Gravity, fire, light, sound, liquid: Interview with Kelly Akashi
By Laura Brown
“Sometimes it is to show tension,” Kelly Akashi describes the meeting of element and sensation in her work. This is found in the transformation of each material the Los-Angeles based artist takes up, including wax, bronze, glass, copper, rope knots, but also fire, water, gravity, light. In Akashi’s handling they come to describe objects made by a body’s careful listening, felt the same when seen.
Running September 17 - December 18, 2017, SculptureCenter presents over 100 objects and photogram prints by Akashi, all recent continuations of ongoing work. The exhibition is abundant with blown glass, a molten process, like that of lost-wax casting a bronze skin print. Wax is also used to make the many dripping, curling candles. Long Exposure is Akashi’s first institutional solo show, using the light and darkness of SculptureCenter’s beneath-ground and outside galleries to find new geological sensibilities for installing these works. A 16mm projection is also introduced, of actual flames onto a perforated copper screen.
“Since I primarily use rather fluid, impressionable materials,” she relays, “I am most satisfied when it is difficult to discern where exactly my hand comes into play.” Somehow, also, these sensations are photo documented. Touching the ground above this level, Akashi’s cast hand is bound with rope, pressed by its own weight against a wedge of concrete. Nearby this wedge there is a different empty space: wax drippings cast in bronze, also holding a right-angle to the gravel. Glass buildings surround the sky of this courtyard, next between them a translucent plastic bag floats by. The rope ends tangle in this wind like hair.
Kelly Akashi speaks with us during the run of her exhibition.
** What is the interaction for you between your work and the space(s) it’s shown in?
I approach all spaces I exhibit in by examining what possibilities the space can afford the work. I believe even a supposed ‘white cube’ has idiosyncrasies that can be teased out and utilized. Instead of creating work that responds to a space with strong character, I think about how a nuanced space can lend to the history and biography of the work. I embed an identifiable sensibility or particularity of the space in the artwork, whether through design or accumulation or another kind of impression. Seeing the work Untitled (Corner Piece) by Robert Morris several years ago made an impact on my understanding of how a sculpture can relate to a specific space, and how a sculpture and a space can shape each other without being dependent on one another.
Kelly Akashi, ‘An Archive from Two Perspectives’ (2017). Installation view. Cherry wood, brass, glass, two walnut framed ortho litho film prints, bronze, rope, copper foil. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Kyle Knodell.
Kelly Akashi, ‘Shadow Film’ (2017). Installation view. 16mm film, projector, copper foil, copper rod, whipping twine, brass clips. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles. Photo: Kyle Knodell.
** Let’s begin with your show in SculptureCenter’s porous basement. How did you think through furnishing this space?
For SculptureCenter’s basement, I was drawn to the most geological and impacted parts of the space: the patina of the concrete walls, the jagged broken concrete nooks, the arched cutouts carved into several dividing walls. I wanted to embrace these characteristics and allow them to become a framework, to have a conversation, not an interdependency, with my objects and images. The lack of natural light seemed especially useful for projections and allowed me the opportunity to produce a film work that operated as a lighting device for a screen (Shadow Film). I then used the only window, a stairwell skylight, to create a contrasting work that accumulated sunlight through solar panels, which periodically illuminated a glass object that hung below.
The moveables, or structures that utilize the language of domestic furniture such as shelves and tables, specifically build off of the versions from my last exhibition, Being as a Thing. There, the moveables developed with a vocabulary that I borrowed from bed frame, table, shelving, screen, and sandplay design. For Long Exposure I wanted them to further blur the boundary between object and display mechanism, and allow the arrangements to be examined without privileging any one perspective. This is what lead to the rounded and curved cherry wood planes - each one builds off of an interaction with a circle, whether elongated or divided or perforated.
** With the moveables, this sense of accumulation and adaptation lies in the forms you take up. Could you speak about the cast bronze hands, what they hold, where they might lead?
The introduction of casts of my own hands in the work became necessary as I began to identify the importance of my hands and fingernails as primary tools. At the time I was invested in my first series of bronze casts: a sequence of lost-wax cast bronze objects that substituted melted candles for foundry wax. I used my knowledge of wax, which came from watching candles burn very slowly in layers, and applied it to the casting process of my own hand. This process lent a geological quality to the wax cast of the hand, which is found in the wrist where many accumulated poured wax layers are evident through the drippings. Originally I wanted this geological sensibility to parallel itself with the cast fingernails, which are each a different length as some have broken off from work or other contact. After the first cast (Figure 31, made in 2015) I recognized how a life cast acts in a similar way to a photo document and thus expanded my sensibility of geology to embrace the slow changing human body.
A larger body of work has developed from this singular life-casting experiment. I now think of the casts operating in two ways: to slow down or ‘fix’ a physically rendered moment in time, and to provide a framework for the other object(s) on display. This framework can be a nod towards tactility, or a way to ascribe a sensibility and embed it in the object(s), for example with my works that share the title Be Me.
** Sometimes these hands are hanging, pointing, pressing, or grasping. Gravity is strong, as both sensation and element.
I sometimes think that I create the objects I do because I want to see them in relation to the natural world. This is why I look to nature – to weeds and branches, combustion and light, the accumulation of wax drippings and other fluid to static states – for research and inspiration. I am thrilled when the boundaries between the natural world and the artwork are difficult to detect. I am able to bring in natural order by utilizing gravity in many of my works. Sometimes it is to show tension, to ‘float’ at a certain height, to compress, accumulate, or absorb.
Double Penetration and Shadow Film are great works to bring up in relation to this, but I find a work as simple as Be Me (Californian – Japanese Citrus) just as relevant. I placed it very high so that one would be eye level with the bottom of the object, where the wax had dripped out of the mold and created small stalactites at the base of the citrus. It asks one to start from nature and then enter and examine the object, which is a cast of cultivated nature. And since I primarily use rather fluid, impressionable materials, I am most satisfied when it is difficult to discern where exactly my hand comes into play.
Kelly Akashi, ‘Double Penetration’ (2017). Installation view. Cherry wood, brass, glass, bronze wire, rope. With ‘Image of Two Things’ (2017), silver gelatin photograms, walnut frames. Photo: Kyle Knodell.
** I recall our conversation in your studio about the branch hanging from the ceiling and how it linked with the need for a break, entering a different time zone by taking a walk to find it. How do these varying tempos function into your working, which come to show in your materials?
The varying tempos come from a sensitivity to where my attention is focused when making work. When I am making art under a sensibility of designated ‘work-time’ I feel it results in work that emits at a certain frequency, one I would describe as being rather uptight or detached from the ‘world at large.’ This mode is useful sometimes, but I am not personally drawn to other artists who work this way exclusively and I definitely do not want all the works I make to communicate through this kind of self-absorbed tunnel. And I suppose another big concern here is that when one gets into that level of minute attention to detail and to a level of ‘finishing’, presentation, or ‘done-ness’, intentionality can get lost if it is applied en masse or utilized exclusively… it can register as default or, worse, as standard.
So at some point I began to build different kinds of ‘work-time’ into my practice. There are multiple reasons why this is necessary. I am able to be deliberate with where I place my attention in my work, and how the value of attention to different objects is identified in my larger practice. I am also able to create work that does not take away nor differentiate itself from my life, work that integrates itself within my daily life.
I experience a special kind of joy when I am able to identify something in my life, which was not intended as art, to be linked to sensibilities in my studio practice. As you saw when you came to visit, my studio is right next to my home kitchen, and I see the door that lies between as this portal where things can pass back and forth, from studio to kitchen, to be transformed. I am able to consistently learn and surprise myself through these varying modes of working.
** In an interview a couple years ago with Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer you talked about why you don’t or can't listen to music while you work. Is this still the case?
It is true that I still do not listen to music while I work, but since that interview I discovered that I love listening to music when I write. I choose music that has a rhythm or flow that I want to integrate into the text I am working on, and it feels somewhat natural to me to repeat the same album, or musician, for hours in order to embody their skillfully composed vibrations and utilize them in my own words and for my own meaning.
This relates to glassblowing as well. There, I am listening for the sounds of the glass, especially as it cries out in stress. To not hear it is to not be paying attention. The wax too, when it is fully heated, will make this strange bubbling sound as the top plate of hardened wax dislodges from the pot and flatly sinks downward. These are all moments worthy of my attention, so I’d rather not muffle it.
In Kelly Akashi’s studio. Courtesy the artist.