Sculptor KOMI Taku is the 37th International TAKIFUJI Art Award winner（2016）, and has worked primarily in stone. At the “Traffic Culture Exhibition 2022” where he was invited as an invited artist, he challenged himself to work with stained glass for the first time, breaking new ground. We interviewed Mr. KOMI, who is working on the finishing touches of him exhibit at the Creare Atami-Yugawara Studio (Atami City, Shizuoka Prefecture). (Interviewer: NAGATA Akiko, Date of interview: September 2022)
Fascinated by the flatness of stained glass
——During the three months from July to September, Mr. KOMI worked on his first stained glass work as an invited artist for the “Traffic Culture Exhibition 2022*¹” to be held at Ueno Station in October this year. Normally, stained glass is usually used for flat works, but Mr. KOMI has been working on three-dimensional works, mainly stone carving. Were you at all perplexed?
I was not so much perplexed. In addition to stone sculptures, I also create structures that can change their shapes and be moved under the theme of “transform”. This is a three-dimensional work in which parts are cut out of an acrylic plate and assembled with metal parts. When I first attended a lecture at “Creare Atami-Yugawara Studio” in March this year, I was shown an apple-shaped object made of stained glass. I realized that I could use stained glass in such a three-dimensional way, and I thought that I could create works by applying the techniques of my “Transform” series. I felt that acrylic, which I have been using for a long time, is surprisingly close to glass in terms of transparency and hardness.
——“transform _ flat surface”, to be exhibited at the “Traffic Culture Exhibition 2022”, is a work that consists of 12 panels inlaid with five different colors of glass, which are installed on the wall by their arms. The panels are rectangular in shape when all sides are aligned, but each arm can be deployed to shift the position of the glass surface and fix it in various different forms. I don’t remember many stained glass works that are movable. How did you proceed with the production?
For works to be assembled, I use CAD*² for design. I don’t decide on the finished form at first, but with a simple three-dimensional shape in mind, I decide on the final shape and structure while dividing and moving the surfaces on the computer. By the beginning of July, we decided on a work plan, and outsourced the metal arms that were designed to be movable, and had them cut out with a laser cutter.
In July, we went back to the studio to select colors for the glass. I had never used colors in my work before, so I was surprised to see so many colors when I was shown samples of antique glass. To be honest, I had a hard time deciding, but I had already decided to use blue, so I chose five colors, including shades of blue, greenish blue, and light gray. The reason why I used multiple colors is because, for example, when you zoom in on a photo of a blue sky, it may look like the same color all over, but in fact, dots of various colors have gathered to form the blue color. I hoped to partially reproduce such an image in my work.
First, I made a unit with a single glass surface, installed it on the wall of my house, and conducted an experiment to see if it would come off and if there was a danger of it falling. After all the arms were completed, I performed a simulation of the exhibition on a computer while polishing the metal surface and cross section. Today is the first time that all 12 units have been installed on the wall in a nearly completed form. I was a little nervous, but I was relieved that it went well.
——Did you easily decide on a plan for the work?
Actually, not so much. At first, I thought about a cylinder-based structure, but it was not realistic when I considered the size, weight, and the way it would be presented in the exhibition space. Also, I felt that if glass was to be used, it would be more interesting to make use of its flatness than to use a lumpy three-dimensional structure. As I considered both the practical feasibility and the characteristics of glass, I finally settled on this form.
Since antique glass is handmade, it is not flat like machine-made glass, and one of its charms is that it retains faint irregularities and lines on its surface. In this work, I projected a light onto the work so that the ripple-like shapes contained in the glass can be seen reflected on the wall surface.
——Did you encounter any difficulties or challenges in the production of this work? Also, how do you want people to see this work?
Up until now, I have made deformable works as prototypes, and I have never exhibited them properly. Since they are meant to be held in the hand and played with, they have a certain “toy-like” quality, and I had been wondering how to present them. I am glad that I was given the opportunity to actually exhibit the work this time and realize it with the viewer’s presence in mind. You cannot touch the work at the exhibition, but you can see how movable it is, so I hope you can imagine it by moving it around in your mind. Through this production, I also realized once again that “play” occupies a large place in my mind.
——Isamu NOGUCHI, the world-renowned sculptor, also created a number of “playable sculptures” that allow the viewer to actually experience the work.
My work is rooted in the childhood fun I had playing with blocks. I remember how much fun it was to combine simple shapes to create complex forms, such as robot shapes. I feel that the “transform” series is a continuation of this experience, with different motifs and scales.
*2 An acronym for Computer Aided Design, which refers to computer-aided design and design support tools.
*3 American contemporary sculptor. Born in 1904 to a Japanese father and an American mother, he spent his childhood in Japan. He mainly used stone to create sculptures with simple yet elegant forms, and also worked on garden and product design. He died in 1988.
Awakened to the joy of making things and entered the art world
——After graduating from the five-year National Institute of Technology, Nagaoka College (Nagaoka City, Niigata Prefecture), You went on to study at Musashino Art University in Tokyo. When and why did you become interested in sculpture?
I grew up in Nagaoka City and entered the Department of Electronic Control Engineering at National Institute of Technology, Nagaoka College because I wanted to make robots. However, when I thought about my interest in making things through, I realized that I was more interested in creating shapes more directly. When I was struggling with this, my father told me, “If you go to an art university, you can graduate if you create a work without writing a thesis.” After that, I became aware of the existence of art universities. My father, who teaches technology at a junior high school and high school, seems to have given me such advice because he loves art.
I initially considered industrial design as my career path, but I happened to have an opportunity to go to an open campus of Musashino Art University. As I listened to the professor of the sculpture department at the consultation counter, I was impressed by free attitude toward production and the possibilities of sculpture, and I began to think that I wanted to study here.
——That was a big change of direction. Was it difficult to apply to art schools?
There was an art college preparatory school in my hometown, but there were no students other than myself who wanted to study sculpture, so I could not adequately prepare for the entrance exam. Since a technical college qualifies students to take university entrance examinations after completing their third year, I took the entrance examination for Musashino Art University in my fourth year. At that time, all of the instructors who interviewed me told me that I should come back after graduating from the college of technology, so I didn’t pass, but I passed the next year. I had been interested in the human body and skeleton since that time, so I submitted a three-dimensional object made of wire, paper, and styrofoam*⁴ with a motif of bones for the entrance examination.
——What was your life at art school like?
Students who entered the school after going through a preparatory school specializing in art college are good at drawing and have already received basic training. Perhaps because of this, I had the impression that many of them did not like the classes and assignments given to them. But I found everything new and fresh, and creating things itself was a lot of fun. When I was in the college of technology, I had a hard time doing classroom work, so I felt a sense of freedom in an environment where I could move around and create.
In the first year of the sculpture course, first students touch a variety of materials, such as plastic, wood, stone, and pottery, to learn their characteristics and how to handle them, and from the third year onward, they can freely use the studio and create works using the materials of their choice, which are then critiqued by the teacher. I experimented with a variety of materials and ended up creating sculptures mainly from granite.
——How was your longed-for life at art school?
I went to art school because I knew what direction I wanted to go in, which was to make things, so it was very fulfilling.
——The work that won the International TAKIFUJI Art Award was made from paper receipts.
I carved it by gluing together a large number of receipts that I had accumulated. Winning the award was a great encouragement, and I was also grateful that the scholarship covered a lot of the expenses for my graduation work.
*4 Foamed plastic insulation material. Extruded polystyrene foam.
An interest in the human body that sprouted from robots
——Why did you choose stone as the main material?
If the material is soft and easy to process, the shape will come out easily. But stone takes a long time to cut, and it is difficult to reach the target shape. The speed with which I searched for the form I was aiming for while grinding incessantly was just right for me. I also like the process of chipping very much.
——Your stone works are based on the motif of a skeleton or a part of the internal structure of the body. How did you become interested in bones and the human body?
I became interested in the structure of the human body through robots when I was a technical college student. Robots artificially reproduce the shape and dynamics of humans, but as I explored the reasons for such shapes and movements, my attention turned to the inside of the body. Most living organisms have muscles and fat when the skin is removed, and bones underneath. Muscles are attached to the skeletal structure, and movement is created. The shapes of joints, for example, that have been determined through movement are truly beautiful and lean. The various parts that make up the human body are interesting in that each shape has its own meaning, and the shapes themselves are also very attractive.
For bone structure, I observed human body models and animal skeletal specimens. While at art school, I belonged to an on-campus club called the “Bone Club,” where we would first make a pot of suppon (soft-shelled turtle) and eat it together, and then make skeletal specimens. When we went out for dinner yesterday, there was a crab in the miso soup, but I forgot to taste it and became absorbed in observing its legs. It is better not to do this in public places.
——In spite of the fact that it is made of stone, I feel an organic movement and lightness from Mr. KOMI’s work. What is your process for creating them?
I actually look at human models and skeletal specimens to come up with motifs, and then I make maquettes*⁵ out of oil clay. After deciding on the target shape, I carve the stone, but in the final stage of carving, I do not look at the maquette but face the tension of the stone itself. The final shape is created with an awareness of lightness and thinness just at the limit of the bone’s capacity.
——Do you use a specific part of the body as a model?
For example, this work, “Form of Human” is a part of a human skull, but I did not trace the shape of the real thing. I observe it over time, extract the organic shape and structure in my mind, and reconstruct it.
I want to keep carving stones forever
——You have completed a graduate degree at Tokyo University of the Arts and are currently working at your studio in Hachioji, Tokyo, while also being a staff member of the production studio at Musashino Art University’s Ichigaya Campus, which opened in 2019. What kind of work do you do?
At the Ichigaya Campus, I manage the production studio, which is equipped with various machine tools, and I manage the tools and machines and give lectures on how to use them. I myself have used CAD design and digital machine tools such as laser cutters in the prototype stage of my past works, so I am able to apply the skills I have acquired in my work and improve myself
——I know this is a bit of a serious question, but it is said that sculpture is the most difficult field of art to make a full-time career as an artist. What do you think about your future?
When I graduated from university, I thought, “I want to continue carving stone forever. However, stone sculptures are heavy and require a lot of space, so they cannot be purchased as casually as two-dimensional works, and the market is limited. I also wanted to broaden my creative horizons beyond stone, so I made a number of prototypes of a deformable structure called “transform,” and was given the opportunity to present it as a work of art this time. In the future, I intend to balance these two aspects in my work. I also enjoy working in a production studio, where I come into contact with a variety of people. I would like to create an environment where I can create good works of art by balancing work and production well.
*5 A prototype model made in advance with clay or other materials when creating a sculpture.
Born in Niigata Prefecture in 1991. After graduating from National Institute of Technology, Nagaoka College, entered Musashino Art University in 2013. Awarded the 37th International TAKIFUJI Art Award for Excellence in 2016. Graduated from Musashino Art University in 2017, and completed the Graduate School of Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Sculpture in 2019.
the Grand Prize at the Iriya KOUBO Public Exhibition in 2016. the Musashino Art University Graduation Award for Excellence in Art and Design, and selected for ART MEETS ARCHITECTURE COMPETITION in 2017. Adopted for artist support project of Shibuya Arrow Project in 2022.
He held solo exhibitions at Iriya Gallery in 2017 and 2019, and at Gallery SOL in 2019, and has participated in many other group exhibitions.