Closed Beginning Opens the End (2018) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. Detail.
MAMI KATO makes elegant, material-driven sculptures with egg shells, fabric and rice stalk. Some works are architectural in scale, while others can be held in two hands. Whatever the scale, Mami's craftsmanship and responsiveness to her materials is impeccable. Mami has a BFA in Painting from Musashino University of Arts (Tokyo, Japan) and a BFA in Sculpture from Philadelphia College of the Arts (Philadelphia, PA, USA). Her work is included in the public collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Wu Tung Art Museum in Shanghai, China. Her recent three-person exhibition Over Time (2020-2021) just closed at Wexler Gallery in New York. But you can see a virtual version of the show at Artsy. Mami lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You are master of your materials. Rice stalk is one of the many recurring materials. What do you love about this material?
Mami Kato: I don’t exactly remember how I started to use this material, but it came to me sometime after I moved to the US from Japan. I think that I was looking for something that I can connect to on a very personal & authentic level. The rice stalk fulfills this need, so that’s what I like about it. I grew up surrounded by rice patties, those were my playground, and I lived in a culture which deeply /widely connected to this plant.
Rice stalk has been used as a material for daily commodities in Japan which have a relatively short life span. So as an art material I had to figure out what treatment would be needed without scientific and technological testing—just because it’s too expensive and takes too long.
Big Knot (2019) Rice stalks, cotton, insulation foam, epoxy resin. 50" x 32" x 89"
OPP: Is there anything unpleasant that you have to overcome in working with rice stalk?
MK: At this point, I think that I feel confident enough to say that my care and processing make the material last long enough without any bad deterioration, but I had to go through trial-and-error. I still do because it’s a natural material so each batch is different and I have to treat each one differently.
Untitled (Rice'n'Bean) (2006) Rice stalks, epoxy resin, fabric, oil paint, ceramic tips. 24" x 33" x 18"
OPP: Could you talk about the relationship between the small vessels made of rice stalks and the large-scale works Big Knot (2019) and Umbilical Field (2011)?
MK: The series of rice stalks started small with simple forms and it became larger.
I become more capable of making bigger and/or more complex forms, but also my interests/concepts changed as my life situation changed. I feel that both types are segments that reflect nature and my cultural heritage, but bigger pieces emphasize the nature part, and smaller pieces reflect the cultural heritage part.
Flowpod (2020) Cotton cloth, bio epoxy resin, milk paint, hide glue, and pigment. 26 × 47 × 11 in.
OPP: Negative space is a significant formal quality in your work. How do you think about emptiness?
MK: When I make a piece, I’m concerned with that particular piece’s "qualia.” The qualia of that empty space would change by components that the piece has, such as size, form of the space, the connection with the rest of the piece, etc. My empty spaces are often enclosed by thin shells that have openwork, so you can see the actual form of that empty space, and also let you go in and out through the openwork. So I see that each empty space has its own texture and physicality.
Bear Follicles (2019) fabric, epoxy resin, milk paint, plywood. 34" x 17" x 33"
OPP: Many sculptures—Samara (2014) and Bear Follicles (2016), to name a few—appeared to be metal upon first glance. In actuality they are made of fabric and epoxy resin. How does the material relate to the animal forms?
MK: The works that appear as animal heads actually contain some other elements such as plant and insect forms, reference of formation of growth of life, etc.
As far as the material I chose for those pieces, I developed my own technique that allows me to make a piece very delicate & light weight, yet strong enough to hold the form itself, but I always have to keep examining and challenging the limit of this material when I design the form of the piece. The manipulation of the appearance of material of the piece, which sometimes looks like a metal, or is unidentifiable is to suspend or dodge judgement. Surface and material can be separate things. So I’d like to choose surfaces to suit the pieces rather than exposing the material.
Egg Formula (2014) Materials: eggshells, rice paper, varnish, wooden frame, gesso.
OPP: It seems that you are very responsive to the nature of your materials. Do you find the limitations of each material liberates or stifles creativity?
MK: Each material has its own uniqueness, like each person has their own character, which you would accept as is and respond to when you encounter them. But beyond that, I’m interested in revealing the material’s new side that I haven’t known about, and if I successfully made that work with the piece/concept of the artwork, it would liberate me on some level.
Closed Beginning Opens The Ends (2018) Eggshells, rice paper, milk paint, epoxy resin, mirror. 10.5" x 24" x 24"
OPP: Do you have a favorite piece by another artist? How has this piece or this artist influenced you and the way you think about your own work?
MK: I would say that my favorite piece by another artist is Iso-Daich (which means “Phase-Mother Earth” in Japanese) by the artist Sekine, Nobuo. This work is the most famous piece from Mono-ha, which is the art movement in 1960s Japan.
I only saw this piece in a picture in some art magazine when I was living in my rural hometown in Japan. During that time I was hoping to proceed my art making practice and I was still very young and needing some guidance, but I couldn’t find any artwork/artist that I could admire around me. There was, of course, no internet, and I was surrounded by very traditional or unoriginal modern style art. When I saw the picture of this piece, I thought “This is it.” This piece gave me the hope and direction I needed at that time.
Ascending Filament (2014) jute fiber. dimensions variable.
OPP: What is your favorite piece of your own work?
MK: I don’t have only one piece that stands out as my favorite, but I would say, at this time, I’m excited about Ascending Filament and my works made of eggshells
I feel that Ascending Filament is unfinished work, which gives me inspiration as to what I would do with it. It is made of teased rope fibers, so it’s very light weight, as you can imagine. This fluffed up thread can be fit in various forms of spaces and squished down when you move or store it and you can fluff it back up when you use it. It still needs some improvement to get right (texture, color and etc) for me, but because of this flexibility and logistical benefit, I feel that it will open up options to make a different group of work from others of mine.