No other sculptor can turn paper, wood, flax and wire into wall sculptures of such intriguing ambiguity as Yuriko Yamaguchi. In the ongoing series of works titled “Metamorphosis,” begun in 1991, she conjures those materials into shapes so familiar yet so enigmatic that it’s almost impossible to keep from touching them, from physically examining them to try to divine their meaning…Such evocative power — aesthetically and psychologically — of her sculpture. “Metamorphosis” is an apt metaphor for what has gone on in the series over the years…But what makes Yamaguchi’s work so compelling is its audacious ambiguity, Nothing is quite what it seems, beginning with the physical appearance of the works. With many of the pieces, it’s almost impossible to know without referring to Yamaguchi’s written description whether a sculpture is animal, vegetable, or mineral. – Ferdinand Protzman, The Washington Post
Yamaguchi’s “Metamorphosis” series has been compared to haiku, and it’s a fitting description. The artist set herself formal limitations similar to the controlled syllable count of the popular Japanese poetic form…Yamaguchi’s “Metamorphosis” series began in 1991 and was planned to include 108 rows of sculpture. The artist says her inspiration came from the bells in a Buddhist temple that ring out 108 times at the new year to symbolize all the human desires and the suffering they bring. The four forms in each line are about stability and completion, as well as the elements earth, water, air and fire. Even though the word “poetic” tends to get overused as an adjective in describing artworks, here no other fits quite so well. – Sheila Farr, Seattle Times
The principle of transformation underlies both series, linking the works notion of life and identity as being in flux or transition. What’s new about her web sculptures is that they literally visualize the energy fields around the objects while they enmesh the viewer in their auras. A more empathetic communion results between observer and observed. Further evidence of the web sculptures’ malleability lies in their ability to shift shapes and to expand or contract to fit a specific site. A comparison of the titles from the two shows suggests that the action has also evolved, from the more general Metamorphosis to the more particular Propulsion, Leap, Arrival, and Convergence, as though the artist were zeroing in on the specifics of what constitutes change. – Sarah Tanguy, Sculpture
Web #5 (2003) is a stunning work, weird and evocative. It is 21 feet long, with the mouth 8 feet in diameter. The black wires that shape the piece — and eerily seemed to modify the very air you breathed as you stood beside it — are linked and twisted in a bent, jagged, three-dimensional drawing of improvisatory vigor. – Joe Shannon, Art in America
She examines the interrelatedness and dependence that has bound humans to animals and to the earth since, well, forever. That connectedness gets reinforced through the technological innovations that connect us in succeeding generations. Our latest happens to be the Internet….She seems genuinely beguiled by the paradoxes of human life — specifically, the illusion of individual free will in a terminally interdependent world. – Jessica Dawson, The Washington Post
The cloud-like Floating World (2007) nods to the ukiyo-e woodblock tradition both in its title and through its poetic metamorphosis of strikingly non-poetic material — copper and steel wires interwoven with resin chips, beads, and a whole variety of obsolete computer components. Added to these subtle variations or fragments of a possibly meaningful system is a lyrical analogy between computer networks and the inescapable interconnectedness of all matter…she became influenced by the work of Austian-American physicist Fritjof Capra, who among other claims to fame has been instrumental in popularizing ideas like “deep ecology” and “complexity theory.” The basic premise of this systems theorist turned eco-philosopher, advanced in books like The Tao of Physics (1975) and more recently The Web of Life (1997) and The Hidden Connections (2004), is the need for reforming the anthropocentric view of the nature/art dialectic by a greater mindfulness of the ‘”hidden connections between everything.” – Aneta Georgievska-Shine, Art US
Yuriko Yamaguchi has a distinct and subtly unsettlingly way of expressing vulnerability…A motion detector embedded in the ceiling registers one’s presence via spasms of tinny “heartbeats” emitted by small speakers. The sound confirms we’re within the sheltering environment, but also warns of intruders, instilling a sense of paranoia that keeps us inside. – Nord Wennerstrom, ArtForum
“Georgia On My Mind”
Yuriko Yamaguchi created Georgia On My Mind for the Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport. On the north side of the T-Gate concourse, 28 cast bronze objects, arranged horizontally in four rows of seven, respond to the grid pattern of the wall tiles and span an overall area of 10 by 27 feet. “My overall concept is always that my work is like a vessel that people can fit in,” says Yamaguchi. The vertical rows act as metaphors for the rejuvenation of the state and transformation of the life cycle in the larger world. – Sculpture
Humanity’s End as a New Beginning
This exhibit has been born from my collaboration with Dr. Mineke Schipper, emeritus professor of Intercultural Literary Studies at Leiden University in The Netherlands. Her works have been published in many languages and she is also a writer of fiction (www.minekeschipper.nl).
In July 2009, we met for the first time at the Villa Serbelloni, in the Rockfeller Center in Bellagio, Italy. We were invited to work there for a month on our personal projects with other resident fellows, eighteen researchers, and artists from all over the world. I was one of three artists there and Mineke was invited as a writer and scholar.
Each of us had to give a presentation to the other fellows on the topics we were working on. I showed slides of my past works and invited them to my studio to show my work in progress. I was working on the theme of Interconnectedness on watercolor papers. Mineke gave a talk on her research topic Humanity’s End as a New Beginning, inspired by mythologies from around the world.
Our collaboration on this relevant topic would increase the interest in environmental world disasters among a much wider range of people. Indeed, she felt such a book would become even more attractive with a wealth of visual images, especially to address younger people as well as older generations. Of course, I was not an illustrator, but she told me not to worry about depicting a story but to paint my honest reaction and inspiration regarding each story. This is how our project started during our residency in the Rockefeller Center.
About a year later, she sent me her finished 100-page manuscript while I was working in the Jentel Artist Residency in Wyoming. I started working on this project for a month. After producing less than half of the stories, I stopped for a quite a long time due to my solo exhibitions and commissioned works. I kept apologizing to her and felt even more the urgency of the project, especially after the destructive earthquake and the disastrous tsunami in 2011 in Japan. In time, both of us wanted to get together to finalize our project.
I applied for a three-month artist’s residency at the Art Space in Barcelona, Spain. In April until the end of May 2017, I worked there on my proposed project, an installation with stainless steel wire and gampi paper pulp. After the opening of my new work, No End, in the beginning of June at the Art Space, I focused again on paintings inspired by the 29 mythological stories and achieved my goal to finish all the works. I flew from Barcelona to Amsterdam to visit Mineke in her office in Amstelveen, The Netherlands. We also met with our interested publisher and selected the paintings for the book.
She was still researching Japanese mythology, as we both felt a Japanese story was still lacking and would be indispensable for a future show in Japan. We decided to spend more time to work on it. Later, she selected a very well-known story among Japanese people in which the dramatic end of human life and the world is imminent but ultimately prevented thanks to divine intervention. She explained that Japanese ancient literature was governed and controlled by the imperial court, and a real ending was not felt to be a suitable imagining in such ancient storytelling. Finally, I painted the last work for this story entitled “How the gods averted the End.”
In October 2018, all 30 paintings for Humanity’s End as a New Beginning were first exhibited at the Museum Haus Kasuya, Japan. All the stories had been translated into Japanese and the technology assistant in the museum made for each story a QR code to be found as a label underneath the paintings. I and many visitors including a reviewer of the Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun were excited about the QR code’s use, especially for exhibitions combining visual and verbal arts that is looking at the image while reading the story.
In October 2019, I had a meeting with Nancy Sasausser, director of Mclean Projects for the Arts (MPA), to talk about our show at MPA in April. We decided to use one side of the Emerson gallery space for displaying the thirty paintings, and the other side for a video installation. At that time, I was not sure what kind of structure and what materials I would use for installation. The only thing I had in my mind was using many video projectors inside of the installation. My daughter helped collect more than ten different YouTube videos that are related to the climate change and COVID-19. In March, the director of the American University museum delivered the cancellation notice of our group show that was scheduled for November 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I was planning to exhibit six sculptures there. I still had two of the sculptures installed in my studio that were supposed to be shown in the American University Museum Katzen Art Center.
By looking at my No End piece that originated from the first exhibition in Barcelona’s Art Space and expanded to fit into a much larger space of the museum, I became curious about the new possibility to extend No End and morph it into a video installation. I had never used video projectors for my work before. I needed to learn what would be an appropriate and economical projector in today’s market. I soon found out there are many mini video projectors that can operate with a USB-memory stick. I faced another problem with the screen dimensions of the projected video.
I started with the standard rectangle but this did not integrate well in the environment of organic No End installation. I cut papers into various sizes of oval shape which seemed to have a great effect. Soon I found out a plain oval shaped paper is boring and does not match well. Later, I recalled what processes I have used to create the Night Watch Bell sculpture (still in my studio) for the American University show. I printed Trump tweets on velum paper and cut them into small pieces to fit into the cut grid wire mesh. It was wrapped by cheese cloth to cover over by a thin Kozo paper pulp. After it dried, I scorched it by candle frame. Finally, I brushed liquid resin over the dried Trump tweet. The process was monotonous and ritualistic.
For a new No End, I changed this process a little bit. As our show deals with ending, I thought having photo images of dead trees on the individual oval shaped screens and they must be well integrated in terms of the theme of our show. I walked in my backyard, the Wolf Trap National Park, with a camera and captured many interesting photographs. By changing the size of oval shape and manipulating them to a lighter hue, they became an interesting addition to a new No End. The process is not preconceived, rather it is an interwoven tapestry of discovery, experimentation, and curiosity.
The origin of Mineke’s idea of publishing the result of her research as a book stems from her desire to connect the ancient apocalyptic mythologies to today’s environmental problems and pandemic, as she convincingly explains in an essay preceding the mythical stories. I intend to use the right side of the gallery space to encompass the world-wide climate change related videos for wildfires, earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, glacial melting, plastic contamination in the ocean, tornadoes, nuclear power plant explosion in Fukushima, Japan, and COVID-19. I downloaded all videos in a different order to USB-memory sticks. As a result, each projector projects a different video-scene in a loop. It is like John Cage’s chance operation. I am pleased with the unexpectedness and surprise. Although each original video comes with a narration, I turn off the sound when I operate all the projectors; however, people can hear the whir of the projectors. I like only these whirring sounds without journalistic explanation of the videos in order to make my show ambiguous instead of with a didactic overtone. If you do not know the exact content of each video, the installation almost looks like abstract light show.
Although I know the importance of public awareness, I still feel this INITIUM NOVUM piece is an elusive poetic visual entity even if I use traumatic videos. Videos are showing very serious and scary truths that we need to discuss and bring the maximum effort to minimize problems. For example, wildfire in the west coast is annual and more frequent. I hope my show can trigger a discussion on climate change in the community.