By PAUL LASTER, October 2021
A conceptual artist working in a variety of media, Keiko Miyamori is best known for her time-based tree rubbings made over particular periods of her life with handmade charcoal on Japanese Washi paper that she exhibits in groups in homemade glass boxes and uses to transformatively wrap everyday objects. Born and educated in Japan, she has lived and worked in the United States for more than twenty years, while still maintaining a deeply rooted connection to her hometown, Yokohama, and traveling the world to make and exhibit her thought-provoking, poetic form of art.
When she covers found objects—such as a typewriter, globe, bed, flowerpot, birdcage, television or piano—with torn pieces the charcoal rubbed Washi paper having the imprints of trees, she imagines it as providing a second skin. Traditional Japanese washi paper is made using fibers from the inner bark of the gampi tree, mitsumata shrub and mulberry bush. The charcoal that Miyamori uses is made from branches that she picks up in the area where she is doing her tree rubbings. She sees the tree as a symbol of life—of a continuous renewal of life—and her use of materials made from trees continue that cycle.
Making rubbings from trees in her surrounding environment, whether it’s where she lives or where she has travelled, links her to that place and becomes part of her personal memory, the collective memory of that realm and an embedded memory in her art. Totally dedicated to this meditative means of artmaking, Miyamori has journeyed to five different continents to make tree-rubbings to use in wall-works, sculptures and installations. Each project has its own set of applied plans or conceptual boundaries, but two recent related projects—2020’s I Am Still In New York and 2021’s I Am Still In Japan—stand out as a bridge between the artists own existence and a universally shared situation.
The artist began I Am Still In New York on April 20, 2020, the day that her flight to Japan to visit her elderly parents was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over a 125-day period, she made tree rubbings in the neighborhood surrounding her Brooklyn studio. Each small, hand-torn piece of washi paper was stamped with a number and the rubbing process was documented on Instagram with her iPhone camera. To present this time-based body of work, Miyamori constructed individual glass boxes from hand-cut glass and tinned copper, which was oxidized as silver, gray and black to indicate the existing climatic conditions, related to when the rubbing was made. Taking it a step further, she then engraved that information onto the glass—for example, Day 2/4.21.2020/Memory #20032/Rainy Afternoon.
When the travel restrictions were lifted and she was finally able to travel to Yokahama to visit and care for her parents, she got stuck there during a lockdown and created a new sequence of daily tree-rubbings, which her 97-year-old father sometimes assisted her in making when she would take him on her walks from his assisted-living home, for I Am Still In Japan. Made over an 81-day period, from January 14, 2021 (the artist’s birthday) to April 3, 2021, the day before she was finally able to return to her husband, home and studio in New York. Poetically marking time while putting Miyamori in touch with her past, present and future, the projects created new memories in the process of recalling old ones. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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