“I sometimes like a little ambiguity in my work and a certain amount of symmetry,” says Mayumi Miyake, a winter, 2005 Resident Fellow at the Creative Glass Center of America. She began working with glass about five years ago and, after completing four years of study at the Toyama Institute of Glass Art in Japan, decided she wanted to study abroad. Since then she has been to Pilchuck three times and now is at Wheaton Village.
Compared to mediums like clay, wood, and brush and ink, glass is a relatively new medium of art-making in Japan; however, Miyake has said that she believes glass is especially suited to the expression of a quality prized in Japanese culture. She identifies it as “vagueness” or “the borderline between yes and no, the boundary between light and shade.” Glass as a material communicates ambiguity and ineffable subtleties of emotion.
Perhaps because she has decided to pursue her studies in a foreign country, Miyake is especially aware that she possesses a Japanese aesthetic and sensibility. On the other hand, as an international artist, she acknowledges her work as the expression of individuality and uniqueness. It grows, she says, from the perceptions of the “eye of the mind.”
Glass, even transparent polished glass, reflects the image of its maker and its viewer. Miyake is fascinated with this effect, in which we recognize ourselves and others through an interpretive or mirroring medium. She speaks of “knowing others through reflection and knowing others by looking back.” Miyake is not familiar with the work of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan, but her concept is surprisingly consistent with Lacan’s discussion of the “Mirror Stage” in which the infant forms a sense of self. Perhaps encouraged by its mother, the infant sees itself for the first time as a whole and discrete entity by looking in a mirror. In the mirror, one achieves self-consciousness.
Lacan, however, describes the seemingly whole “self” in the mirror as false. It is not the self at all but a reflection, as the child will soon realize to its confusion and even dismay. The mirror image can never be joined with the self, creating in Lacan’s terms a situation of perpetual fragmentation and unsatisfied desire. For Lacan that vision is the recognition of an “other” from whom we will forever be divided by a cold barrier of glass.
Miyake (literally) casts this story in a non-psychoanalytic context, but I think Lacan would appreciate her representation of the persistent ambiguity of self-hood constructed through mirroring sculptures which embody geometric clarity and fragmentation. Mirror (2004), a transparent disc-like form, for example, is studded with regular circular polished protrusions. They are optically ambiguous; Depending on the angle of the light, they may reflect something or be transparent. Perhaps fragments of the self are reflected or perhaps many selves own a part of the surface. Light may simply glance off. Because of the form’s transparency, bumps can read as holes. Such a potentiated diversity of meaning is typical of post-structuralism thinking. Just as the self is defined by not being the other; light, often the subject of Miyake’s work, can only be perceived because of its potential absence. “There is dark so we can see light,” she notes.
Miyake is primarily a kiln caster and likes refined almost minimal forms. Because she values severe simplicity so highly, it is fortunate that she is one of the very rare artists who truly enjoys cold-working glass. She says she “loves” the intense concentration of shaping a piece on eclectically-powered grinding wheels.
She is also unusual in inventing a detail-oriented process involving paper collage. Dense almost monolithic transparent cast forms are faced with a layer of glued-on paper, sometimes rice paper which contained writing— even a letter or printed newspaper torn into irregular fragments so minute that attempting to decipher words is futile. Some of the pieces Miyake collages are unsent letters or cards (An unsent postcard was the first such source). This soft, fragmented layer is generally viewed through the mass of glass where it functions as a translucent veil admitting light and emphasizing the distance between transparent planes.
The soft colors soaked into the paper infuse the crystalline glass. Some of the paper collages are based on the white strips of paper inscribed with prayers which the Japanese tie to trees at Buddhist temples. Miyake has copied some of the words from these, as well as mandalas. A serious earthquake in Tibet inspired such an altruistic wish embodied in Mirror of Mind: Hope, in which a collage suggests a landscape.
These pieces are universal and particular. While the physical mass of each of these works references “time and the body;” planes of collaged paper are “more about the moment and words.” Whatever fragmented text is visible in the final piece is illegible, identifiable only abstractly as the gesture of communication.
Once again, Miyake expresses a post-structuralist sensibility in distinguishing between the idea of communication and specific messages which might be communicated. When a visitor comments, “You like to work hard.” Miyake smiles: “Yes.” She pauses thoughtfully and nods. “Training.”