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A Conversation with the Artist: Cyoko Tamai

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With the exhibition Against Gravity: Cyoko Tamai opening today, Cyoko herself stopped by the gallery this Monday to help hang the show.  We got the chance to ask her couple questions about her new work, her life in New York, and what's next for her.

Do you feel that your work has evolved since your residency at the Japan Society last summer? Three-dimensionality has always factored into your work, but in your new pieces we see structure not only in the delicate architecture of fibers, but also in their base. What spurred this shift?

I used to explore “thinnest lines,” but now the line itself and minuteness are not most important. Today, I mostly don’t “draw,” but make fine lines vague by scraping out or even erasing them on purpose. My aim has changed from drawing to scraping or pulling out the fibers. Even if I draw precisely, I demolish the lines. I deny a certain fixed idea and absoluteness. In my recent work, it is important for me to cut, inflate and reconnect lines.

As I create I mix the energy inherent in the paper with the hypothesis, “a space is a living thing.” Before I begin a piece, I do not decide the final shape or consider an eventual beauty. My final work is a result of the accumulation of each rip. The first rip leads to the next, revealing the spectrum of possibility, and I choose one from these possibilities. I do this again and again. I hope to create an opportunity for the viewers to participate in and try to do floating-ripping.

What is it about New York City that keeps drawing you back? Do you think the city has changed you? If so, do you feel this change is reflected in your latest work?

There are three reasons: First, New York City has a variety of elements, and it suits me because I want to explore the world and the arts. Second, I can create my work freely and naturally, and I can have exhibitions and can open myself without being daunted. Third, I’ve met a wonderful gallery and people.

I currently live in New Jersey, and as I work I see a view of Manhattan across the Hudson River from a window in my room. Sometimes the view appears warm and friendly, but sometimes it is cold and distant. The differences are so fresh. Lately, I’ve tried to work from new viewpoints, shifting my perspective, up and down or right and left. Meaning, when I work, I sit on a chair or the floor, but I pretend to be on a wall or ceiling, experimenting with gravity. I can think freely because I am in New York, and I am encouraged to do anything that I feel I can do.

What’s next for you?

First, I would like to make a large work without a frame. In order to do that, I will need to cooperate with a paper craftsman to make a continuous, large sheet of Japanese paper. Secondly, I want to try a new method: I paste washi on my skin and draw on it as I stimulate my sense, and then I peel it off and make my work with it. I would like to create a work focusing on the sensitivity of skin and the sensation of touch. Finally, I would like to consider how I can specifically rip a space itself.

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Cyoko Tamai was born in 1987 in Kōchi prefecture, graduating from Tokyo University of the Arts with a BFA in Music and an MFA in Japanese Painting. Her work has been featured in over a dozen solo and group exhibitions in Japan and she is the recipient of several grants from the Sato International Cultural Foundation, as well as the Ataka Award. Most recently, she was the 2014 Summer Artist-in-Residence at the Japan Society Gallery, joining the ranks of such influential artists as Shiko Munakata and Yayoi Kusama.

Want to see Cyoko's technique in action? Check out this video from her  studio and be sure to catch her in-gallery demonstrations (Oct. 21, during the Opening Reception, or Nov.5, during the ACAW Reception).

Cyoko's workspace Cyoko's workspace

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