"Profile" (1994) – What is he thinking?
Artist Kumi Yamashita’s work is the perfect example of two truths: that things are not always what they seem and, more metaphorically, that sometimes we have to view things in a different light to discover a new meaning. If this sounds too cryptic, just marvel over how Yamashita breathes new life into simple, wall-mounted cut-outs by providing them with an interesting shadow.
"Lovers" (1998) – aluminum sheeting, lights, cast shadows
If you liked Incredible Shadow Art Created from Junk by British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster, featured earlier here on EG, then you’ll like Kumi Yamashita’s work.
"Origami" (2005) – "Each color sheet on the wall, lit from the right, casts a silhouette of a profile"
Unlike Noble and Webster, however, Yamashita does not use hundreds of pieces and no junk to create her shadow objects – faces and figures mostly – but banks on the belief that less is more.
"Feather" (2006) – light, wood, shadow
Like a painter who tries to convey an image with the fewest number of brushstrokes, Yamashita uses slim pieces of wood, square paper or aluminum numbers and letters.
Just numbers? "City View" (2003)
Though the installations are light (pun intended), their messages are quite heavy. The profile of a handsome man in the first slide or the standing woman seen here, for example, cast from the shadows of various letters and numbers, symbolize the thoughts and words that may go through his or her mind, or even the implications put on us by society.
"Exclamation Point" (1995)
Probably her simplest installation is an exclamation mark that, lit from the side, turns into a question mark. Like a firm belief that is suddenly shattered.
"Clouds" (2005) – "The thin metal object on the wall, lit from above, casts the silhouette of a couple"
Simple? Not really. Speaking about her motivation, the Japanese-born, now New York-based artist says:
“Through my work I wish to remind ourselves of how we preconceive what is around and inside us. It is easy to passively turn to prepared information. Knowledge, ideas, and values are too often accepted without questioning.”
Call it visual trickery or manipulation, but the beauty of Yamashita’s objects lies in their simplicity, symbolized by the materials she uses: paper, wood, aluminum and most importantly, light.
"Glider" (2002) – light, aluminum, shadow
Though born and raised in Japan, Kumi Yamashita has spent much of her adult life abroad, starting with a high-school exchange to the US in 1984. She then graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1994 from the College of Arts in Washington and with a Master of Fine Arts in 1999 from the Glasgow School of Art in the UK. Since then, she has taken part in close to 30 group exhibitions and was featured in more than 10 solo exhibitions around the world. She’s also won numerous awards for her work.
If you want to see how it's done, here's a video of “Dialogue” (1999), the silhouettes of two conversing heads produced with the help of light, a motor, styrene, shadow, and 60 rotating profiles lit from the side. Can you make out what they are talking about?
If you really want to know, you have to watch this last video of Kumi Yamashita as a guest in Takeshi Kitano show Unbelievable, a special about visual artists that aired on 21st March 2008 on Japanese television. Don’t miss the 'making of' and the audience’s reaction – it’s worth watching from start to finish!
More information about latest works and exhibitions can be found on Kumi Yamashita’s website.