Aomi Kikuchi is a textile artist based in Kyoto, Japan. She holds a BFA from Kyoto University of Art & Design (Japan) and an MFA from Pratt Institute (USA) and is currently an artist in residence at the Textile Arts Center (USA). Aomi has exhibited her work throughout the world including at Today’s Silk Road Exhibition (China), LA Art Show Modern + Contemporary (California), and the annual Japan Contemporary Art and Craft Exhibition (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum). With over 30 years of practice, Aomi has dedicated extensive and immersive practice to Japanese Kimono Haute Couture, Yusen dyeing techniques, and silk fabrics after becoming a fashion designer. This background inspires her artistic exploration and her artwork utilizes various textile materials and techniques including extremely thin fibers, goose down, and cotton flower along with knitting, weaving, embroidery, and other craft techniques.
Aomi’s figurative dyeing, textile installation, and soft sculptures exemplify her intentional selection of materials that are defined by delicacy and brittleness. With this, she aims to express Buddha's philosophy of impermanence, insubstantiality and suffering of all life. Aomi is currently working on a series of large scale installation pieces and sculptures that explore impermanence through the use of biology and nature with textiles.
-What are the primary concepts and focus of your art and How do these ideas relate to your medium, and creative process itself?
My art concept is based on the philosophy of the Buddha and Japanese aesthetics. The Buddha taught that this world is impermanent and insubstantial, and that our lives are full of suffering. We live in a finite and ephemeral world, and suffering arises because there is no limit to our desires and attachments. Understanding that nothing stays the same forever and reducing excessive desires and attachments will help alleviate suffering. The Japanese aesthetic of "Wabi-Sabi" is about finding beauty in imperfection. “Mono no Aware" is to have compassion for the changing seasons and finite lives.
Reducing our own cravings and attachments and cultivating compassion for others will bring us inner peace and a better society.
To express the fragility of material reality, I choose delicate materials such as ultra-thin fabrics, ultra-fine threads and fibers. I focus on people and creatures that suffer in society to satisfy someone's desires and sense of superiority, and create works based on the objects that symbolize them. Recently, I have become more aware of the impact my work has on the environment. For example, in consideration of water pollution issues, I refrain from dyeing new fabrics and yarns and instead use fabrics and yarns that have already existed.
In countries with developed free market economies,there is a lot of garbage that we buy without thinking deeply, stimulated by marketing, and easily thrown away. Among them, I actively search for materials that can be given a second life as materials for my own works.
Which of your works stands out as a highlight, a favorite, or a significant point in your creative growth and development? and why?
The pieces titled Secret were created by gradually eroding panties from an underwear brand called Victoria's Secret and replacing them with thread and goose down lace using a method similar to creating spider webs. The original fabric is gone, and the panties are now decorated with beaded goose down blobs and trace the three-dimensional shape of the panties.These works were created entirely using scraps. The panties themselves were old ones that I had worn, and I had taken the thread left over from my sewing work and the goose down was from a duvet I bought when I got married over 30 years ago. I attended Pratt's summer school and bought the pigments in Venice.
This was the work after a spider web work I created using only scraps after I realized that anything could be used as a material for art. It was selected for an exhibition at Art Laguna.
-Which artists are you inspired and influenced by?
Artists that have influenced me are Itchiku Kubota, Jim Hodges, Doho Sue, and Yoko Ono.
Mr. Itchiku Kubota: I was fascinated by his dyed work, Itchiku Tsujigahana, and studied at his dyeing class. Although he was a dyer, he became a contemporary artist. From my experience, it is much more difficult for someone who is immersed in their craft to become an artist than it is for someone who wanted to be an artist from the beginning. This is because the mindsets are completely different: craftsmen aim for perfection and beauty, and contemporary artists aim for concept and innovation. Meeting him in my early days as a creator was a great inspiration to me.
Jim Hodges: At Pratt's presentation before my graduation project, I created a tapestry made with water-soluble glue and Sumi ink, and a 3m diameter spider's web made of transparent thread. A classmate who saw the work showed me a book titled I Remember Heaven:Jim Hodges and Andy Warhol. I was surprised to see works of tapestry and spider webs listed there. It was very encouraging to know that there are artists who are active with similar tastes.
Doho Su: He is a great artist who expanded the possibilities of textile art. His mirage-like fabric structures and works in which he traced the shapes of electrical outlets and other objects on paper have had a great influence on my own work. Like him, my choice of material is transparent fabrics and I also create works using everyday objects as motifs and trace materials.
Yoko Ono: I make full use of craft techniques and use materials to create works. I like working with my hands, and I tend to keep working with my hands all day long. However, the artist I aspire to and respect is Yoko Ono. She is a so-called conceptual artist, and she is not an artist who specifically creates something from materials. Her "work'' always gives me inspiration and awareness. For example, she displayed personal bowls filled with water, each representing the life of the bowl's owner. She placed a canvas with the word tiny "Yes" written at the corner of the canvas on it on the ceiling, and John Lennon climbed on a stepladder to look at it. It is said that was his first encounter with Yoko and her work.
There is a story in Atsushi Nakajima's novel "Meijinden'' that says that the ultimate goal of a master archer is to forget how to play a bow. Applying this, in the art world, artists like Yoko Ono who influence people without creating anything can be said to be the ultimate artists.
What memorable reactions have you had to your work?
It happened in a craft group that I joined right after I studied dyeing in college and graduated. I presented a 1.5m wide and 1.5m long folding screen with a frog sitting on top of a lotus with its big mouth opened, modeled after the Bell horned frog that I had kept and observed. The frog sat quietly, like a monk meditating, except for eating a small insect larva twice a week.
Observing this, I created a piece with the frog on a lotus leaf, making it look as if it had reached enlightenment. When I showed this work at a craft group study session, over 40 people were all confused with buzzling. I received the opinion that it was too realistic for a dyed craft, and that the opening of the mouth to reveal internal organs was too much for the craft club. Since then, I have started creating works by looking at people's facial expressions, and it took many years before I was able to create works that were my own. This experience has taught me that art and craft have completely different viewpoints for evaluating them, and that in the world of craft, artists can receive such incomprehensible evaluations and have their talent destroyed.
I started creating from the world of crafts, so I actively took in the advice of my senior craftsmen because I thought they were right, but now that I've learned art, I understand the difference in values. I am now proud of the great reaction I received from craft makers as it was the first time that my work had an impact.
What is your dream project?
I am creating a weaving work that I call “pixel weaving”. The work currently in production is using the motif of reducing the resolution of a digital image to 50 x 50pixel.The color of each pixel is woven into a 4cm square, and by joining them together, the result is the same as that of a developed photograph.
Normally there is a limitation of the width of fabrics and it is rarely wider than 1.5 meters. Because the width of the fabric depends on the width of the loom. The pixel weaving I am currently creating connects small squares, so it can be made infinitely large. Right now I am making pixels by weaving, but I think I can also do it by knitting. Pixel weaving is an attempt to develop photographs using a weaving method. Printed matter is also subject to paper size limitations, but I am excited that this pixel weaving technique can be used to develop very large photographs.
Considering the scale, soft sculptures made with wool fibers have the potential to be made into any number of large sculptures. So far, I have made items such as newborn babies, peaches, geta, and sneakers. I would like to try making a large-scale work using the human body or something larger objects as a motif.
What advice would you give to your younger or older self?
I would like to tell my younger self that no experience in life will be wasted in my later career as an artist. When I was busy raising children and doing housework, I always felt rushed and dissatisfied. Because I look back nowand regret that I wasn't able to fully focus on something that could only be experienced at that time. On the other hand, the fact that I never lost my curiosity and continued to study crafts and academic subjects without taking a break has become a great strength to me now, so I would like to say good luck.
Unlike the advice I would give to myself when I was younger, it is difficult to give advice to myself when I am older. Although we cannot predict the future, we hope that the activities we are doing now will lead to a better future. No matter how old you are, never stop moving forward and continue working to brighten the future of the world.
What is your artist message, what do you wish to communicate to the viewer?
With the proliferation of social media, it seems like we live a daily battle to show off how much individuals are enjoying their lives.The pursuit of happiness can be said to be an important goal in life. However, if happiness means maintaining a cheerful mood every day, it would be difficult to remain happy because we cannot avoid suffering such as aging, illness, and death. When you base your happiness on material fulfillment, you end up devoting your life to making money. There is no limit to desire, so no matter how much you get what you want, something you want will always appear again. When thinking about how to live an easier, happier, and more comfortable life, it is important to recognize and accept that this world is impermanent and insubstantial. Also, by developing compassion for others, you will realize how blessed you are. And it brings peace of mind.
What we think of as reality is an image that appears upside down on our retina and is processed by our brain. In the world of virtual reality, the fact that it appears to be real proves the unreliability of what we think is real.
We don't have to pretend to be happy and smile all the time. Painful experiences bring about growth, and it can also be said that life is beautiful because it is finite and ephemeral.
I want to convey this kind of message to the viewers through my works.