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COOL was born in hope of becoming a bridge to let the art lovers all over the world inspire each other, link together as one, and create a new future in arts. The main contents consist of interviews of both New York-based and international artists and creators, special feature articles, art reports from around the world, reviews and column series. We contribute to the cultural exchange through arts and to the development of the art industry so that people in the world can enjoy arts casually and New York and major cities in the world can connect through the media COOL.
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Variously shaped objects are installed on the wall. Lights shining on these objects bring forth shadows which float on the wall; the side of a face, a walking figure, and a young girl sitting, amongst others. At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me when I saw the mysterious sight. This was the fantastic world created by New York City-based artist Kumi Yamashita. In spite of appearing on Japanese television programs such as “Kiseki Taiken Unbelievable” and “Friday SMAP,” and being showered with attention, she remains natural and honest. I had the opportunity to have an exclusive interview with her for the first time for a magazine at her studio in New York.

COOL: First, tell me about your background please, Kumi.

Kumi Yamashita: After graduating middle school, I entered high school, but I soon went to America as a foreign exchange student. After that, I spent some time in Italy before returning to America, where I graduated from college. On a visit to Scotland, I was enchanted by the buildings of Glasgow University, and I entered their graduate program just like that.

COOL: When did you first take an interest in art?

Kumi: I’m not sure, but if I had to say, I think it dates back to pre-school. I really like drawing pictures, and was always drawing. I remember being praised by my mother and teacher for drawing my mother’s face and painting her hair purple (laughing). If, at that time, I had been pushed toward drawing properly or by the book, I might not be the person that I am now.

COOL: How was your concept of art using shadow born?

Kumi: I’m not really conscious of ‘when’ in this case either. I guess I’ve always been enchanted by the concept of light and shadow. As I watched the sky as the sun set, I would announce the changes one by one to my mother. I found those changing shapes and shadows beautiful. I often discover beautiful things in nature. I think a lot of people are that way, but I have a particular tendency to take a special interest in this beauty.

COOL: Recently, you’ve become a popular topic in Japanese media. Has anything changed around you?

Kumi: Absolutely not. I didn’t even know I was a topic. I just have the chance to hear impressions I had never thought of. It’s really interesting to hear all the different viewpoints about my own work. Sometimes, when I hear the opinions of third parties, I think to myself, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s it!” (laughing).

COOL: How was it appearing on Japanese television programs?

Kumi: Tiring. I have to carry everything over from New York, then work all night to set everything up in the studio. My work has to be constructed on the site in line with the light. Of course, each work is a little different each time. I can never make exactly the same one twice.

COOL: How did you get the offer from the Japanese television station?

Kumi: Probably someone from the station saw my work on the web. Also, I only got my solo exhibition in San Francisco because, coincidentally, one of the judges at an open exhibition I applied for had connections with that museum. And that led to the exhibition in New York. I’m no good at self-management.

COOL: What’s your source of inspiration?

Kumi: Always being happy. If I am happy, ideas naturally spring forth. The more I try to think of good ideas, the worse my work is. The times when I am making good art are the times when I am enjoying making it. If this feeling starts to crumble even a little, I stop working and do something completely different. For example, I’ll participate in a wild flower picking tour in Central Park (laughing), and find that happy feeling in another field. For me, feeling happy is normal and, at the same time, very important.

COOL: Have any artists influenced you?

Kumi: I don’t much see other artists’ works, and I don’t really know, but if I had to, I would say I like Pheidias, a sculptor that worked on the Greek Parthenon. I became interested in him after hearing about an episode that occurred when he was working on the sculptures on the roof of the temple. Pheidias completed the sculptures on the eaves of the Parthenon in Athens. But, the Athenian accountant complained angrily about the bill, saying that, ‘The backs of the sculptures can’t be seen. Why would you carve something that can’t be seen and include it in the bill.” Pheidias replied, “That’s not true. The gods can see them.” After hearing this, I immediately liked Pheidias. More than his work itself, I am moved by his dedication to his work.

COOL: Why did you move to New York?

Kumi: I grew up watching Sesame Street, so I naturally always had an interest (in New York). I thought New York would be hard if I came when I was older, so I moved here about two years ago. I didn’t really come to see art. To tell the truth, I was really scared at first. But actual life here was natural, so it was enjoyable. No one is really a foreigner here. So it’s possible to come into contact with people on a personal level. That might be one reason it’s fun.

COOL: How do you make your art?

Kumi: How… Like I said before, the most important thing for my doing my work is that I always feel happy. If this isn’t the case, I definitely can’t make anything that will satisfy me. When I’m happy, ideas come to me naturally. I don’t consciously think about ideas. Ideas just pop up, and I sketch them on paper. After that, I move toward making them into real works. First I set the pieces up on the floor with light coming from the side. When I’m finished with that, I move them up onto the wall.

COOL: The shape of the shadows and the shape of the base you make are completely different, as if the concrete was being born from the abstract. Where did this conception come from?

Kumi: First, I use real shadows as a model. Then I create my base for the shadow. I’m a very concrete person, so I really respect abstract artists. I know nothing about the abstract world (laughing). I have no idea where the conceptions for my art come from. It seems like they just fall from the sky, and then my hand notices them and moves itself.

COOL: Do you use computer graphics or blueprints?

Kumi: I am a very analog person, so I’m not very good with computers. I can send e-mail (laughing), but my work is all done by hand. I like to use pencils. I guess I haven’t made much progress since pre-school (laughing).

COOL: What is ‘art’ for you?

Kumi: Recently, in a conversation with a friend, we accidentally discovered that ‘art’ is an ‘act of God.’ As I’m creating my art, I always think it’s not really me creating it. It’s something in a higher place, whether it’s God or something else. My work must be a revelation from something beyond myself.

COOL: Tell us what you plan to do next and in the future.

Kumi: I have no idea (laughing). I haven’t really thought about how to develop my work. But I’m always thinking about how to enjoy life since living happily provides my inspiration and is the source of my art. As long as I continue to create quality art, I think my development will naturally spread in good directions. Is that too optimistic? (laughing)


Interview by Sai Morikawa
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