Interview conducted by Charlotte Hyde, Pomona College '18
As I understand it, an omiyage is the subject of a culturally significant practice in Japan in which one brings an edible souvenir to friends, family, and coworkers after returning from a trip. Given this, why did you choose Omiyage as the title of your work?
The boxes in my photos are from saved “Omiyage” packages. My grandma used them to store things, basically like people keep things in shoe boxes here. This was a practical move, but I couldn’t help but think about what omiyages and gifts in general represent. Gifts are complicated, they are meant to be something we give out of generosity and receive gratefully. But much of gift culture can be obligatory, cause guilt to the receiver or become an object that they feel obligated to keep. Isn’t this kind of like memories? Especially in the context of a family?
The other thing about Omiyages is that they are largely food based. Like practically every town in Japan has a special local treat you can buy as souvenirs. So the edible nature has a parallel to experience and cultural as something we consume and it becomes a part of us through digestion. Keeping old mementos from an important event is kind of like keeping the wrapper of a cherished sweet. Maybe that’s kind of how I feel about photographs, it’s like trying to hold onto something that is already gone, but is also already a part of you. This is also why I printed on such translucent and delicate paper.
What is the significance of the slightly differing colors in the borders surrounding the photographs?
Hm, I’m not totally sure what you mean. Perhaps you mean the space outside of the boxes that contain the objects. It might be hard to tell, but that’s just the pattern of the table I photographed the boxes on, it’s like a wood grain surface. It might vary in tone because I shoot in natural light which changes, obviously, throughout the day.
Why do you favor image so strongly over text in this work? Do you think that captioning each photograph would detract from the viewer’s interpretation of the work?
I never thought about it that way, image versus text. I think this is a false dichotomy. There’s a temptation to think about written language as separate or support element to art but they really aren’t apposing elements. Think of it more like another medium, some people are medium specific while others use various tools. Photographs often come with captions, maybe because of newspaper and media culture but I tend to think this is just an anxiety photographers in fine art have that they feel they must “explain” a photograph. I don’t see this in painters. I use text as I see fit. In this project I included a passage contextualizing the images, explaining some of the details that otherwise the viewer could not possible know. Otherwise, I don’t have the intention to “control the viewer’s interpretation” by text. In fact, I just want people to experience it. Interpretation is not some decoding end goal. At least not for me!
In this work, it seems that the way each photograph is presented is as important as the content of the photograph itself. Do you think that this applies to your work in general?
Yes! A photograph is an object- even if purely digital, you still need some way to look at it. Those material aspects are integral components of a photograph. I’m actually not sure why this doesn’t concern more photographers. People tend to focus on the “content” of the photograph versus the “form,” but again these are false dichotomies.
Were there any other boxes that you found when going through your grandmother’s things that you chose not to include in this book? How did you determine the order of the boxes you presented?
Actually I helped clear out my grandparent’s entire apartment so there was lots and lots of things I went through. It was an incredible experience to go through a whole life time’s worth of things, one item at a time! When you’re trying to close down a life’s worth of stuff, you end up throwing away most of it. I started photographing some items as I could as I sorted through them. The particular boxes shown in the book stood out to me because of the precious contents. But I also photographed lots of other objects too. I had no idea what I was going to do with the images when I was taking them, it was probably more of a coping mechanism of dealing with grief. Also, given many situations, when I don’t know what to do, I take pictures. For this book project the collection I presented seemed to boil down the experience most clearly.
As for the order, as you see it’s not bound so the order is not set or determined. Just like looking through a set of boxes you might keep in closet or under your bed.
How do you think that people can use art to explore and clarify their relationship with their cultural heritage?
In any way they see fit! I don’t actually think that “art” holds any special position in experiencing one’s cultural heritage. For some people perhaps its learning how to cook traditional food of their culture or for others perhaps its reading history books about their heritage. For me, I never thought about what I was doing as art or exploring my cultural heritage. I just make images like breathing. It just so happens the air I’m breathing is full of curiosity and wonder. It just so happens that also I am mixed race, brown, queer and female, among other things, so those influences are there and often get labeled (often even by me) as such, but the truth is, I’m just living my life :)
With various different formats of presenting art, what drew you to create this piece in the form of an artist's book? How do you think the format of an artist's book best explores/examines race and identity?
The artist book is an elegant way to give photographs materiality. For this piece I wanted the translucent silky paper to evoke an ephemeral sensorial experience analogous to opening the boxes full of sentimental objects, which now no longer exist. Using the artist book format encourages the viewer to touch and handle the photographs, which is not the typical interaction for a photographic print. The intimacy of this handling drew me to using the book for this particular project, but I don’t think there’s anything specific about an artist book format that makes it more ideal to explore the topic of race and identity then another format or medium. The artist's book best examines race and identity if that's what feels authentic to the maker. This is true of any format on any subject.
How would you like your audience to interact with your work?
As an artist interested in materiality and visceral responses, I would like the audience to interact with my work intuitively and instinctually.
How are the central themes/messages of your work relevant to contemporary issues?
Frankly, I don’t know that it is or isn’t relevant to contemporary issues. This work may speak to a common anxiety among many second generation children of immigrants who have a bitter sweet relationship to a cultural history that they both identify with but also feel alienated by. So in someways it is relevant to the question of what it means to be an American in relation to other identities one may hold. But much of my work comes from a deeply internal space, so the relevance to contemporary issues is an after affect of context. Although the bodies/identities I am and represent in the book may be politicized because of the external cultural structures, the book is largely about loss in the most universal and timeless way: the loss of family members and the loss of a certain time period. I have no explicit message, but there is a sense of melancholy that I think is worth paying attention to.