Artist Proof: Masako Miki, “Kokoro no Tabi” Kamiyama Artist in Residence in Japan

by admin on November 25, 2014

“Kokoro no Tabi” (A Journey in Between Place) is an installation I created during my Kamiyama Artist in Residence Program in Tokushima Prefecture, a small agricultural town surrounded by mountains of cedar trees, by the river Akui. The piece consists of a 10’ x 18’ drawing and 23 light sculptures and paper objects. The piece is inspired by the Kamiyama landscape, its people and the town’s current situation. Kamiyama is an upcoming town in a rural area where art is utilized to solve problems of a decreasing population in Japan’s aging society. The town’s mission is to change the quality of life rather than solely focusing on increasing a population. After my research, Kamiyama itself became a manifestation of my idea, which was to create a place filled with possibilities.

The Kamiyama Artist in Residence is about two and a half months long; the exhibition is the final part of the program. One unique aspect of this residency is that the artists are invited to interact with local residents in their work process. The residency program has existed in Kamiyama for the past 16 years during a turning point of the change that has seen migrants from Tokyo and Osaka breathe new culture/business into the landscape. Kamiyama seems to be experiencing a metamorphosis as it tries to synthesize contrasting elements of old and new cultures like agriculture and IT business, as well as different generations’ viewpoints. This small town has showed me interesting aspects of both the gifts and challenges of rural area, and I have witnessed how a small town deals with the serious issues of depopulation with innovative ideas.

I wanted my installation to evoke the experience of visiting a Shinto shrine. In Japan, there are numerous Shinto shrines in every town. There were about 6 shrines in Kamiyama. The shrine’s main purpose is to enshrine gods rather than worship them. The entrance is called “Torii”, which means the gate. The gate is the entrance of the tangible world into the intangible world. Then one walks through the forest before entering “Honden” which means a main structure with an alter inside. I wanted to suggest the experience of coming to a place that one has already known; a place that is familiar in mind. For me, the shrine visit is usually a reminder of the relatedness in things. The light suggests a guide to connect one with the intangible, as lighting is often used in Japanese rituals and traditions to reach the “spirit”. The abstract paper objects are meant to act as a holographic entry point. The drawing is occupied with night sky and animals, which includes animals from Kamiyama’s past and present. These animals are performing a traditional Awa-dance under the star-filled night sky. Stars and space are in our everyday surrounding which reminds me of the unknown. I wanted to suggest my wish for keeping Kamiyama as a place where a sense of freedom can be felt because things are not completed yet.

My installation was in the old town theater called “Yoriiza Theater “ where traditional Japanese puppet plays and movies were shown in the past. This is where people gathered and spent time together. For drawing medium, I used indigo-hand dyed washi papers that were made at Awa Paper factory in Tokushima. Tokushima is known for the indigo and the blue dye, which is sometimes called “Japan Blue”. For the light sculpture installation, I also used washi papers, and other simple materials like cotton thread and starch/wood glue. The light and paper sculptures were inspired by things I saw and heard; everything from Kamiyama’s produce to stories of local legend. I abstracted the shapes so that they became more of the sprit of these entities and ideas.

Often in my work, nature, animal, and their relationship inspire me to create a fictional context, prescribed with complex insights. These unique discoveries in our lives invite us to ask questions about the universe, and things beyond that which is perceivable. The state of metamorphosis in nature symbolizes an “ in between” place; a place that doesn’t hold a specific form but it is in a flux where anything is possible. In this realm, it seems boundaries are lifted from our perspective, which can expand our perceptions further.

During my residency I felt abundant beauty in Kamiyama. The simplest things that were around me- the stars in sky, layers of mountains, floating clouds, clear rivers, animals, and people’s hospitality made me realize this beauty. The connection to this beauty was familiar, but also extraordinary. As one of the invited artists in residence program, I was so fortunate to interact with many local residents who helped my creative process and gave me an opportunity to explore new medium and form. I have found so much in Kamiyama, I am looking forward what will be unfolding in my next series.


Kamiyama Artist in Residence 2014: Kokoro no Tabi, Masako Miki is at Yoriiza Theather in Kamiyama city, Tokushima Prefecture, from October 26 2014 to February 2015. The exhibition is open by appointment only after November 3 2014. Please contact Kamiyama Artist in Residence.