OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Emi Ozawa

This is Granny Smith, 2018. Acrylic on poplar. 52" x 52" x 13." Photo credit: Margot Geist

EMI OZAWA's skillfully crafted sculptures show thoughtful attention to line, form and color. The simplicity of her geometry—repeating circles, lines and squares—belies the complexity of her thematic concerns. In kinetic sculptures and wall-hung sculptures that change dramatically as the viewer walks past, she explores of the relationship between looking, touching and moving. Emi studied at Joshibi University of Art and Design and Tokyo School of Art. She earned her BFA in Craft/Wood at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and her MFA in Furniture Design at Rhode Island School of Design. She has exhibited widely throughout the U.S, in London and in Tokyo. In January 2018, Emi's solo show Follow The Line opened at Richard Levy Gallery. The gallery will also take her work to Art Miami in December 2018. Her work was included in the group show Parallax : A RAiR Connection Exhibition (2018) at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, alongside Featured Artist Justin Richel. In 2019, Emi will be an artist-in-residence at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she lives and works.

OtherPeoplesPixels: You studied graphic design and furniture design. How did that inform the work you make now? 

Emi Ozawa: while I was working as a graphic designer, the feeling of wanting to create 3D objects by my hand grew. I had the idea that objects could be kinetic and interactive. The reason why I started learning woodworking was to make my sculpture steady for touching and moving. I was interested in furniture as objects that have a built-in invitation to touch and move. I also wanted to learn about wood. I love the feel and the texture of this material.

Square on Square, 2010. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 19.75" x 20" x 3". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: What led you away from functional objects toward visual art?

EO: From the start, I was combining my sculptural ideas into furniture. I wanted my work to be inviting. You can sit, you can open a door. Its function was secondary for me. For instance, Bird tables surface is very limited. My ‘box form’ sculptures—like Wound Up(2001) and bOX (2001)—have very small inside spaces. Each piece has very unique way of opening and closing. They needed to be explained by someone present, sometimes a piece would be displayed in a case, all of this intruded on the viewer’s full experience. Gradually I felt that I wanted my work to be independent like a painting on a wall. Viewers are invited to look and have an experience of interaction without touching. Further more, I wanted to focus on surface painting more than spending too much energy with building mechanical parts and joints.

Red Bridge, 2004. Acrylic on apple plywood with brass. 15" x 15" x 2.5". Photo credit : Mark Johnston.

OPP: In your statement, you mentioned that play is a central concern of your work. Early kinetic works like Triangle Train (2009) or See Saw 2 (2002) could be touched. What makes an interactive work a sculpture versus a toy? Does that distinction matter to you at all?

EO: Yes. This distinction matters to me, but I can’t help it if others blur the line between the two experiences. Making art which applies itself to our instinct to play is the connection I am seeking. I think a toy is for the users—user-centered. That’s why a lot of toys are made safe for certain ages, for certain development, or there is a room for how to approach the toy.

Speaking about my interactive sculpture, there is a very specific way that a viewer can interact with the piece. When it’s activated, it shows a movement or a surprise which I created to share. So it is artist-centered.

Rain on Rain, 2016. (front, left and right side views). Acrylic on poplar. 48" x 28.5" x 2." Photo credit: Margot Geist.

OPP: Your wall sculptures are very much about visual perspective. They change if you look at them from different points of view. Is this pure abstraction? Or do you think of these abstractions as metaphors?

EO: I think a lot of them are pure abstraction using color and geometry, but some are developed from my response to nature. For example, I considered rain drops falling in Rain on Rain (2016), the moon in a night sky in Once in A Blue Moon (2014) and the vivid colors I see during Summer season in One Summer Day Takes a Walk (2013). I like working with squares and circles because they are my favorite language. They tend to relate, and I use them towards what you are talking about in terms of visual perspective. 

Drifting Mist (two views), 2015. Acrylic on poplar. 15" x 15' x 1.875". Photo credit : Margot Geist.

OPP: When I first looked at works like Kaki to Yuzu (2018) and Blue Line (2017), I thought of variations on the Modernist grid and the textile grid of weaving, as well as an accumulations of ladders against the wall. Then I googled Amidakuji (2016) and had a whole new perspective. Can you explain for non-Japanese speakers? 

EO: Amidakuji is a common game of chance in Japan. You just need a pen and a paper. You draw vertical lines of participants number which could be two to however many. Then add horizontal lines in between the vertical lines, write prizes or numbers at the bottom end of the line and hide that detail. Each player can add more horizontal lines. Now the game begins. Each participant picks a line. You track the path downwards from the top. Following the line, it crosses sometime with other path but never overlap. When you reach the bottom, you find the prize. When I started drawing this idea, I thought everybody knew about it. Then soon I found out it is not common in USA. As far as the purpose of the game goes, picking the shortest straw might do something similar.

Amidakuji, 2016. Acrylic on mahogany. 54" x 46.5" x 1.25." Photo credit : Jeff Krueger

OPP: How important is it that viewers understand this reference when looking at the work?

EO: I structured these three pieces based on this game and applied this rule to color these lines. I wouldn’t be making these works without knowing Amidakuji. But it can be looked at as a sculpture without its references. Though it is not a must, I mention its inspiration because it is part of it for me, as is this work’s relation to the Modernist grid you mention. It is interesting to see similarities in Mondrian’s structure and this game.    

Five Blue Circles, 2018. Paper on board. 10" x 15" x 2.5" frame.

OPP: Many recent wall sculptures are made of paper instead of wood. Is this a new material in your practice? 

EO: I have been making paper models for 30 years. It was for my furniture, as it is now for my sculpture. From drawing to paper model to wood sculpture. . . this has been my process. Paper model-making is an important step for me to see and understand three dimensional aspects before working on a piece in actual size and material. I always enjoy working with paper just like I do with wood.

I have an upcoming residency  in 2019 at Tamarind Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there will be an opportunity for me to do some 3D lithography. Because this work will be on paper, I was looking at my paper models and drawings and started experimenting with paper towards the work as a finished art object. 

Sugar Plum, 2018. Paper, tape on board. 13" x 13" x 1.5" framed.

OPP: Can you talk about the material differences between wood and paper?

EO: Paper doesn’t have thickness like wood. Paper is foldable and flexible unlike wood. Paper is more fragile than wood. There are many differences between the two, with what you can and cannot do, yet my paper and wood pieces are alike though in different scales.

Some ideas echo in-between wood pieces and paper pieces. My newest paper pieces are inspired by my wall wood sculpture that changes its look from the different perspectives. I found it is interesting that the reverse process is happening. Adding paper to my materials, my play ground of ideas is expanding. 

To see more of Emi's work, please visit emiozawa.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist  Stacia Yeapanis.  When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations.  She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006 Stacia was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at  BOLT in Chicago.  Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (Michigan 2013), Heaven Gallery (Chicago 2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago 2014), The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017) and Indianapolis Art Center (Indianapolis 2017) and Robert F. DeCaprio Art Gallery (Palos Hills, Illinois 2018). During summer 2018, Stacia created  Renunciation Reliquary as a one-night installation for Chicago Artist Coalition's annual benefit Work in Progress and was an Artist-in-Residence at Facebook. She is currently preparing for a solo show titled Practice, which will open in April 2019 at Kent State Stark.

OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Rebecca Potts

Radiant Color Chart, Softened
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cow hide
48 x 30 x 18"

Informed by her research into metaphysical philosophy, REBECCA POTTS explores the transmutation of matter and energy as manifested in sculpture and painting. Her angular, wooden sculptures evoke webs, dome-like architecture, stained-glass windows. Most often radiating from a central point, they are portals, focus points for the attention and energy of the viewer. Rebecca earned her BFA (1998) from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and went on to earn her MFA (2002) from Cranbrook Art Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. She attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2003. She has exhibited primarily in New York, including Working Artists (2015) at Academic Gallery, Abraxas at Temporary Agency (2014), Upfront at Feature Inc (2011) and New York 2111 (2011) and Scattered Logic (2009) and at The Texas Firehouse. Rebecca lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

OtherPeoplesPixels:You make primarily wall-hung sculptures, although there are exceptions to this rule—Sandal and Matador from 2010, The Wise Will Have Passage and Casual Proximity from 2008, to name just a few. Could you talk about the wall as a space for sculpture? What draws you there more often than to the floor?

Rebecca Potts: Wall-based sculpture has more of a seductive energy; it draws you towards it. Whereas free-standing work—that you might trip over—has a bit more of a masculine, declarative energy. The fact that less than a 360 degree view is presented is also intriguing. Why? Is it holding something back, does it have secrets, is it trying to behave like a painting? The works from 2014 and 2015 are quite fragile and line based, dealing with machinations on energy and space personified. Mounting them on the wall is semi-protective, but also ensures that the encounter by the viewer happens at eye level, allowing for a projection of the self into the work.

Acrylic, paper mache, wood, fabric
21.5" x 21" x 12"

OPP: Before 2013, you were using more found materials in your work—fabric, pieces of jewelry, sequins, corks and a glass eye—as well as plaster and clay. Since 2014, it appears that you are working exclusively with wood and paint. Earlier work seems more bodily with lots of gloppy textures, fabric folds and curved lines, while newer work feels more architectural with straight lines, angles and hard edges. Was this a conscious shift? How has this evolved over time?

RP: Found and scrap materials have always been attractive to me. I collected the corks for The Wise Will Have Passage (2008) while working in a restaurant. Sometimes I encounter things on the walk to my studio, as in Bigger There (2013). Broken pieces of jewelry or worn out clothes might find their way into sculptures, as in the belt used in Chicken Skin (2011) or the material in (E)West (2011). Working with found or accumulated materials is rich in possibilities for additive practices. It is how I innately approach art making, and is a very improvisational and reactive process. It’s a very animistic way of working. As I am creating, there is some direction from the work itself.

The shift occurred as a result of a desire to look beneath surface as my primary focus and define space in a more subtle, energetic way. The work from 2014-15 still uses that method of using units and accumulation, but employs the most basic unit: the line. I am interested in defining space that is at once structured and permeable—the cell wall, for example—or describing radiation physically. The shadows cast by these pieces both push them out and away from the wall as well as accentuate their materiality. 

The Net of Light's Origin
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, monofilament
26 x 28 x 17"

OPP: The forms of your most recent sculptures (2014-2015) evoke a multiplicity of images: stained glass windows, shields, talismans, spider webs. The forms radiate from a central point, sometimes concave and sometimes convex. How do these forms relate to your interest in energetic transmutation?

RP: The radiant form is associated with many ideas, from the big bang to human auras to descriptions of heat or light. Heat and light are difficult to sculpt, but may be suggested, and a number of the evocations you bring up are three dimensional objects that exist primarily in a language of line. Transmutation is a transformation of material or element into another state or form. This body of work explores transformation in several ways: of energy into vector, vector into line, line into delineator of spatial boundary and skeletal structure into architecture. The same thing happens as the form casts its shadow, transforming back into something intangible but still visible. The concave versus convex aspects close off or open up the ends of the work, similar to a closed versus open circuit. Many of these pieces, such as both Radiation Gray/Gold and Radiation Yellow/Gray have central hanging elements that spin in accordance with the currents in the room, a transformation of motion occurring as a physical demonstration of time.

Solar Wedding Basket
Acrylic on wood, resin adhesive, cork, twine
26 x 30 x 5"

OPP: One could view your work through a purely formal, material, or aesthetic lens. But your statement—and the links you include on your website—makes it clear that you view your work through a spiritual lens. . . something which the contemporary art world is slightly uncomfortable with, but curious about. How has your spiritually-driven work been received?

RP: I would say it works on all these levels, but would use the word metaphysical over spiritual. Metaphysics is a philosophical investigation of that which is beyond sense perception whereas spiritual speaks more to an experiential self-exploration. For the current series of work, studying the Medicine Wheel has been formally and conceptually important. It uses the four directions to correspond to various elemental, animal, human, earth and cosmic states. Through these associations one can describe existence, tell the story of time and creation, as well as achieve personal growth. It is a simple coded system loaded with symbolic information: lines, circles, spirals, vectors and colors that become increasingly complex as one's understanding of their corresponding connections deepens. This system is used in many cultures worldwide with slight variations. Another influential source was Jack Schwarz's book, Human Energy Systems, for what the form of energy might look like. Similarly Bernini's treatment of The Holy Spirit as not only beams of light but spears of gold in The Ecstasy of St. Theresa informed my ideas about representing light and energy in dimensional form. I don't see the work as dependent on these sources, though. I've had very positive response to this body of work, with and without commentary.

Untitled 2012-13

OPP: Here's a slightly strange, practical question. . . there's another Rebecca Potts, who is an artist. Her work is very different from yours, and her website pops up when I google your name. Have people ever confused the two of you in a professional context? Any advice for other artists with the same problem?

RP: I am aware of her and I'm sure she is aware of me, though our paths have not yet crossed. We have never been confused in a professional context that I know of. I would say that duplicate names in professions are not unheard of, and as far as advice would go, I would say it is a very individual choice in how one approaches it. I know people who have changed their names to deal with this very problem, and at least one other person who has not. I think Rebecca Potts just sounds like a sculptor's name, right?

OPP: If I were to walk into your studio right now, what would I see?

RP: You would see a lot of things in progress. I tend to work on anywhere from three to five things at once, so as not to be slowed down by paint or glue needing to dry. It also helps me to work on an idea in more than one way, to see what works. Sometimes I come up with something on the fly that I want to try, and that becomes its own thing. The new pieces as a whole are more trapezoidal in nature than the works discussed above, although they still have the four directional points represented. They also are beginning to fill in a bit more with solid fields on the inner and outer planes. Though they are not finished, I am moving towards reincorporating some materials (fabric and grill cloth) that I have used before. I seem to be circling back to some previous ideas, while still remaining conceptually in the same world. It's a spiral progression, rather than a linear one!

To see more of Rebecca's work, please visit rebeccapotts.net.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan), Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery (Chicago) and When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (Chicago). Form Unbound, a two-person show, also featuring the work of Aimée Beaubien, closed last month at Dominican University's O’Connor Art Gallery (River Forest, IL).