Kiyoko Matsuyama believes that worrying about the past or the future is wasted energy. For her the answers to life’s problems never come when the mind is busy, they come when the mind is still. The Japanese artist creates fiber sculptures that reflect upon how our feelings of frustration and anxiety can be overcome when we learn to let go. “We never stop thinking and often have many thoughts at the same time,” Matsuyama observes. “I feel it’s important to keep a mindful perspective on those thoughts that benefit us most,” she says.
After studying glass in Kawasaki, Japan, Matsuyama moved to the United States where she earned an M.F.A. in Glass from Kent State University in 2013 and an M.F.A. in Fibers from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2015.
Earlier this year, Matsuyama became one of four local resident artists at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami to receive a 2016 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Inside her studio at the Bakehouse, the walls are lined with the soft sculptures Matsuyama creates using various types of wool cultivated from New Zealand sheep. While in college she says she studied diagrams of the human central nervous system and the process of cognitive function upon which the artist has modeled her organic forms. Matsuyama also discovered the unique process she employs to give her works their eye-catching, twisting, tubular shapes.
It’s a painstaking, time-consuming and labor intensive process where each sculpture can take hundreds of hours to fashion by hand the artist states.
She begins each sculpture by layering miniscule handfuls of Romney sheep wool on a flat surface with their lengths overlapping each other not unlike the crosshatching technique employed by artists when they draw. Matsuyama then uses a method she calls “wet felting” sprinkling hot water and soap on the wool to bind the fibers together with a procedure that brings to mind a baker kneading dough with a rolling pin.
Image courtesy Ashley Hernández
“I was exploring my own techniques and discovered this process that gives me these textures and wrinkles when I roll the fibers together with a length of this PVC pipe,” Matsuyama informs.
“Making these lengths of fiber tubes is my favorite process because it’s tactile and a series of simple, repetitive motions during which I can empty my mind and not have those anxieties about being successful,” the artist admits.
Serial in nature, subtle works such as Airing and Embrace Yourself can be read as Zen meditations on non-attachment and Matsuyama’s profound reflections on how our worries, fears, desires, restlessness and nervousness are the cause of lack of peace. Adding to both of these work’s inherent visual impact is the fact that they are bleached bone in color and the underlying tension suggested by their tightly coiled arrangements.
“I barely thought about color when making these sculptures because somehow they seemed more beautiful and powerful to me,” mentions Matsuyama who often uses acid dyes to create works.
She adds that for her, the felt tubes she creates are symbolic of the paths our thoughts take from moment to moment and how one can become overwhelmed by the overflow.
The darker confines of the mind are reflected in one of Matsuyama’s arresting embroidery paintings on an adjacent wall. Created from merino wool and cotton and titled Mind Pathway 1, it depicts a menacing funnel shape devouring what appears to be blood-red swirls and gives the impression of one’s consciousness being buffeted by an angry storm.
Image courtesy Ashley Hernández
Matsuyama’s maternal instincts shine through in her delicate Dream series in which she creates tiny sculptural wall works depicting fetuses resting peacefully in the womb.
“I wanted to give these babies a safe place to rest,” smiles the artist whose next project is creating a tapestry shaped like a brick wall in which a few blades of grass can be seen struggling to poke through.
Matsuyama’s brick wall tapestry promises to be yet another powerful reminder that gaining self-control over how we think is the truest path to liberating our minds.
Carlos Suarez de Jesus- Art Critic