Kumi Machida


Letter (2009)

Kumi Machida is having a good year. With a group show coming at the Osaka National Museum in January, and at least one other major international show in the offing, her name continues to be prominent among emergent artists identified in the mid 2000s by BT and ART-iT (see their feature on her in no 21) as key leaders of the post-Superflat generation. Her 101 Days of Sodom was one of the highlight works at the Takahashi Neoteny show in Ueno, as well as being right at the core of that collection. Of the three Japanese artists featured at the recent Manga show at Louisiana museum in Denmark, alongside Tabaimo and Kenji Yanobe, hers was the room that had the most impact. It felt like a complete set of her eerie, minimalist cream and black spherical figures, executed as always in ink on traditional kumohada mashi linen paper. Her works sell well, not only to Takahashi who has quite a collection, but on the Asian market especially, as well as in Germany where she first had her first commercial breakthrough.

All this is happening right now far away from her home studio/apartment way out on the Chuo line West of Tokyo. For nearly a year now, she has been living and working as a visiting artist in Copenhagen, with a Japanese national scholarship in hand, and a desire to get away from the hustle of the Tokyo art scene. Copenhagen offers peace and relative isolation. It’s like Germany, only quieter and smaller from an artistic point of view. She was one of the many young and emerging Japanese artists still thinking about getting out of Japan for a while. In Germany and Denmark, facilities for artists are good, they live comfortable lives, and art is taken seriously by public foundations. They are willing to pay for young foreign Asian artists to come and live on the support of European public funds: there would have been no Yoshitomo Nara, no Tabaimo, no Chiharu Shiota, without this kind of thing. In Denmark, about the most dangerous thing that can happen to you is to get run over by a bicycle. Even the Japanese consulate is a small, friendly office, making things happen for the expat community.

Machida was always a traveller. After university she travelled heavily in Asia, making strong connections with India and Tibet. Europe though, is new for her, and it’s the old cities and cultures – the idea of Paris, or London, or Venice – that most appeals. Of course, it is not always easy as an itinerant artist. You wonder in some way why so many young Japanese creators think it is the solution to their frustrations. Isolation can also be a rather desolate condition and the Danes, while friendly, are quite slow to invite you in anywhere. Machida admits she has not been as productive this year as she might have been. It is complicated to get the specialist materials she needs: special paper and brushes from Japan, one kind of pencil from German (Stabilo brand). There have been hassles with having to move apartments serially, losing things, finding her way around an unfamiliar city and culture. The benefits of moving your entire operation to another country are always going to be mixed.

There is great appreciation for “Asian” art in Denmark, but also very high degree of ignorance. You get great facilities and much respect, but the work often gets perceived on the shallowest terms. That was certainly the case at the Manga show, where both Tabaimo and Machida were upset to be lumped in with the crude pop culture category – insisting that their work had, obviously, nothing to do with manga – but to no avail. Kawaiiiiii is still the be all and end all of Japanese contemporary art appreciation in Europe, especially if you are a woman artist. The two were positioned by the Danish curators half way in the middle of a very dubious historical connection between Osamu Tezuka comics and Hokusai sketches, and presented as more evidence of Japan’s ubiquitous pop culture genius. Yet Machida’s work is more than a little disturbing, not at all pop or easily consumed, and best appreciated in live drawing/painting sessions where you can see the craft, detail and precision that goes into every tiny stroke. There is nothing “flat” about this work. The materials also count immeasurably: the pigments, the tiny scraps of metal leaf, the spare use of colour, the solid block like canvasses she makes with the high tension of the paper stretched across. They look like artworks that could at any moment with the wrong move or clumsy approach shatter like fine blown glass, or be ruined by a splatter of ink. A lot of pop art looks quite crude alongside this finesse.

Machida is not in Denmark for the inspiration. Her figures if anything come out of blank dream worlds, with little or no context, although she does say that she has experimented using Caucasian models rather than Asian ones for the new figures she is painting. Her gallery in Tokyo is Nishimura, a venerable senior gallerist, out of the mainstream of contemporary art, who has been in solid business for 35 years. He cares deeply about the work, but it keeps her somewhat isolated from the main circuits in Tokyo. Her breakthrough show was the Neo-Nihonga inspired selection at MOT in 2006, No Border. Fuyuko Matsui and Hisashi Tenmouya got a lot of the attention there. In my copy of the catalogue, which I thought I’d cleverly picked up cheap, I was dismayed to find that the pages for these two artists had been selectively removed by the previous owner. Yet, their’s is a quite obviously illustrator’s type of work, at the borders of pop/design. Machida bristles at the connection with Nihonga, and the connection with these other artists. There is nothing much traditionalist about what she is doing, and she broke with the Tama School training she received a long time ago. No Border showed perhaps that a series of younger artists in Japan were doing something with the notion of “Japan returns” that didn’t have to delve into the nation’s political or military past, but could explore different psychic spaces. It’s difficult to place to Machida in these terms. She will herself return to Japan in September, but is hoping to secure further funding for a prolonged second stay back in Europe.


Time for a holiday. I'll be back in September. Mata ne.


彼女の仕事は最も多くの個人のように思われて、 極少のthe 同様に、それは同時代人であり、奇妙に他のアーティストでそこに座りました。 たぶん、彼女の仕事のうちのいくらかが本当に『大きい』であったという事実が、それがあなたを引き入れるのを意味していました-彼女のブラシストロークの繊細さにおいて迷います-それからあえいでくださいそれの外のあなた-より多く 紙から、 向こうのこの部分的な真実 彼女がそれを活用する 明らかにされて、近くでアウトラインかろうじて認識可能だけを整列させているライン。漠然としていない彼女の仕事as well.の曖昧さのようなi、およびまったく ほとんどのケースの反対物けれども決して話し 正確に それが、それを見ることであるもの : 1枚のフィルムあたり1つの物語??が、関連した登場人物ですか?
私のために thats 何が彼女の仕事についてそんなに大きいか 。 与え何か触知で、ビジュアルで、どれほど最もよくそれを消化するかを決めることを任せられます。 少なくともどのように私が見るか それ のthats。


2009/08/22 02:06
「するために、『アジア』のアートが再編成できると理解してください」の用語は寛大に探究的です。 「値上がりしてください」は理解と評価と来ます。
もし彼らが望み、奈良を信じているならば、であること 多くの理解 をそこで傾けます。

2009/08/21 00:12





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