Enjoy this interview with contemporary artist Midori Harima
When did you first discover that you were creative? What were you doing?
One of my strong memories from childhood, is how I used to draw sea creatures on the playground with my sister and a friend. We were so involved we kept doing it until the drawings covered the entire playground. Later we came up with the idea to look at the drawing from the top of the slide and this simple act transported us from the playground to the middle of the ocean. I’m not sure if this was the first moment that I discovered that I was creative, though it was a time when I found a way to create something using existing materials. I like to use tools, perspective and rules in a creative fashion. I use the idea of bricolage and incorporate its principles when creating my work.
How does your creativity manifest?
Making art is adding something to the world and creating a relationship with others which doesn’t exist otherwise. Therefore, I consider whether it is necessary to make art, if it serves any purpose in the world. My main motivation for creating art is because of a feeling of longing and this is the where my strongest desire for seeing came from. I am trying to focus on my personal feeling of longing when I make something new and I hope that it will connect to the universal feeling of longing.
Does your creative process help you work through problems or philosophical questions? What does art do for your spirit?
Art helps get me out of the ideological world full of preconceptions inside my head and helps me discover the world outside. The process of thinking making and seeing art helps me address my questions and see the world more accurately. Art disciplines my spirit and it shows me who I am and what I want to be.
Would life be different if you didn’t act on your creativity? How?
I am an introvert and have had a difficult time expressing what I think or feel directly to other people until quite recently. From around high school, I always had a notebook with me and always wrote down what I really felt about everything. For a long time this has been the way I organize my thoughts and feelings. I have also loved to read since I was little. I like the way my brain feels when I am reading and writing. In this state, ideas are still abstract and I can play with their abstractness. My creative work needs this step. If I couldn’t read or write, it would probably be really difficult for me to think or even exist.
Do you consider yourself an artist? Do you think artists should starve?
I don’t think that artists should starve, nor that we should get special care though all the difficulties that artists must confront challenge them to decide how serious they are about making art. I think if someone really needs to do art, eventually they will find a way because that is also an important part of the process of making art. Solely artists themselves are responsible for speaking about the important role of art to others, through their work. As long as I keep making art, I think that remain an artist.
Where do you “find” ideas?
Usually some concepts or a gut feeling get hooked in my mind. They start as questions, sometimes with an uncomfortable feeling of having trouble digesting something I’ve seen or experienced or sometimes from my pure attraction toward the unknown, which makes me truly excited.
My ideas could come from books or news I’ve read, conversations I’ve had, or seeing other people’s work, etc. The ideas come from such random sources, from the stimulation in my daily life. Usually, I keep thinking about key concepts and feelings for a long time, sometimes for a few years. I explore these concepts deeply, read about them, have conversations about them with people as my curiosity develops. I keep moving toward understanding these issues better.
In the process, my “antennae” catch related concepts, materials, skills or logic little by little. At some point, usually the fragments came together and start making sense. When I actually start working on my idea, of course I encounter problems right away. Afterward the process, materials, and all other outside circumstances which affect my ideas, keep transforming my consciousness and material at the same time until the work falls into the right spot. Ideas are fluid and time for processing is essential. I like to keep ideas very loose and open so there is room for them to shift.
How do you decide if an idea is viable? Do you act on all your creative ideas? What do you do if something isn’t coming together?
I don’t act on all my ideas. I write down all my thoughts even though they don’t necessarily make any sense. This helps me remember yet sort of forget about them at the same time.
I sort everything when it bubbles up in my mind. It’s likely that if it is mysterious and abstract enough, I’ll remain interested in it. It will stick in my mind and I’ll keep thinking about it over and over and eventually it will find a way to become my artwork. If something isn’t coming together but it is abstract enough to make me keep thinking about it, I just let it float around for awhile and I will wait.
The fragments will start a dialog with each other and I will find structure. I have a few ideas which I am going to work on in the near future and I am really looking forward to this! This is the best moment: seeing something waiting for you in the future.
Do you ever collaborate with other artists or creative people? Do you enjoy it?
I have collaborated with a few people in a past. One of my successful collaborations was with the artist Emiko Gilbert. She has been a long time friend as well as my role model as an artist. I have learned a lot from her not only in the art realm, but also in life. She invited me to collaborate on her project, a series of leaf prints she had been working on for over ten years. I made a sculpture of leaves and small creatures from my experience in Vermont (where she lives) to include in the project. Collaboration is also about the dialog process; it depends on how much we can trust and share with each other and transform ourselves during the collaboration. I learned from it and I truly enjoyed the process.
What do you think has been your most successful creative piece/project? Why was it successful?
I am very happy with a project I am working on right now called, “Democracy Demonstrates.” I started this project in Korea during my three months residency at MMCA Goyang, run by the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Korea. The project was about what I consumed during 90 days in Korea. I have a blog about it.
The conceptual elements in this project include themes I have been thinking about for the past five years such as democracy as a function of art, Asia, opposition to economical thinking in a capitalist world, rethinking aesthetics, post-colonialism, feminism and so on. This project actually changed my thinking and seeing and my way of consuming. I was happiest that this project transformed my consciousness.
Does society or do your friends and family support your creative practice?
My friends and family support me greatly in both a physical and psychological way. I am very lucky that from the beginning of my artistic career, I always had someone who understood what I was doing, sometimes even more than I did and someone who supported what I did for no real reason. This taught me about the gift economy of art; pure gifting of valuables not traded or sold and I hope to be able to do this for others.
There are a few people I really trust and am able to talk with about art. They are the most terrifying audience for me to share my work with but I am grateful that I have them.
I am not sure that society has to support what I am doing. I feel that it is fully my responsibility to find my way including trying to reach out to society because it is the process towards my self-actualization.
How have you made it financially possible to focus on art practice?
Almost always I have held another job to sustain myself. I sell art sometimes and the grants I have received have helped me a few times but I rely on my day job for the largest part of my income.I currently work as a decorative painter. In the past, I have worked as a house painter, artist’s assistant, craft worker; all those jobs included simple handwork and they had a little bit of schedule flexibility which allowed me to maintain my mental freedom. That is essential for me in order to make art.
I also have financial and emotional support from my family and my husband. In my 20s and 30s, I was quite happy about the balance of working my day job and my art. I learned a lot about real life and society from that. As I get closer to my 40s, I am ready to make more time to focus fully on my art practice. I have started searching for funding.
How does your art connect to your culture, your current location, or your community? How does living in an “adopted culture” influence your art?
I moved to US soon after I graduated from art college in Japan and I have lived in the US for 14 years. The largest influence is language. When I first come to US, I couldn’t understand almost anything. I felt that I was invisible because I didn’t speak the language. It was quite a hard time but looking back now, my temporary loss of identity had a strong influence on me.
Learning a second language is almost the same as gaining a whole different personality and logic system. It gave me additional perspective of how I think. It is an isolating position but the distance from my own culture and language allowed me to observe the differences rationally. I now understand I cannot fully adopt my new culture nor fully maintain my own culture. I’ve learned to criticize myself –in a healthy way. I think there is something useful to be gained from my position in an adopted culture and that is what I am exploring right now.
What are you working on currently?
I am working on a year-long garbage project right now and eventually I will publish a book of this project. I’m saving the trash from what I consume each day and creating a small object from it and photographing each one. The project is making me realize new things about social structure and classism, history, economic distribution systems, the process of production, our desires and ideology. Now I am learning about how American lifestyles relate to our value system rooted in capitalism and how this affects the modernization process in Asia. I want to find clarity about American society’s position on consumption and consumerism.
What challenges have you faced in your creative work?
Trying to figure out how to get past my ego built up with my own aesthetic preconceptions, value system, and ideologies is certainly a big challenge for me, not only my creative work but also in other facets of my life. As I keep making simple objects every day, it is easy to fall into a repetitious pattern. Even though it is something very simple and trivial, doing the same thing and studying every day helps me to push myself to go farther.
Have you ever reached an impasse where you thought your work had become impossible? What changed your mind?
Yes, I have reached an impasse where I wasn’t sure if I could go further or I could accomplish what I was working on. In many cases, time helped me overcome these negative thoughts but in some cases, I never recovered control. Some projects ended up as complete failures, and in other cases, other people helped me out and I made it through. What I learned from those failures is that when I start thinking that something is impossible, I can only be successful if I step out of my comfort zone by challenging my own perception.
Tell us something we don’t know about you yet:
I am trying to take good care of my internal organs. Although we can’t see them, they do exist, and they directly affect our emotions. I feel that our internal organs have been forgotten and abused. I try to eat less and cut down on bad things like sugar, caffeine, and chemicals to give my organs time for rest. When my stomach is empty, I visualize it resting and it makes me feel good about the feeling. I am trying to oppose consumption for consumption’s sake, which is based on artificial desires triggered by advertising as opposed to desires that arise naturally.
Midori Harima was born in Japan and received her BA in printmaking from The Women’s University of Fine Art in Kanagawa, Japan.
She creates artwork based on the flood of information inundating our lives and presents objects as information and information in the form of objects. Harima has exhibited across the US and abroad including The Honey Space, Deitch Studios, Kanagawa Prefectural Gallery, Des Lee Gallery, Tokyo Forum Exhibition Space, among other places. Harima currently lives and works in New York.