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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“Elevator Girl” is a huge CG-based installation that covers the whole wall of a gallery. Identically uniformed elevator girls strike separate poses in a world of virtual reality, which is elaborately crafted like a movie set. “Fairy Tale”, a series of silver halide prints in which young girls with faces of old ladies express their inner fantasies, is humorous yet ferocious. They give you striking impressions as if you have entered into a haunted house. In contrast, in “My grandmothers” series, Yanagi had models wear prosthetic makeup and visualized their own images of ‘themselves 50 years later. ’

Eternal City I, 1998 ©Miwa Yanagi

Miwa Yanagi, an art creator from Kyoto, Japan, held the first solo exhibition in New York this year. With her voracious thirst for self-expression and creation, and her stoic attitude towards arts as a genuine creator, she is rather an ‘art creator’ than just an ‘artist.’ Still, she admitted that becoming an art creator wasn’t her goal at first.

While in college, she studied Japanese traditional industrial arts. As she started to feel impatient with its fixed production process, she began working on installations using fabrics when she was enrolled in graduate school. She produced new things one after another, using materials in her own way to grope for the possibility of self-expression. However, she stopped all the productions upon the graduation as she lost her eagerness for creation. In the following 3 years, she worked as a teacher of art history, going back and forth from class to home.

Everyday, she repeated the commutes and the lectures at class again and again. In the closed society in Japan, she lost her identity and just kept her routine. That reality of hers is reflected in the “Elevator girl”series.

For Yanagi, whose daily routine was to create art pieces while in school, the fact that she stopped any productions was taking a load on her mind. Meanwhile, she got interested in transportation systems and commercial facilities that she saw during her commute, the consumptions and the labors in there, and the people who had to live up to the society’s stereotypes. The reason that she symphonized with elevator girls could be that she might have seen herself as an art history teacher in them, who goes up and down, opens and closes doors, and repeats courtesy announcements all day in the closed space like ‘elevators’

“I simply wanted to have them as a motif in my work.” This single motive brought out her eagerness for creation, which was smoldering in her. She rented a gallery space without any specific plans, and started working with elevator girls. That’s how her first art series “elevator girls” started.

In an elevator hall which was installed in the gallery, the elevator girls just kept smiling. She attempted to express the boredom, and intoxication of people day, who unconsciously acquired the way to live comfortably in a closed community like Japan’s modern society. In reality, ‘elevator girls’ first turned out to be different from the image that she originally had, which was the inorganic world with lifeless dolls; it had too much of a reality as there were real human and unexpected things that were out of control happening during the making. From there, she decided to try on composite photographs to control the reality that she wanted to express.

Series of Fairy Tale: Gretel, 2004 ©Miwa Yanagi

A curator from overseas, who was visiting Japan for research, discovered here talent and gave her a chance. She was given a chance to join an exhibition outside Japan.

Yanagi joined the huge international exhibition “Prospect ‘96” in Germany (1996 being the year), at the curator’s recommendation. When we asked how she felt about joining the international scene at that time, to our surprise, she says, “I wasn’t aware of the art scenes overseas and I didn’t know what an art creator was. I didn’t even know artists sell their works and they make a living by it. When someone who liked my work asked me if I could sell it them, I didn’t know what they meant (laugh).”

It is just recently that there are increasing numbers of art creators who make a living by selling their works as there are more commercial art galleries, influenced by those in Japan and the West. Also, there are trends of supporting new art creators and young aspiring art creators. Now they are all actively marketing themselves over the world. Until the beginning of the 90’s, however, when it comes to ‘galleries,’ most of them were rentals. At that time, Yanagi was a student studying the industrial arts, which was isolated from a contemporary art scene, and happened to join the exhibition without looking at herself as an art creator. She started gaining attentions in Europe, and foundations like Deutsche bank and museums began collecting her works. After the year 2000, she created new series such as “My Grandmothers” and “Fairy Tale.”

Series of Fairy Tale: The Little Match Girl, 2005 ©Miwa Yanagi

“The reaction to the previous work creates the next work.” The recurrence from conceptual works to polytechnic works. Going back and forth, Yanagi takes back the essence of her own, the creation.

‘I don’t want to keep doing the things I like.’ She intentionally ended her favorite ‘Fairy Tale’ series. Doing your favorite things is surely fun and enriches your skill. But if you keep on doing the same thing blindly, you will be exclusive and won’t progress. She dares to stop because she likes them. She remarks that it is important to ‘question yourself and the necessity of your work and try something new.’

When asked for a message for the fans, she laughed with a smile. “When I go to a lecture, oftentimes people tell me, ‘I liked the previous series, but the new series is totally different.’ Whenever creators bring out new stuff, it’s the scariest moment for creators but at the same time it’s the juiciest moment for the audience. It’s time for a dialog, that won’t be cozy with predictable stuff, to be focused. ” Her creative process will never be in patterns as she is always seeking for a new start. Therefore, she always does the reverse of what fans expect her to do. That is definitely one of her appeals as an art creator. And we are secretly looking forward to her new work and the ‘reverse.’

When asked what she wants to do other than art, she answered, “I might try something that will bring back the physicality. I didn’t care about my physical health too long. And it will eventually be for the creations, of course.” We thought we asked a question about a hobby other than art, but the answer was, naturally, about an art. This is just like Yanagi.

Text by Sei Koike, Photo by Akiko Tohno

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