Amiko Matsuo: Digital Rapport

 Image still from Amiko Matsuo's Plexi Kiln Micro Version of a Noborigama (see video below)

Image still from Amiko Matsuo's Plexi Kiln Micro Version of a Noborigama (see video below)

    Let's for a moment coin a term, digital rapport. Rapport by definition means "a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well" and in pairing these words we are emphasizing the interplay involved in working to turn creative ideas into digital files that in turn successfully become real objects or visualizations of an imagined realm.  In this digital rapport, we see the translation and transformation of ideas augment existing materials, processes, ideas of art, craft, culture and tradition. The social aspect of working in the digital medium is inherently collaborative; troubleshooting in software forums, the process of learning, gaining access to machines via institutions, organizations or service providers, understanding the logic of the group that constructed the software  (for example, compare the logic of an engineering program to a sub-D modeling program). It is in this twist of terms inspired by discussions with recent DFR resident ceramicist Amiko Matsuo, that the conceptual underpinnings of digital reveal complex relationships between many factors.

    At the core of Matsuo's work is a transmigratory identity bridging her experiences in Japan and the United States. An expert in Japanese ceramic traditions, Matsuo's dedication to ceramics is expansive pointing to and exploring contemporary ideas, tensions, cross-cultural translations and commonalities in the craft tradition of ceramics, culture and the history between Japan and the West. Matsuo is a professor of ceramics at California State University Channel Islands, extremely active in her studio practice, exhibiting, lecturing and presenting at conferences, writing and translating as in her recent translation of the book Art + Place + Japan: A Vision for Renewal, soon to be published from Princeton Architectural Press, 2015. Her dedication to withstanding craft principles and earnest optimism for the ceramic craft community to push forward evolving digital technologies such as ceramic 3D printing, pins Matsuo on a quiet tension between tradition and the future.   Matsuo is exceptionally hard working and  worked with DFR to develop some of the projects highlighted below for various presentations and exhibitions such as her recently exhibited work at the 2015  National Council for Education on the Ceramic Arts (NCECA)  and the Pyrometrics Biennial at Brown University.

      Conceptually there are interesting parallels and metaphors to explore in Matsuo's work within the idea of digital rapport and the relationships she is mediating between tradition and contemporary concerns . For example,  the parallel environmental extremes experienced in California's  fires and Japan's tsunamis, environmental realities that impact both culture's ideas of future, past and present. Matsuo continues to develop her Pyrometric project and explore various themes involving the impact of climate change. The Pyrometric project began by creating ceramic traffic cones used by Matsuo to reference the  "tsunami stones" in Japan which she describes as "inscribed slabs erected beyond the reach of previous catastrophic tides with warnings to the future: 'Remember what happened here and do not make your homes below this point' ".

   Matsuo collaborated with local firefighters to get the ceramic cones "ritual fired". With the assistance of California's Ventura County firefighters the cones were fired in a controlled burn.  Matsuo also fired more cones using a dusting of ash. The resulting images and the ceramic cones act as artifacts and witnesses to the intense heat produced by the fires. The process utilizing a natural phenomena destructive to human habitat but illustrating a symbiotic potential between nature, man and object. Matsuo .  With maps in hand, she hopes to install these cones in areas with a history of natural fires. With DFR Matsuo has created a model of one such site using laser cut acrylic with 3D printed cones to represent proposed future sites for the Pyrometric project. 

    One can say fire is a definite part of Matsuo's milieu. Her research into  kilns such as the anagama kiln which is a single chamber kiln that slopes into a tunnel shape with no divide between the stoking space and the pottery space and the noborigama kiln a focus of  Matsuo's visualization (see vimeo video above) highlight the futuristic vision that weaves together Matsuo's knowledge of the past and what could be a new chapter in ceramics.  Creating these models that are suggestive of large scale kilns that could fit into a hillside that blend the nature of fire (from spark to ashes) and production are interesting adaptations that invite cross-disciplinary dialogue from ceramists, to physical geography to mechanical engineering among many other possible correlated interests. 

   One recent model of her idea is a ceramic 3D print (image below) initially bisque fired in the USA  now a transportable prototype she will travel with to Japan to  glaze and fire. As ceramic 3D printing continues to evolve, ceramists such as Matsuo will play a key role. She has worked with emerging ceramic 3D printing service providers eager to see the process evolve. 

           Data visualization is a core keystone between the sciences and art.  Matsuo's process explores scientific and pseudo-scientific approaches. For example with DFR, Matsuo was able to experiment with digital embroidery as a means to illustrate snowfall data since 1959 stitched on kimono remnants belonging to her grandmother. Each snowflake unique in design is systematically arranged in rows to translate the snowfall data that only began being recorded in 1959. 

Amiko Matsuo Detail of digital embroidery of snowflake data since 1959 stitched on vintage kimono silk.

   On a deeper level, the significance of the kimono to Japanese culture is an important point of reflection as the color and pattern visually expressed the gender, age, wealth and status of the wearer. The prestigious rise of the kimono took place during the during Japan's isolationist Edo period. Silk itself was a commodity accessed  only available through Japan's exclusive trade relationships with the Portuguese and the Dutch. The Dutch delivering Japan's shogun with scientific and medical advancements developing in the Netherlands and Europe.  Historians cite this as an important phase leading to Japan's industrial revolution. Matsuo also highlights the impact of the introduction of the microscope by the Dutch to Japan during the Edo period and it's influence on pattern design with the images of the microscopic world becoming a new source for visual influences.  

    The mixture of technology, tradition and conceptual depth that Matsuo blends into her various projects are thought-provoking not only for their potential environmental management techniques and other climate change related concerns but also because she touches on cultural anxieties on a global level and even within the future of ceramics. She holds a brave brilliant optimism that is only limited by the speed with which society and technology can keep up with her ideas. Her digital rapport not only representing the translation of her ideas into many forms but her ability to bridge with viewers two cultures at one in her experiences. 

To learn more about Amiko Matsuo's work visit: