Kumi Yamashita

One word — Wow! I’m totally blown away by this artist’s work. Kumi Yamashita is a young Japanese sculptor, now living in New York. I mainly looked at her Light and Shadow series. She creates some of her work by constructing a single sculpture or multiple objects using common everyday materials and places them in relation to a single light source. The effects are truly amazing! She takes square sheets of resin or paper and pinches and rounds them out on one edge and when that material is then placed on the wall with the correct positioning of the light, a profile of a face is seen.

In another installation she uses a sheet on a flat surface. By artfully arranging the right edge of the sheet a silhouette of a naked woman can be seen emerging from under the fabric. A few of her installations feature the arrangement of large wooden block letters. The letters appear to be arranged haphazardly on the wall, but in what must be a painstakingly slow process, actually reveal profiles of a child, a woman and a woman standing at a balcony. She designed the alphabet blocks herself, and with each block having a different height this enables her to work out the placement to get the required shadow. These are all excellent examples of raking light at its best!

In her Chair installation, one sees a figure of a man seated on a plain chair, but on looking at the close up photo which is taken at a slight angle one can see that the chair is not planed flat but has cutouts which create the shadow.In Clouds, another similar installation features the shadow of a couple holding up the “installation” over their heads like a newspaper as if they have been caught in a sudden downpour. The shadow edges closest to the “installation” are quite hard, but the edges gradually soften until they almost form a mist around the legs of the couple. A great use of axial lighting.  I am in total awe that a flat or curved piece of metal, wood or paper with certain cutouts can create all these effects.

Yamashita says about her work:

I sculpt using light and shadow. I construct single or multiple objects and place them in relation to a single light source. The complete artwork is therefore comprised of both the material (the solid objects) and the immaterial (the light or shadow).

While I have mainly concentrated on her Light and Shadows series, Yamashita does also work in other media, which I will only briefly mention. She creates portraits of people by using their own expired credit cards under a sheet of paper and rubbing over the numbers. Again the results are spectacular! Examples of these can be seen in her Rubbing series. She also creates portraits by using a white wooden board, galvanized nails and one single unbroken thread. The shading and modelling on these portraits is fantastic. These can be seen in the Constellation series. Another type of portrait that she makes is by using fabric and pulling out pieces and pieces of the lighter threads.

Clearly this lady is super talented. I find her work very evocative and pensive, while at the same time realise that it is extremely calculated and engineered. It has to be to create the silhouettes that emerge from her installations. Amazing what a single light bulb can do in the right location. I might even try my hand at the paper silhouette. If I do succeed, I’ll post a photo in this section, but don’t hold your breath – I’m sure it is more difficult than it looks. Below is a video of one of her installations entitled Dialogue. It consists of 60 rotating profiles concentrically arranged, lit from the side.

Reference List

Kumi Yamashita [online]. Available from http://www.kumiyamashita.com/ [Accessed 6 January, 2014]

Yamashita, Kumi (1999). Video of Dialogue [webcast, online] Kebun. 9/7/2007. 8 mins 59 sec. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oLMLt_7_Evs (Accessed 6 January, 2015

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