A Solo Show by Masako Miki
April 22 – August 6, 2023
Vernissage, a preview party: Friday, April 21, 2023, 5:30 - 7:30 pm
Masako Miki’s shapeshifters are an evolving set of felted wool sculptures that regularly take on the shape of inanimate objects blurred with the contours of plant life, human and animal bodies, and other elements of the natural world. Her imaginary, semi-abstract forms are commonly held up by wooden legs, affecting a posture that can appear to be both sculptural art and domestic object, like enchanted household furnishings for a vibrant visionary world. Working through numerous stages, her sculptures involve creating a clay maquette followed by 3D scanning, CNC routing industrial foam and the intensive hand felting of several pounds of wool.
Miki uses the term shapeshifting to describe the ability for her sculptures to carry multiple layers, meanings, associations, and appearances, noting that, “this fluidity allows them to proclaim their unique selfhood without conforming to accepted identities, freeing them to be more than one thing.” With an intent to focus on notions of mutability, Miki’s work incorporates her bicultural identity and the experience of bringing her Japanese heritage into her Berkeley, California based art practice.
One of the primary ways that Miki assigns cultural values to her artwork comes through in her engagement with Japanese mythology and folklore, as well as the animistic polytheism of Shinto traditions that are native to ancient Japan. The Yōkai are a set of spirits within Japanese mythology that are most closely associated with what Western mythology might refer to as fairies, sprites, ghosts, monsters, and demons. They can take on animal features, have humanoid qualities, and even resemble inanimate objects like household tools and kitchenware. With their most common trait being the ability to shapeshift, the Yōkai can be good or evil, sacred, or secular, animate or inanimate. Miki considers the animism and dualism within Japanese folklore to be an empowering approach for examining our contemporary multicultural society as it embraces more gender fluid, non-binary, and biracial identities.
Depicting a range of mythical characters, from animated objects to discarded tools, Miki’s shapeshifters are united in the exhibition and presented as a cooperative group, a reference to the belief that the Shinto gods fulfill their functions as a collective, and a further artistic expression of how a community and society moves forward in allied partnerships. The vinyl applications on the floor and the surrounding painted mural on the wall reinforces the connectivity of the sculptures and places them into the Japanese mythic context of the Night Parade, a procession of supernatural spirits that come out at night to interact with the human world. Often considered to be an allegory for the rebellion of marginalized people, Miki channels the scene of the Night Parade from traditional folklore into a contemporary parable, stating that “just as we continue to fight back when people are labeled as replaceable, I want to share scenes of galvanized shapeshifters voicing their belief and existence.”