Chilean/Japanese artist Kazuki Guzmán takes everyday objects and turns them into something extraordinary. From his delicate banana illustrations using thousands of delicately placed needle piercings to a miniature chewing gum sculpture, his works are embedded with a delightful sense of humor and whimsey. His artworks ranges from large installations that are activated by the space or the viewers, to series of sculptures made from everyday objects. We sit down and talk with him about his creative process, his culture, and Asian films! Read below for the full Q&A…
As an artist what did you learn from your mother and her Japanese heritage that was the most valuable lesson you have applied to your mentality as an artist?
Kazuki: I embrace Japanese traditions and aesthetics such as wabi-sabi; the aesthetic marked by an appreciation and acceptance of imperfection and transience. In a way, my whole art practice revolves around this mindful approach to everyday life. I seek beauty in the mundane, and choose media that suggest transience of life. I also learned to pay respect and take good care of things. To this day, my Japanese grandmother reminds me to eat each grain of rice in my bowl because there are seven gods living inside each rice grain.
Your collaboration project with Hao Ni is really spooky to me because it reminded me of the book ‘House of Leaves’ where a man discovers his house is larger on the inside than the outside. Why do you think structures and dimensions make for such an interesting concept?
Kazuki: Spatial concepts play a huge role when it comes to a larger installation like our collaborative project. As for the house in the novel, there is always one’s expectation of the inner structure, and what is present on the outside. What makes the work rich is the psychological response you experience after the expectations are not met. Because we wanted our audience to engage and interact with the piece intimately, we played a lot with these concepts.
For example, we placed our installation right by the window, where the audience could see more structures and windows outside the building. And because the installation itself housed smaller structures on the inside, it was like a structure within a structure within a structure…We raised the platform by adding legs and stairs to the house, so that the perspective from the inside was different from that of outside. Also, we went as far as locking the door occasionally during the time of our show, so as to encourage the audience to interact with the piece solely through limited perspectives given by abstract windows. The installation evolved with every showing because we continuously changed components inside and out based on our mood.
How was your time at University? I know many artists feel that there was a lot of resentment directed towards the continuing education students from the undergrads and grad students. Did these courses shape you into the creative that you are today?
Kazuki: My time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago was wonderful. What I loved the most about it was their interdisciplinary curriculum; I did not have to declare a major, and I had the freedom to explore across a wide range of disciplines. The courses I took varied from designed object, fiber studies, offset printing, jewelry making, ceramics, to carpentry and so on. The experience allowed me to develop a greater understanding of myself as an artist, and a way to contextualize my work within a contemporary society.
What was the transition like from Korea to the U.S. Any particular culture shocks?
Kazuki: Since Japan and Korea have both been highly influenced by the Western culture, I did not feel much culture shock in terms of what I experienced within the city. However, at school, I was shocked to see a significant difference in the way people approached art. While Asian art focused more on techniques and the finished product, the Western art put more weight on concepts and the process of making art. It was almost like they did not value a beautifully painted work unless it had a good concept behind it. I remember feeling trapped between these approaches, and struggled to find the middle ground between the two extremes.
Tell us a bit about using needles to imprint designs on fruit. That is definitely an out of the box idea.
Kazuki: I came across the idea when I found bananas that I had taken for lunch all bruised and scratched inside my bag. After seeing what these ‘damages’ were doing to the peel, I started playing more with it. As I closely interacted with bananas, I learned that when damaged, the cells on the surface reacts to the oxygen and turn dark over time. I was simply playing with it at first, but eventually, I was dedicated to turn this fantastic phenomenon into art one way or another. And this is how I came up with my banana pieces: Banana Portrait and Vuitton Nana. The Banana Portrait speaks to the idea of memento mori and transience of life. It starts out with my portrait, however, after a few days, it starts resembling my father with unexpected beard-looking spots, then my grandfather, and decays completely after weeks. The Vuitton Nana mocks the high art and the idea of branding; “Is this banana more expensive, or does it taste better now that it has brand logos all over it?” No, it tastes the same and decays just like any other banana. Good ideas are always hiding quietly, waiting for us to find and shape them into art. We just need to keep our eyes sharp for any minor signs.
Obviously the drawback is that bananas spoils fast, or toothpaste melts so your art can only last for a certain amount of time. Why choose these mediums? What is your creative process for picking them?
Kazuki: I use mundane objects in my practice for several reasons. The first one is that, I find beauty in things impermanent and transient. Like you mentioned, most of my work is only temporary, and decay or disappear over time. But when they do, there is death to the work, which also implies that at some point in its creation, there was birth, and there was life. Through the creative process of my work, I like to contemplate on things like life, death, and the purpose of it all. The reason you see my portrait in most of my work is because I want to see life through the eyes of these mediums by putting myself in their shoes.
The other reason is that, I want to break the boundary between art people and the general public. I have always been against the idea of art being only for the rich or educated, in other words, elitist. Why can art only exist in galleries, museums, or institutions? Why is everything else called the ‘outsider’ art? So, in order to break that boundary and bring art even just a little closer to people, I have been intentionally using objects that you see lying around everywhere.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or anime?
Kazuki: I have always liked films by Kōki Mitani, such as “Rajio no Jikan” or “The Magic Hour”. His sense of humor is a great example of Japanese humor: not really laugh-out-loud kind of funny, but more subtle, refined, and quirky. It might take a while for non-Japanese people to get into his world, but once you get it, there is definitely something addicting about it. In terms of anime (or manga), I really like “One Piece” by Eichiro Oda, or any films by Hayao Miyazaki and Mamoru Hosoda.
Your art has a care-free joking manner spirit that is pretty evident just by looking at your creations. Have you ever tried to create art when you were in a dark place or an angry mood? Are you able to create in a time of chaos?
Kazuki: Despite the cheerful, carefree persona that I project through my work, my creative process often comes from darker or more serious places. For example, the Gum Portrait. I came up with the idea at a time when things were not going so well with my life, and consequently, I began to look down on the pavement whenever I walked. One day, I realized that there are numerous black spots on the street as a result of gum being chewed, spat, and stepped on so many times. Until then, I was so used to the pavement just being gray that I did not even realize their presence. This trivial encounter made me reflect on my own being; “Will anything I do in my life matter after I’m gone? Even if it did, it will be ephemeral, and life will move on like I never existed. That is, I will be the black spot myself.” After this, I could not help but to empathize with the stepped chewing gum on the street; I wanted them to be remembered. I wanted their lives to mean something. Or rather, I wanted my life to mean something. With thoughts like this, I created a series of gum people, each lively and happy. So, to answer your question, art helps me process my thoughts and emotions, and functions almost like a prayer or meditation of some sort. It is actually something that I do in a time of chaos.
Lastly, any advice for any artists out there?
Kazuki: Do not try to make things well, but do it with care and love. That is, treat art making as lovemaking, and your final product as your child. And, of course, enjoy the process.
Want to stay up to date on all of Kazuki’s innovative art? Visit his official site below: