Artist Akiko Kotani has been preparing Soft Walls for over two years. Walls covered in cascading white material take center stage, each row of the textile hand crocheted by Kotani in her studio. Originally from Hawaii and currently based in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, she retired in 2000 as a Professor Emeritus of Art at Slippery Rock University. With a BFA in painting from the University of Hawaii at Honolulu and an MFA in Fibers from Tyler School of Art, she combines her training as a painter with her affinity for fiber work to create large, imaginative, handmade installations and drawings. Also influenced by Bauhaus, Buddhism, Mayan weaving, Mbuti bark drawings, and her travels, the work maintains a lightness, grace, and sense of playfulness that stems from Kotani’s constant exploration. Utilizing simple materials and methods, Kotani introduces complex ideas and an incredible patience to create dynamic and monumental forms.
To see more of Kotani’s work, please visit her website. Soft Walls is on view at Women and Their Work in Austin, Texas from July 12 to August 29, 2014.
First, talk about a little bit about your upcoming exhibition at Women and Their Work in Austin, TX. How did this work come to be and how has it progressed in the process of its creation?
Like much of my work, the enormous Soft Walls and The Black Sea arose through responsive intuition that guides my hand as the creative process develops. Although the image of Soft Walls came to me spontaneously, it’s fashioning required 2+ years of labor as I cut and crocheted thousands strands of plastic trash bags. Memories of the actual Black Sea (I lived in Istanbul for 2 ½ years) inspired this dreamlike pointillist piece made of stitched bamboo threads on paper. I am delighted beyond words that these pieces will be exhibited at Women and Their Work, since the original impulse that gave rise to them came from my own lifelong concern to celebrate the work of women.
Using methods and materials that have strong ties to women’s handicraft as well as an ecological angle, how do you place yourself within feminism and sustainability?
Embedded in my work is my training in painting. For me “the image” is the primary source of the “work.” The material and the method always come after the image is located. Thus, the plastic trash bags of Soft Walls serve for me as a complex commentary on a material that both resists sustainability and allows for a gesture of respect for the centuries old household service of women. My methods echo those of my mother and of countless women: obsessively working with one’s hands crafting works to enhance one’s home and body. My artistic imperatives trump categorization; nothing trumps my celebration of women’s lives and work.
How does your interest in space and purity combine with the traditions of women’s work that you employ? How do you choose materials and how do they dialogue with these ideas?
When I think of space and purity I imagine objects in space. Space now becomes a solid and the art objects function as punctuations in space. This is how I enter my imaginative world to create my work. I feel that sensing the space around the objects solidifies and makes that space resonate. Thus the art object’s boundaries do not end within the parameters of the solid but will expand by activating the space that surrounds it.
Now, how to relate this to traditional women’s work? Once again, my work starts with the image, then the supporting materials and methods follow. In the work Soft Walls, the solidity of the work in the wooden structure that suggests the strength of a woman in her home. She is recognized as a stalwart and the basic structure of the family. (This has complex ramifications as do societal roles, etc.) The work’s soft surface and texture images her gentle and delicate role within this universe.
You seem to have an interest in the simplification of materials and methods combined with a complexity of ideas to create a particular sense of space and visual texture. How do you meld the essential and the spatial?
I have always been drawn to the essential method of a technique. When studying Guatemalan weaving with Mayan Indians in Guatemala, I wanted to be taught the earliest weaving designs. When examining the American Indian textiles, I wanted to know where the designs started. The Mbuti scratching’s on bark also pointed me to abstractions of pure imagination of cycles of their real and imaginative world. My attraction to these matters is deep in my work. It seems that the choices I have made reflect the use of the simplest methods to produce heavily laden and complex hidden systems that have endured.