Mika Yajima produces commercial artworks mainly for architectural spaces, making use of fibre as material. Since 2006, she has exhibited conceptual installations, pursuing a spiritual direction with strong, resonant messages. In recent years, she has shifted her focus from folk art to techniques reflective of modern art. We speak with the Tokyo-based artist to find out more.
A: You recently returned to Tokyo after participating in the Accessible Art Fair in Brussels. How was your trip?
MY: It is 30 years since I last visited Belgium, when I was a student. At the Accessible Art Fair, I asked each visitor “Which one do you like best?” I believe that Belgian people have their own view, very simple and stylish, of art and design. It is a tremendous pleasure that artists came to express their compliments, especially those who know the piece Kuba’s Raffia Textile in Congo.
It was an honor to meet a young owner who collects my work; she showed me photos of my work displayed in her flat. I gave her a copy of Aesthetica as a gift to her. Who could imagine that I would come back to Belgium as an artist 30 years later? It was a very moving event for me.
A: In moving from folk art to techniques reflective of modern art, was there a challenge in expressing themes or emotions within new forms?
MY: In a hand-woven work that does not depend on digital, it is essentially a two-dimensional representation by the vertical and horizontal axes. In my 9×9 Composition series I challenged myself to be conscious of a three-dimensional feeling with mixed fibre collage. This can be seen in Secrets of the 81 Squares.
In my gold and silver leaf forms by paper patterns, treated with astringent persimmon used in Yuzen kimono processing, there are new attempts for emotional expression. In these I have tried to show a view of the world that illustrates the impermanence of life and the permanence of one’s inner soul.
A: What elements are gained and/or lost when transitioning to modern art?
MY: If I wanted to become a craftsman, I would have to sit in front of the weaving loom 365 days and continue to weave. Or I would have live with the master under the apprentice system and practice. I fund myself looking at such craftsmen when I worked at a kimono company.
In commercial art, once a piece is installed it will be exposed to the atmosphere for a long time and dust will accumulate; the fibre will need to be devised to keep it in a harsh environment. As the piece is set up inside an exhibition space, it is not known to the general public and can be degraded by things like maintenance and company policy. It could eventually become scrap.
Contemporary art is ambiguous and free of definition, so I can remove the previous problems that I experienced for 30 years and make a space for myself. There is something to lose if I do not deepen and continue to produce; I suppose it is common for all artists working in all mediums.
A: Much of your work is produced on textiles you have woven yourself. How important to you is this aspect of the process?
MY: I use woven textiles as parts or complete pieces that cannot be done with machine, digital or AI. Plant fibres themselves are weak and easy to cut. When you gather and bundle up those weak things, spin them into thread, wind them into rope － when you add movement to them, they transform into stronger things.
Representing the DNA trajectory of plants, which is essential for human beings from ancient times, by art, not clothing, is an important process to know my own identity. Just as hemp fibres from thousands of years ago are excavated and prove their existence, it is possible to travel with time and space as past, present and future.
A: Are the themes expressed by your art specific to culture, given the locality of the plants used, or are they in some ways universal?
MY: Human beings have inherited various ideas and inventive ingenuity by making full use of plant fibre collection technology from long ago. You know, the tracks have been left not only in Japan, but throughout the world. In some places, the succession has been halted due to human conflict, and in some places it has been automated by the development of technology.
In Japan there are various plants from the various local climates, so folk art materials also exist diversely as part of kimono culture.
My ancestors created an environment suitable for harvesting various plants throughout the year, so that I am able to gather for myself a variety of materials without traditional kimono or craft industry association.
A: Where do you find inspiration for your pieces?
MY: Firstly, from inside – from my inner soul. Also, it’s interesting to think that if I had not been for 30 years with my husband, an aerospace engineer, and had not ever seen any sci-fi movies or discuss anything about advanced science, that I might have become a boring artist or not even become an artist.
A: Tell me about your work on kimonos.
MY: I joined the Kimono Corporation as a regular employee, as I chose to get a job rather than graduate from school. From 1988 I spent two years in charge of merchandising specially-selected kimonos made by a variety of craftspeople including “Japanese living national treasures.” I was able to see and learn all the special work that is done behind the scenes. This experience had a great effect on me and my art techniques.
A: What projects are you working on now? What do you have planned for 2018?
MY: In 2018 I will be renovating an old house in the suburbs of Tokyo to use as a new atelier. I am planning an installation space that can be multi-use, as well as for studio visits.
I am also planning to participate in World Art Dubai 2018 as an independent solo artist. I was inspired by Islamic design, which I experienced for the first time in April. It will certainly be a different form; I simply want a place to express creation without stopping.
A collaboration with Japanese physicists is also planned. A Japanese physicist who I met at the Accessible Art Fair understood what I was trying to express at a glance; they have a specialised knowledge to theoretically prove my past work. Even though it will take years, my hope if for a long and continued collaboration.
1. Cosmic Spiral, 2007. Rope works, 500(φ) x 7000mm～180(φ) x 1800㎜.
2. Inside, 2006. Installation with recycled cloth collage, 2450mm x 2450m x 7000㎜.
3. 5×5 Multilayer Path, 2017. Shaggy rug with needle mixed collage with fibre, 382mm x 330mm x 48㎜.
4. Inside, 2006. Installation with recycled cloth collage, 2450mm x 2450m x 7000㎜.
5. Floating leaf on Inside, 2017. Shaggy rug with needle, mixed collage with fibre, 284mm x 232mm x 30㎜.
6. 9×9 Composition Ryusui, 2017. Hand-woven tapestry on canvas, mixed collage with fibre, 730mm x 730mm x27㎜.
7. 9×9 Composition Ryusui, 2017. Hand-woven tapestry on canvas, mixed collage with fibre, 730mm x 730mm x27㎜.
8. Floating leaf on Inside, 2017. Shaggy rug with needle, mixed collage with fibre, 284mm x 232mm x 30㎜.
All images courtesy of the artist.