Small Interview with Japanese Metalmaster Creative, MIKAMI SHINICHIRO

Mikami Shinichiro is a Japanese creative who is breaking with the traditional utilitarian nature of TANKIN. He uses traditional Japanese metalworking techniques and tools to deliver a more intimate look into what I call, “Japanese Soul”.  Mikami finished his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts, and he now teaches there as an Assistant Professor. He is also the owner of the art studio, MIKAMIn Works. He has participated in many exhibitions including the Spiral Independent Creators Festival.

One’s first thought of Japanese high art might be “the haiku”, but TANKIN has been a highly revered craft since the Yayoi Period (300 BCE). Could you explain for those who don’t know, what is TANKIN?

MIKAMI-SAMA: TANKIN is affecting metal using small hammers. TANKIN has two basic techniques; There are called SHIBORI and TANZO.

MIKAMI PIC IV
Traveling Bird “in the Rain” | 2017

MIKAMI-SAMA: In SHIBORI, A copper sheet with a thickness of 1.2mm is usually used. First, we cut the flat copper sheet into a circle. Then, we heat it up to about 800 degrees, so that the copper sheet becomes soft, and shape it. It is called NAMASHI in Japanese, and in English, Annealing. After that, we shape the more malleable metal into a bowl by hitting it with a hammer and using ATEGANE (traditional TANKIN tools for metal manipulation). We put the copper sheet on the ATEGANE and hit it with the hammer to create various shapes.

MIKAMI-SAMA: TANZO is metalsmithing. In this case, we usually use an Iron bar. We heat the Iron bar to 800 – 1000 degrees with a burner or a furnace. At those temperatures we can bend, twist, thin, and also inflate the iron by hitting it with a hammer or using other techniques.

I usually create my pieces using SHIBORI techniques.

How did you become interested in TANKIN?

MIKAMI-SAMAAfter high school, I watched a video which showed a crafts artist making a cup with TANKIN techniques. I really awestruck that the flat metal sheet became a cup, and I was very intrigued. I decided to learn TANKIN in university at that time.

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Traveling Bird “Outside of Me” | 2017

Your piece “Outside of Me” features stunning colors, yet depicts a scene that is reminiscent of traditional Japanese art. What influences your art and how do you balance tradition and modernity?

MIKAMI-SAMA: “Outside of me” is one of the artworks in my series “Traveling Bird”. I have been working on this series in recent years. It was made to imagine several scenes in which a bird takes a trip. When creating the pieces of this series, I am influenced by Japanese traditional gardens.

MIKAMI-SAMA: I also use Japanese traditional techniques, so the proportion of tradition in my output is high. However, when I conceptualize a piece, I associate modern scenes, culture, and people. I conceive, primarily from a perspective of modernity, and then I incorporate traditional techniques.

Gasha-Dokuro
Gasha-Dokuro “Eat thoroughly !” is an earlier work of Mikami-sama’s. The influence of Murakami, and therefore Ukiyoe, is clear. In Mikami’s earlier works there is a similarity to the works of Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

You were born in Saitama near Tokyo, right? Tokyo is especially known for traditional Ukiyoe art. Are you influenced by this style of art, storytelling, and music?

MIKAMI-SAMAThe lines of my pieces were influenced Ukiyoe and old Japanese paintings. In addition, but my composition was influenced mainly by traditional Japanese gardens.

MIKAMI PIC II
Traveling Bird “Mountain of the Mind”

When you first began making TANKIN, who were some of your major influences?

MIKAMI-SAMA: Takashi Murakami’s artworks really influenced me. But, perhaps now, this influence is less noticeable.

Birds are a commonality in your pieces. Could you explain the significance of this reoccurring “character”?

MIKAMI PIC I
Traveling Bird “Elements and a Bowl”

MIKAMI-SAMA: The bird is me. When I came back Tokyo University of Arts as a teacher, I met many first-year students. They were so excited, and they tried to learn from everything. They reminded me of myself. And I thought I was like a migratory bird. They talked with me and thought I had a lot of great experiences, even though I thought they were embarrassing experiences. I was really interested that there are two views on the same thing, so I decided to create “Traveling Bird” series.

Are you open to collaboration? If so, who would you like to collaborate with? Your dream collaboration?

MIKAMI-SAMA: I have been showing my artworks in displays at Japanese department stores for the last few years. I also participate exhibitions organized by my university. I’d like to do an exhibition overseas, but I am waiting for the right opportunity.

You just finished an exhibition at TOKUSHIMA SOGO. What do you see as your next endeavor?

MIKAMI-SAMAI’m preparing the next exhibition in Shanghai. It’s called SHINGIGEI, which means new craft art exhibition. It is going to start in December. Over 100 craft artists will participate in this exhibition.

Please stay tuned for more information! Learn about Mikami Shinichirou here.

All photos of Mikami-sama’s work were taken by MARUKO nariaki.

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Ruminations on Smoke, Nearby

Last Wednesday I went to the MCA and saw an Exhibit by Tiana Còrdava from Mexico (1979). I took a guided tour for some portion of the exhibit which gave me extra insight into the intentions of the artist.

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Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago

The exhibit is influenced by a film set and all of the pieces are technically enterable. They are presented so that there is no boundary between the viewer and the pieces. The docent explained that this is because the artist wants the viewers to, in my own words, “live a life” among the artwork, create their own context and narrative. At the same time the docent stressed that many of the pieces are non-traditional portraits.

Detour, A picture of smoke with the source obscured. The picture is in black and white. The smoke is to make the viewer ponder the source of the fire.

From “Us” to “Us”, this is a piece using a piece of glass that is dual layered with some type of dirt or soot in it. The two pieces are warped apart at one end. The artist purports in the description that the piece of glass fell from the ceiling of the MCA. I believe that this is a representation of a relationship, two partners who have literally fallen from a place of harmony and lost their unity. The glass which represents the relationship is not shattered but soiled and warped. I think that this represents a “normal” relationship that has lost the luster of a dramatic or romantic beginning.

Portrait of an Unknown Man, This piece features art that depicts just a cut out of a man and a woman clothing. The man I believe is from the stomach area of what seems to be a somewhat rounded belly. Evidence of this is the wrinkle at the bottom of the paining. This could also be representative of a flaw in the mans “fabric” or character, composure. The woman on the other hand seems to be pristine. There are no wrinkles in the clothing of the woman. For some reason that I am not sure of I perceive the woman to be younger than the man depicted on the other side. An interesting thing about this piece which is framed on plywood that is connected by a few beams (does this also have a meaning?) is that both painting are not merely hung on the walls they garnish but riding on tracks that are adhered to the wall. The man’s track is in the center of the wall. I interpret this as the man has no room for growth, his potential is finite. However, the woman’s paining in on a track that runs to the border of her wall. I believe that this means that the woman has potential for growth, potential to leave.

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They Say It’s Like a rock | PHOTO BY joségarcía

We focus on a woman facing sideways, This is a piece made of bronze. It is on a corner piece of wall. The bronze is supposed to representing a necklace or something I believe. I the middle of the pice there is a small crystal dangling. The center of the triangle is open. On the right side of the piece the bronze extends out beyond the triangle that composes the main part of the piece. I believe that this piece is about oppression. I think the artist is trying to show the constriction of what is women by the definitions which are represented in object form by jewelry.

Head West, Turn Right , Turn Right, Turn Left, Turn Right Continue, Turn Left, Continue, Turn Right, Turn Left, This is a piece that is made out of bronze and sand. The artist poured molten liquid bronze onto sand in two separate place and then waited till they cooled and hardened. What I find fascinating about this piece is that the artist uses something that people perceive as “free” – liquid. But in this case it is solidified. Its potential is finite as it interacts with something that most people associate with unlimited possibilities – grains of sand. I think that this is a very interesting interaction and could potentially represent what happens in a relationship. People’s finite energy collides with limitless possibility and is solidified, deinifed and becomes history. The docent talked about capturing memory in physical form, I think this is about more than just one memory but a series of memories that have now ended in some way. I think that the tracks of the woman that go to the edge of the wall in “Portrait of an unknown man” represent a possibility that was never taken advantage of, in the end the tracks do not go off the wall.

Various titled works, The technique is called slumping. It morphs glass using objects. However I believe that in this case the artist did not actually used the object to manipulate the glass but wants to give the viewer that affect. Various objects are affecting the glass. Including a blue broken necklace and a purple plastic bag, They say its common nd They say it makes miracles, respectively. I think that these two in particular are very important, outside of the other ten objects because you can gender them. I believe that once again the glass is representations of a person and the objects the circumstances that have affected them. In the context of a relationship, I believe that these objects are gifts that were given to the female (or feminine) partner in the relationship. The have been changed by the heteronormative stereotypes associated with the objects.

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Head West, Turn Right , Turn Right, Turn Left, Turn Right Continue, Turn Left, Continue, Turn Right, Turn Left | PHOTO by joségarcía

Third-Person Narrator and First-Person Narrator, the pieces feature shallow marble counters that have recession in them that house one set of contacts and then a set that are differing and probably not part of a set. One of the contacts is to meant to make the wearers eyes appear green. The docent mentioned that because the artist is mexican she would not have green eyes they would most likely be brown. I thought this was very interesting and is probably another way that the partner in the relationship was trying to manipulate the other.

So, “What is the fire?”, I am not sure. I think that the fire, which is the first piece of the exhibition, is maybe the fire of passion that is so prominent at the beginning of a relationship. However, examining some of the pieces I believe that the fire could also be “something” that has driven the two lovers apart. There are other works that take the narrative in different directions but I believe that this is the core of the group of pieces.

This is a video of the artist talking about her pieces. It features the pieces I talk about here as well as some I didn’t write about.

Smoke, Nearby is an exhibition by Tania Pérez Códova at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago that runs until Aug 20th.