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Log 3 - Noguchi and I’s letters

A selection of Noguchi’s portrait sculpturesA selection of Noguchi’s portrait sculptures

I was reading Isamu Noguchi: A Sculptor’s World this morning and came across part of his biography where he was applying to the then newly-founded Guggenheim Fellowship (he was invited to do so by Mr. Harry Guggenheim himself). I just finished writing my letters of intent for Masters applications, so it was interesting and a little bizarre to read his, from 1926, almost a century before now:

It is my desire to view nature through nature’s eyes, and to ignore man as an object for special veneration. There must be unthought of heights of beauty to which sculpture may be raised by this reversal of attitude.

An unlimited field for abstract sculptural expression would then be realized in which flowers and trees, rivers and mountains, as well as birds, beasts and man, would be given their due place. Indeed, a fine balance of spirit with matter can only concur when the artist has so thoroughly submerged himself in the study of the unity of nature as to truly become once more a part of nature — a part of the very earth, thus to view the inner surfaces and the life elements. The material he works with would mean to him more than mere plastic matter, but would act as a coordinant and asset to his theme. In such a way may be gained a true symphony in sculpture. It is difficult to visualize sculpture in words, especially that kind for which there are but few similies. Some sculptors today appreciate the importance of matter, but are too much engrossed with symbolism. Others who are undoubtedly artists are interested only in the the interpretation of strictly human forms. May I therefor, beg to recognize no antecedents with this declaration of intentions?

As yet, I have never executed any of these ideas. I have rather been saving them as sacred until such a time as I should have attained technical confidence and skill. In the handling of clay, I believe that I now have the necessary ability. In the technique of stone and wood cutting, however, I feel that I am still deficient.

My proposition, therefore, should I be so honored as to receive your fellowship, would include a travel study and production period of three years — the first year to be spent in Paris, where I should endeavour to acquire proficiency in stone and wood cutting, as well as in a better understanding of the human figure.

I should also gain a certain cultural background from residence in this European metropolis.

The two following years I propose to spend in Asia, going first to India, then through China into Japan, where I should hold an initial exhibition prior to one to be given in New York.

I have selected the Orient as the location for my productive activities for the reason that I feel a great attachment for it, having spent half my life there. My father, Yone Noguchi, is Japanese and has long been known as an interpreter of the East to the West, through poetry. I wish to do the same with sculpture.

May I , therefor, request your assistance in enabling me to fulfill my heritage?

The first part, where he explains where he’s interested in going with his work: abstract forms from nature. Later in the book he talks about how he wanted to make abstract works, but because he needed money at the time and abstractions weren’t selling, he couldn’t financially afford it (instead he created portrait sculptures of heads). But the bit about needing to submerge oneself in nature to become part of nature once again — that totally connects with recent work of mine that explores environmental personhood and empathy with nature as part of the process.

Here’s my letter of intent to NSCAD:

For the past nine years I have worked as a professional illustrator, artist, board member and teacher. I make visual and interactive multimedia works that explore relationships to natural and virtual worlds.

My practice is rooted in drawing and collage, which I developed during my Bachelor of Illustration (Honors) at Sheridan College. Afterwards, I worked professionally in the technology industry at Sago Mini, where I designed playful digital toys for children from concept through publishing. Working in industry prompted me to think deeply about the impact of technology. I investigated this further at The School for Poetic Computation, an alternative school where I studied coding, hardware, and poetics through a sociocultural lens. I began to further incorporate software, projection, and kinetic machinery into my work through material research, installations, and curriculum design at Factory Media Centre in Hamilton (as an artist-in-resident, and later a board member) and Cambridge Art Galleries, among others. I am influenced by Ann Hamilton’s site-responsive work which engages viewers in multi-layered, sensorial interactions as in her piece, Event of a Thread. Additionally, Yeseul Song’s poetic and graceful incorporation of electronics in her Invisible Sculptures series, which uses audio, warmth, and smell to describe an invisible form.

Contemporary society is defined by an increasing immersion in digital spaces and the impact of human presence on the planet. Recent work like Water as a Gift responds to site-specific ecosystems of local rivers, and A rolling stone gathering moss confronts my own eco-anxiety through relating to geologic timescales. In my research I reconsider my relationship with nature by intentionally personifying things such as forests, flowers, watersheds, or stone. Using software, motion, video projection and installation among other methods of transformation, I challenge colonial values and create new ways of interacting with these familiar subjects. 

It is my hope that through creating meaningful experiences, whether in dialogue with nature or in a learning space, we can ultimately transform relationships to envision more optimistic futures. I am eager to continue this journey at NSCAD’s Master of Fine Arts program this fall.

Up next Log 2 - Rolling Stone update, teaching, rest, going to the library To give an update on what I was writing about in my last (first) log, I did end up finishing the Rolling stone gallery– at least, a demo version. I Log 4 - teaching, journal response project, visualizing time
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