and avoiding the tatami from dominating the pieces, the wires served as a border enabling the viewer to walk around the perimeter of the work. Given that a tatami room is a natural sitting space, it should have been no surprise that local visitors would instinctively sit to view the work, magnifying glasses provided by the gallery, and thereby experience the intimacy provided by Lundberg’s wall works.

Goya Curtain gave Barber and Lundberg the freedom to do what they wanted with the space, and both were drawn to the tatami. In New Zealand, unlike Japan and other parts of Asia, the floor is merely a support surface for tables and chairs, at least outside of the Marae. In Tokyo though, Barber and Lundberg got involved directly with this horizontal space, most often reserved in the West for lazy teenagers and children. (6)


(1) http://jei-jnn.blogspot.jp/2011/05/lowering-your-energy-bill-with-bitter.html 

(2) For example, Art Space Tokyo, Aoyama Meguro http://read.artspacetokyo.com/spaces/aoyama-meguro/ and Poetic Scape http://www.poetic-scape.com 

(3) New Zealand artist (1960 – 2009)

(4) Dashper’s approach also inspired van de Ploeg to start PS projectspace, first in his living room, and now in his studio building, in Amsterdam.The first artist to show in PS in 1999 was Australian artist John Nixon. 

(5) See “Talking Barnacles” http://www.talkingbarnacles.com/

(6) View Goya Curtain’s excellent website http://goyacurtain.com/home.php



Andrew Barber%2c -Bonsai(lol)-%2c 2017%2c Gouache and ink on aluminium%2c wire%2c swivels. (1).jpg

Andrew Barber, Bonsai (Lol), 2017. Gouche on ink, aluminum, wire, swivels.

Mariko Kurose

Andrew Barber%2c -Bell Road - Woodward Road-%2c 2014-2017%2c sewn drop sheets (1).jpg

Andrew Barber, Bell Road – Woodward Road, 2014-2017. Sewn drop cloths, wood frame. 

Mariko Kurose

Andrew Barber%2c -Existing-%2c 2017%2c ink on tatami. (detail) (1).jpg

Andrew Barber, Existing, 2017, detail. Ink on tatami. 

Mariko Kurose

dalePatrick Lundberg %27No title%2c 32 parts%2c 2014 (40 parts revised%2c 2017)%27 (detail)%27.jpg

Patrick Lundberg, No title, 2014, 32 parts (40 parts revised, 2017) detail. Wood, metal, paint. Image courtesy of Goya Curtain. 


Patrick Lundberg, No title, 2014, 32 parts (40 parts revised, 2017) detail. Wood, metal, paint. Image courtesy of Goya Curtain. 

Goya Curtain


Patrick Lundberg, No title, 2014, 32 parts (40 parts revised, 2017) detail. Wood, metal, paint. Image courtesy of Goya Curtain.

Catherine Dale lectures in English literature, and cultural and critical theory in Tokyo. She has a collected volume Orienting Feminism: Media, Activism, Cultural Representation, co-edited with Rosemary Overell and due out early 2018.