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  • Aimee Board

‘Echo’ interview with Japanese born Australian artist, Yumemi Hiraki


During her install for the group exhibition, Visceralis, at George Paton Gallery, Japanese born Australian artist, Yumemi Hiraki, discussed the inspiration and processes behind her artwork with emerging curator, Aimee Board. Special thanks to Holger Dielenberg for providing the interview recording and images and to Space Tank Studio for the workspace and facilities.

Can you explain the premise behind your work Echo? This work explores degradation. It’s an extension of a previous work called Growth where I used nature, grass and moss in the gallery that degraded over time. This series of work was more literal, more obvious, and concentrated on those inevitable breakages. Like for example, concrete, it’s supposed to be constant, it’s not supposed to fade away, but then you see little cracks and plants sprouting through and realize that nothing is forever. It’s always shifting, it’s always dynamic –even the things you think are permanent, it’s constantly going to shift over time. So I was playing on that and then elaborating from that, and I don’t know how I got here but it came to this.

Your work is deeply personal. Has this always been the case? I think I always approach my practice from a personal space. This used to be more directly portrayed in my work, it was very personal and internal, now I think it’s less about that. I mean that element is always there and it’s what drives my initial ideas, you know the roots, the core of the work. But I guess it’s not necessarily obvious or visible at the end. Or maybe it is but it’s not the first or only thing you associate with my current work….which I’m happy about because it makes the themes more universal.

You have an ephemeral quality in your work… That’s good. I think degradation is a direct link to my culture and heritage. It’s a dilemma that I’ve always faced I guess, being over here, being in Australia. I’ve been here since I was thirteen and my family lives in Hiroshima, Japan so it’s kind of like being in between cultures. I’m sure I’m speaking for many people with international backgrounds when I say this. I’m not Australian, I’m Japanese but I’m not really Japanese, I’m always in that gap, that cultural gap. Where do I reside in that and how do I position myself? It’s coming to terms with those ideas and reflecting on them.

So your displacement from Japan makes you feel as though your cultural roots have deteriorated or degraded somewhat? I think my cultural roots are and will always be there. It’s a very strong feeling. Even to the point that I always have this sense of, not guilt but kind of feeling like I owe something back or it’s my duty to continue to highlight those traditions; to expand them. I want to showcase what makes Japan and Japanese culture unique. Because I am proud to call it home, all the beauty it has to offer. I don’t want to dilute the rituals, skills and culture, even though I guess I feel that I am by being in an international setting. Though I am fully Japanese by blood, my upbringing, lifestyle and ideologies aren’t. These things only become visible when you get out of your own culture. But then again, maybe my roots are stronger, because of this, that though I am moving away physically, my relationship towards it is bolder and continuously growing…

‘I would like for my work to trigger memories, to trigger things you forgot about or haven’t thought about in a while.’

What is it specifically about the process of sewing and burning in your work that relates to your culture? The burning kind of came from a previous work where I was working with hot glass casting. I placed a piece of kimono fabric in between two pours of glass, so basically trapping the remnants of the burnt fabric and its ashes within; this piece was called Residue. That was kind of the finishing point of a set of work, and I moved on towards ideas of Growth.

I think Residue marks a point when I became okay with the fact that I’m in the middle, that gap. And there was something so significant and beautiful in the burning, a ritualistic sense of letting go. No matter how much you burn, there will always be a residue and with it, the history of what was. This method of burning, is extremely detrimental to the material, a very aggressive process. But through that shift, you’re left with something else, a new opportunity for the material. A possibility to create something beautiful out of something so destructive. It’s that aspect and it’s me coming to terms with myself and my culture.

The stitching idea I guess derives a little bit from the Japanese ideology called kintsugi. This method describes a process of mending broken ceramics with lacquer and gold. It highlights the cracks as part of the design instead of throwing it away or trying to disguise it. It’s this wabi-sabi kind of idea that really intrigued me and stuck with me…and that’s where I started going with the growth idea and now onto Echo. ‘The possibility of one is forever shifted, without that shift, whether it’s destructive or constructive, that possibility ceases to exist…’

Can you elaborate on your choice of materials? It has occurred to me that my work seems to always gravitate towards materials that are elemental. I’ve worked with ice, ceramics, glass, sand, plants, potatoes, fabrics, now cardboard. I think I am drawn to natural or organic things and the materials all interconnect with one another.

Though I grew up in the city, we also have a log cabin in the countryside back home. A lot of my childhood was spent in nature. At the beach camping, in the forest running around, jumping around in the snow with my dog, and I miss that. Now I’m in the city here and I love it, but I guess a part of me is longing for that tactile connection with the organic world. So I think the materials I use comes hand in hand with my childhood and past memories.

Your connection with nature is an early influence. Are there any other influences that have impacted your practice? Maybe this elemental aspect is a Japanese thing, the rituals the simplicity, the process of burning, somewhat therapeutic and reflective. The stitching as well – it’s the continuous repetition of doing something. I also like that it’s not expensive, high quality materials that I use.

I like to make things out of nothing, things that people forget about or don’t notice that much, maybe that’s where the nature comes in. I think people forget about nature a lot and it’s constantly all around us, surrounding, protecting and watching over us. Maybe we should do the same.

Can you describe the process involved in making your work, Echo? First I purchase the honeycomb cardboard, there’s two flat sheets and the honeycomb sandwiched in the middle. I rip both sides of the flat sheets off, it requires a lot of energy and sometimes water to release the layers. Once they are ready, I burn them. I lay the honeycomb flat, turn on the blow torch, heat up a ladle and char the surface slowly. I let it burn as much as I want and spray some water to turn it off. After the burning, I apply some shellac on some of the honeycomb surface.

Then I manipulate the material and stitch it in place with some twine. The flat sheets are the same process but I burn them all together. So I lay all the layers on top of each other then separate them to hang them up. It’s hard to find a creative studio where I can do this kind of work. The fume extraction at Space Tank was the only place I could find that could accommodate my work process safely.

Do you use the shellac for the purpose of creating a different textural surface? I guess you can say that. And that little bit of colour really adds to the piece. Maybe its that decorative side, the kintsugi idea again, mending something.

Your work Echo, for me, prompts memories of bushfires – it feels like a burning ember in the air… The possibility of one is forever shifted, without that shift, whether it’s destructive or constructive, that possibility ceases to exist. Like how I moved from home and even though there was a lot of the conflicts that came with it, I wouldn’t have realized any of this if I was still back home.

I would like for my work to trigger memories, to trigger things you forgot about or haven’t thought about in a while. There is something special about embers and fire, it’s mesmerizing and I always find myself just staring and reflecting, deep in my thoughts. Bushfires may destroy everything but then also opens new seeds in its process; and without it, they will not grow.

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