It’s been a reasonably cool 80 degrees this past week, so I hope you were able to ditch the work emails and head out to some of our cool events. If not, then this is the week to do it! With the Fourth of July holiday on Monday, I’m sure the long weekend is much-needed to regroup. I have an outside Bollywood dance party and for the extreme anime lovers, there’s a HUGE convention going on (complete with costumes galore).
David B. Jang: New Works
When: Now through Wednesday, August 3, 8 am
Where: DAC Gallery, 828 S. Main St., Los Angeles, 90014
How: It’s free.
Artist David B. Jang turns ordinary objects into extraordinary pieces of art. Styrofoam cups, empty potato chip bags and scraps of paper towels come together to make pieces that, the artist says, viewers can relate to because of the familiarity they have with the materials.
Artist Miya Ando is a woman obsessed with light.
So much so that she went to Berlin recently and braved the freezing temperatures to create this fleeting, beautiful moment of artwork called “Resplendency: The Art of Light” for the Dam Stuhltrager Gallery. As a part of her “I’m Beautiful Night” series, Ando created phosphorescent sakura (cherry blossom) images, visible only for a short time at night, in the icy snow in front of the Reichstag. Of the piece, Ando said:
“My thoughts on doing this piece was basically the result of a meditation upon Berlin as a person who grew up near Hiroshima and heard stories all my life from my Japanese grandparents about the atomic bomb and the World War, how if affected my Japanese family, and how it felt for me to be in Germany, as Japan and Germany were on the same side of the war. On my father’s side, we are Russian-Jews. My father and also my grandfather on his side were military. My Russian grandfather would tell me about Pearl Harbor and about the war, and I have a great uncle and great aunt who are Holocaust survivors and have tattoos of numbers on their upper forearms.
“I thought that having invisible sakura that were visible only very fleetingly for a moment was appropriate in front of the Reichstag.”
Check out the video of Ando creating the work.
Audrey Magazine featured Ando in our Fall 2010 issue. The Japanese-Russian American artist — born in California, raised in Japan, and currently based in Brooklyn — expresses the myriad facets of herself in her art. Here is more of our conversation with her.
Audrey Magazine: Much of your work seems inspired by or is a play on light. What draws you to light?
Miya Ando: I’m very inspired by and sensitive to light. My friends always tease me because I often say that i can’t remember the time or the place or the conversation, but I can tell you what the light looked like. Part of the reason why I love to work with steel is because it reflects the light very beautifully and changes throughout the day, depending on the light. it’s quite dynamic in that way. Lately I have been thinking about light as a poetic expression of transformation or transcendence. I think light can be very mysterious and magical and otherworldly. I’ve always been spiritually inclined and so I regard light in this way and apply light as a component of my visual vocabulary to express my concepts.
AM: You grew up between Santa Cruz, Calif., and Okayama, Japan, in a Buddhist temple? What was that like?
MA: I have very happy memories of the temple and of living with my grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. My hometown did not have any other half-Japanese, half-Caucasian people at that time, so at times it was difficult being considered different. I am really grateful to have been introduced to a life of ritual and respect, of contemplation and of having philosophical pursuits be integrated into one’s daily life.
AM: Is it true you are a descendant of samurai-era swordmakers?
MA: Yes, before my family went into the Buddhist priesthood, they made swords. My Ando family is quite an old family — I am the 16th generation. There is a family registry of history and records that are kept, like a family tree. My great uncles collected the Ando family swords and would tell me stories. It’s very much part of our family identity and history.
AM: After college, you went to apprentice with a master metal smith in Japan. Why?
MA: I finished UC Berkeley in two years and then went on to Yale for graduate school. I left my graduate program early in order to pursue my studio practice and metalworking full time. As part of my commitment to metalworking, I moved back to Japan to become an apprentice and to learn about the material from the very beginning, from zero. It was very important for me to approach the material in a respectful way and I learned a great deal not only about the material but also about humility in my study in Japan.
AM: Is that how you got involved in steel artwork?
MA: I had been introduced to working with metal when I was a very small child; my father had a hobby of rebuilding cars and so I spent lots of time in an automotive garage. I knew how to do basic braising and welding when I was a young girl and so when I started to work with materials as a young artist, metal was very natural for me. I have always felt very comfortable around a metal shop and sparks and welding and sanding. I was drawn to metals because of my childhood, but also because I had always heard these wonderful stories about sword smiths and my Japanese family, I knew that I was from a steel family and working with steel felt very good in the way of connecting with this part of my heritage.
I had something of an epiphany when I was a young artist and I was welding a sculpture for the first time. I was inside of the dark welding hood and it all became very clear to me — that I loved working with this material so much that I decided that I would study very hard and learn as much as I could about the material.
I felt from the beginning that steel was a perfect substrate in that it was so quiet and grey and understated. The innumerable shades of grey within the material has always transfixed me. I think it is quite elegant and refined. The steel is a cornerstone of strength and permenance and yet all things are transitory, ephemeral. I always loved the poetry there. I love that steel can be so hard and look so very soft and ethereal.
AM: Any other influences in your art?
MA: I think that living in the redwoods in Santa Cruz and by the ocean influenced me. I think back now on that landscape and the beauty in that scenery — of the grey sea, the beautiful fog which I always loved, the solitude in the mountains, the amazing light that would come between the trees and through the leaves. I also think often of the temple where I lived. of the rice fields I played in, the stillness and serenity, the quiet space in the hondo (main altar room in the temple). I think of the very simple, reductivist and minimalist setting of the temple, the grid of shoji screens and of the lovely diffused light that would filter through the screens. All were very influential in my work.
AM: There seems to be a lot of chemistry (phosphorescence, layering chemicals, etc.) and hardcore manual labor involved in your artwork. How do you do it? It must be physically exhausting and you must be really strong!
MA: Metal work in very grueling and physically taxing. I’m drawn to intensity and so the process of working with fire, acid, caustics and sharp things appeals to me — I’m a tactile person who likes keeping my hands busy and so for me it’s really engaging and interesting, although very challenging at times. I spend hours sanding — I’m pretty sure that my body looks the way it does because it’s a visual manifestation of the physical labor that i do! However, I do push-ups and yoga and exercises so that I can lift the steel more easily when I work with it. I dislike having to stop working and ask for help in moving things around my studio, so I try to be strong so I can stay independent. Now that the works are getting very large though, I have to work with a team.
Yes, there are many chemicals and acids and chemistry in my work — sometimes I feel like a scientist or alchemist! I did not learn metal-finishing in school; my process is a layering of many finishing treatments that I came up with through trial and error. I spend lots of time playing with materials and chemicals and testing things before I go to execute a piece. I have a system of working in my studio where I will hand sand until my arms get tired, then I will move on to another task in order to keep from overtaxing my muscles. It’s more sustainable to do it this way since I work every day.
AM: What inspired the “I’m Beautiful Night” series, and why is it called that?
MA: It is a series of paintings, both indoor and outdoor, that are created with phosphorescent paint that is invisible in the daylight and only viewable for a short period of time in darkness. I love the ephemeral nature of this medium. There is an independence and subtly in this material, which I thought was very poignant.
The title of the series is derived from my own name — “Miya” is written with the characters “Beautiful” (Mi) and “Night” (Ya) in Japanese. The first piece was part of a graffiti-themed show in Louisville, Ky. I thought it was a nice way to pay homage to the tradition of “tagging” one’s name in graffiti culture, but I wanted to write my own name in a way that would transmit a positive message to the viewers. Anyone reading “I’m Beautiful Night” may consider that they, themselves are beautiful, or that they are part of the beautiful night, as the words are only viewable in the darkness.
The art show in Louisville where I am showing the piece is in conjunction with a public commission in Louisville. The commission is for The Healing Place, a women’s homeless shelter and alcohol/drug rehabilitation facility. I wanted to do a piece that had a connection to women and so I used the grass writing style of hiragana. Grass writing was used by Heian Era women, who at the time were not allowed to study kanji characters which were being assimilated into the Japanese writing system. The male intelligencia of the time believed that kanji was too difficult for women to understand. There was an explosion of women’s writing at this time because they were able to write very quickly in the phonetic hiragana writing system. Novels such as The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu (considered the world’s first novel) and the Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon are incredible, fantastic works! I loved the notion that these women were marginalized, but were able to transcend their position and create these masterworks. I wanted to honor this strength and creativity by writing in their style of grass writing, which I believe is quite beautiful. To me, grass writing aesthetically conveys a very poetic, feminine and lovely feeling, even if one cannot read the actual Japanese hiragana characters. It felt to me a very nice way to connect the women’s shelter public piece with the gallery show.
AM: You’re actively involved in various causes and the fight against ovarian cancer. What motivates your activism?
MA: I view philanthropy and charity work as an extension of my art practice. It is a continuation of my art in social action. My dear friend and gallerist Karla Diehl in Louisville is a young woman in her 30s, she recently went though chemotherapy for ovarian cancer. Given that we were doing a show incorporating women’s writing and also in conjunction with the woman’s shelter, I thought it would be so wonderful if we could do something special to benefit ovarian cancer research. She and I came up with an aluminum print edition to raise awareness for this cause. I’m really honored to be able to apply my artwork to help people.
Want to see Miya Ando’s works live? She’ll be at various places in the next few months, including the Dumbo Arts Festival in September, a solo exhibition in October, and in Australia in November. Get all the details at Miyaando.com/news.