Keiko Mukaide

Keiko Mukaide was born in 1954 in Tokyo, Japan and is an internationally renowned artist with the unique practice of creating both small-scale glass sculptures, from bowls to jewellery, and creating large-scale site specific installations, which respond to the physical and spiritual environment.

Keiko has exhibited her work internationally, including; Kami kara no katachi No.1 at The Corning Museum of Glass in New York, Hexagonal Wavy Bowl Clear at the V&A and Tsukubai Stone No.14 at Glasmuseum Ebeltoft in Denmark, amongst many others. Keiko studied at Musashino Art University, Tokyo, gaining a BA in Visual Communication Design; she then completed an MA in Ceramic and Glass at the Royal College of Art in London. She established a studio in Scotland in 1993 and is now a research fellow at Edinburgh College of Art and is based in Fife. Keiko describes her work as being, “informed by ancient principles of geomancy, an art that analyses the subtle earth energies that ebb and flow throughout the landscape, assisting and enhancing a relationship with spirit and place.”

Keiko’s ability to transform glass into a focus for art is incredible. More often than not, people just think of glass in its practical formats, as a window or a glass to drink from. “I think its glass’s transparency and its fragility. Quite often I try to achieve a feeling or sense of these places [installation sites] so the transparent nature of glass is very suitable to explain the feeling, which is why I often use glass as my main material. Also glass can be heavy and it can be thick. Glass can change the barriers of form and shape and colour and that’s why I am still so fascinated by working with glass.” Keiko describes the difficulties of working with glass, “Glass is fragile, with fabric you can send it abroad without any proper packing, but glass needs to be properly packed when sent on a long journey. Once it is cracked people see that it is damaged and it can’t be shown in galleries. On the other hand that is why people handle glass very carefully, they appreciate glass’s fragility.”

Keiko’s 2006 site specific installation at the TATE St. Ives was a 55 foot-long, sea-facing showcase where she created an installation of brilliant coloured light using shards of dichroic glass, centrally lit by a beehive light-house lens. Keiko contrasts the process with making smaller pieces like jewellery, she says; “I enjoy the size of the jewellery, because you can make complex pieces within a short period of time and see the quality. I also enjoy the size of the installations, like the TATE exhibition; which involves hard labour and is time consuming, but once it is complete you can actually walk into the art and you can feel it. Not only two dimensionally like gallery pieces, but you can feel using all your body’s senses.”

Keiko’s installations reinforce the intrinsic relationship between human beings and nature as exemplified by her Elemental Traces installation, 2000, at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh. “From the installation in the Botanic Gardens, I became aware of using our five senses, maybe sixth sense as well, because as artists we have to be quite sensitive of everything around us. Ordinary people are also very sensitive, but they are not always aware of it because our environment is quite harsh in a big city or town. It’s very noisy, there’s smells, so we try to close down our senses, because if you’re too sensitive you cannot survive. Through my work, I try to encourage people to realise how sensitive we are and to open our senses to nature, or our environment. I think that’s the starting point for individuals.”

Memory of Place at York St. Mary’s is a site-specific installation that responds to the deconsecrated church’s environment. It is one of nineteen parish churches, which have survived out of the forty that existed in medieval York. Memory of Place has taken two years of planning. “I asked my friend [Geomancer, Grahame Gardner] to make a dowsing map and both of us found the energy ley running from East to West through the centre of the church. I tried to use this idea of the energy along with my intuition. My first impression when I came here was that it was very cold and there was sadness, because it’s empty and people no longer worship here. Yet there are still memorial plaques and beautiful gravestones on the floor. I began to read the text on the plaques and this related to my emotions, as I lost my father three years ago.” Keiko continues, “I’m using people’s memories as my main inspiration. I come from Japan so I have an Eastern and Western background, I’m a Buddhist, but still we can all share the same emotional feelings and memories. I got the concept of making a big pool here and to asking people to release a glass bowl containing a candle onto the water. This ceremony connects back to my Japanese origin. Every summer, we’ve got one week to invite our ancestors spirits to come back home. At the end of the week we have to send the spirits back. In some areas of Japan they have a ceremony called Shoro Nagashi where they release lanterns into the river, which will let the spirits ascend to heaven. I got this image in my mind and I wanted to realise it in this church.”

Memory of Place is visually stunning. The hand blown glass bowls allow the viewer to interact, by placing them in the pool and watching them gradually flow along the energy ley from East to West. The glass column Pillar of Light hangs in the West tower and is composed of 700 suspended glass rods; which represent the energy channels carrying the memories. Different connotations arise from this experience, it is exceedingly peaceful and you can contemplate the memory of a lost loved one, or a loss of tradition. Or you can simply marvel at the beautiful and spectacular nature of Memory of Place while gaining some respite from the hectic urban environment outside.

The Memory Of Place, funded by Arts Council England and Scottish Arts Council, York St Mary’s, Castlegate, York, ran until 28 October 2007.

Shona Fairweather