Everything is Always Continuing to Change

Talk: Miyanaga Aiko (Artist) x Asabuki Mariko (Novelist)
Host: Ozaki Tetsuya

On one side, an artist gaining attention who became active internationally since her first solo exhibition in 2001; and this autumn, a large-scale solo exhibition of her work is planned at the National Museum of Art, Osaka. On the other side, an emerging novelist who was the youngest to receive the Bunkamura Les Deux Magots Literature Award in 2010 while still a graduate student, and who would later be awarded the Akutagawa Prize. Although they are active in different fields, they came together here for an open discussion with respects to each other.

– You work in different media, art and literature, but I feel there are some commonalities in your work. First, can you both make some comments about each other’s art?

Points of Similarity Between Miyanaga and Asabuki’s Work

Asabuki (A): This may be something common in all of Ms. Miyanaga’s work, but there is a fleeting beauty, a transparency, and they leave a strong impression. But after looking at them closely, there is a complete opposite feeling and I realize her works have a heavy material weight. The material and weight never change, but the form does. I feel the transition of time, but it’s not that each piece has a length of time. It’s just that they encompass moments. For example, in her naphthalene work, the speed is slowed to a pace where you can confirm the changes visually. I think elements like these are really interesting.


color of silence 2009
Naphthalene, Drawers, Mixed-media Installation
Artist File 2009 [The National Art Center, Tokyo]

Miyanaga (M): I am often asked, “Why do you make such delicate, fleeting works that disappear?” I’m not sure if this is a catch phrase, but my work has also been labeled, “vanishing art”. But personally, I don’t want to make anything “vanish” at all. The works are simply changing. Everything is always continuing to change. I really believe everything we see is like this. Although it may be true that artists set out to create artwork that don’t change and that something that doesn’t change is good, I don’t think that’s the essence of art. I have a need to find an art that has an essence and challenge my self. My work may not be that suitable for the market (laugh), so that’s why I say I don’t just want to show something “fleeting” but, while delicate, I feel something cannot be really art without boldness. At the beginning, people are surprised by the phenomenon. I think there is more possibility for enjoyment by considering if this moment when you stand in front of a work is really the circumstances of now, or questioning one’s everyday life.
What I’d like to ask Ms. Asabuki is about the passage of words similar to layering thin sheets of paper in the world of literature . Ms. Asabuki, your world broadens by layering and matching words, doesn’t it?

A: I write everyday with a feeling of using words to capture an image on paper, rather than trying to write a novel.

M: That’s what I expected. I really identify with that. For me, too, I really pay attention to my choice and order of words when I need to find an appropriate title for a work. If it were a long story of several pages, I can’t continue to write like you do. It must be difficult to continue the work similar to layering thin sheets of paper while maintaining a certain level of quality. I wonder what criteria you have when choosing words, or what goes on in your thought process.

Ryuseki 2010 Shinchosha
ISBN:978-4-10-328461-1 C-CODE:0093

A: What I want to create is a work in which you won’t remember a word after reading, or furthermore, a work that you won’t even remember reading. It is the most ideal, almost like a white sheet of paper, only the moments when you read something pass and nothing happens.
Your work, Beginning of the Landscapes, is an installation with lots of orange osmanthus leaves. That large piece of fabric made up of orange osmanthus, and how each leaf’s texture is intertwined with other leaves, is probably very close to how each word is joined and connected with others. It looks like a feather mantle in the picture. It looks as if it will break apart in a breeze, but actually when you get closer and walk under the tunnel, it turns out that it will not break easily but it is strong.

M: The size of that work is 4m x15m. There are about 65,000 leaves. Although it is made out of orange osmanthus leaves from anybody’s yard, and when you look at them growing on a tree it looks “just like a bunch of leaves”, doesn’t it? But when you gaze at each leaf, there are moments when it looks something like a Google map.

Through Instability Comes Balance

–Please comment on the works in the current exhibition, Lady Dior As Seen By.

waiting for awakening -Lady Dior- 2012
Naphthalene, mixed media 34x20x30 cm
Courtesy Mizuma Art Gallery

M: Using naphthalene as a material, it’s a piece where a Lady Dior bag is replaced by the naphthalene. Naphthalene is used in dressers as an insect repellent, it has a quality where it disintegrates at room temperature. Made with a mould, the replaced bag by the naphthalene is enclosed in resin and its shape doesn’t change. The charm attached to the bag was left uncoated, so it continues to change everyday enclosed in a transparent case with the bag. Where does it go when it changes? If you look closely enough, you can see crystals sparkling around the case. That is what it (the charm) became. In other words, although the charm of the Dior bag loses its form, it doesn’t mean it disappears. Its form changes and it becomes crystals.
The title is Waiting for Awakening. In fact, at the bottom of the case there is a small air hole. Normally, it will change everyday in room temperature just like the charm, but at the moment the air hole is closed. If opened, the bag would change, little by little, to the shape of its traces. Although it’s a white bag now, after decades it will change into a half transparent one. That’s the moment that I imagine is the “awakening from sleep” moment. In other words, the Lady Dior bag now, with the memory of its birth and the tradition of the maison, is sleeping.

A: The time it takes for the naphthalene to become crystals, I heard can be controlled precisely. Whether it’s one week or one year, it will disintegrate. Is this something you can independently control?

M: Since there are various factors involved, I can’t say it will be exactly one week. For example, I make sure that the ways of change are different between the pieces for large exhibition and for pieces purchased by collectors to be cherished at home for decades. At the exhibition, I adjust the speed of change according to each piece so that people who see my work for the first time can see various phases. I think of how I want a piece to change within a certain time period. For collectors, the pieces have to last longer because it would be too early if they turn into crystal within a week. When collectors live with the work, the time they will share together is very important, and I think this is where the real pleasure in art lies.

A: You also have a work where the sound of cracked glaze can be heard. Can you also control the sound to be heard forever?

M: Actually when you use a piece of pottery, normally the crack has been already completed and it is in stable form. But with my glaze, it’s always unstable — unstable but in equilibrium. That is the point. And it’s what I like the most in everything. I cherish things that are in an unstable equilibrium. A crack here and it becomes stable. But after a while, another crack is seen on the other side. Inside this small vessel, change is always taking place, just like the universe and the earth.

–Ms. Miyanaga, you were born in a family of potters. You must have complete mastery of this technique.

M: You can’t choose where you’re born, can you? I just happened to be born in that family, but everyday I saw pottery being fired. I’m often asked why I didn’t become a potter, but for me I was more interested in the signs going on around the firing and the time process rather than the form of the pottery itself.

A: Signs… By kneading clay, and for something to take shape, the material substance and amount doesn’t change. There really is an “unstable equilibrium”, isn’t there? Ceramics is about adding and subtracting, and it can always break, its equilibrium comes from the fact that it’s always unstable. It’s the same with our bodies that change at every moment. They are so unstable that after a few years, all of the cells are different. Although unstable, that is the only way to keep our bodies stable. So to maintain equilibrium also means to keep things in a constant instability.

–Biologist and Vermeer enthusiast FUKUOKA Shinichi has a book titled, Dynamic Equilibrium. To summarize, he argues that living beings are always in a dangerous balance, and without this danger there is no balance. It’s a paradoxical situation.

M: The moment when you hear the crack is like “the feeling when you see a shooting star”. When you hear a sound while listening carefully, it’s like “Oh, I hear something just now.” Even when you don’t hear anything, you are experiencing a sensation that a formless world takes on a form while straining to hear the sound. I like that sensation.
What I do, and with everything I guess, is not really anything special. I used to be called a “kitchen artist” when I was in university. Although I studied sculpture, I once brought a rice cooker to school and made sugar crystals with it. My professor then said, “Oh, you’re really a kitchen artist.”

–It looked to your professor and classmates like you were just cooking rice (laugh).

M: Yes, but I liked experimenting and trying things that I thought interesting. So it was “the beginning of landscapes”. People look in awe in the distance, but my world took off from right under my nose.

yui (ties) 2010
salt collected from the Horikawa river, threads, naphthalene, dissolving paper, rowing boat, buckets, mail boxes
Aichi Triennale 2010 [Aichi Arts Center, Aichi]
Photo: HATAKEYAMA Takashi

There is a Beginning But There is No End

– What kind of work will you exhibit at the National Museum of Art Osaka from the middle of October?

M: I want to make something that is a kind of continuation of the work I exhibited this time (at Lady Dior As Seen By exhibition).  There is something large that we see in daily life that I wanted to enclose. To do that, I had to make a bag of that size. That bag as well, the weight of the resin is about 20 kilograms.
I want to try to properly express the spirit of my works once more. I want to make something that conveys something about how I sync weakness and strength, what image i have of that and in what environment would that be. But this is something unknown to me as I’ve never made something like this before, so I’m not sure how it will turn out. I feel that taking on this challenge, I’ll come to see a new stage.
And I’ll also exhibit Beginning of Landscapes, the work we talked about earlier with the orange osmanthus leaves.

–”Landscape” is an important keyword for you, isn’t it?

M: In 2007, I had a chance to go abroad. Living abroad, I had a feeling that the sense of distance within Japan is quite short. It’s true with Kyoto and Tokyo, and after I returned to Japan, I had to go and pick up some salt for an artwork in the Goto islands. I felt they were not so far away so I said to myself “Oh, I’ll just go tomorrow.” I’ve come to see distances in a way that I can say something and take action right away. While seeing different landscapes in this way, although they are far from each others, I really feel that they are all connected under my feet. Although islands are separated by the ocean and land seems to be divided, underneath they are really all connected. So, there was a moment where I felt I would end up to the same place of mine if I went in a circle. Since then, I’ve been able to easily go to different places and feel like I can go and make art anywhere, rather than feeling this is the only place possible or that other places are not good.
Now, I’m wondering what is the reverse landscape of Japan, so I travel to Central America from the USA. By seeing the reverse of where I’m at now, I think about how the many things are balanced, and how the world is made up with them and their balance. I hope I can use these experiences for my exhibition at the National Museum of Art, Osaka.

Kikotowa 2011 Shinchosha
ISBN:978-4-10-328462-8 C-CODE:0093

A: I saw a photo of Bolivia on your blog. When I saw that photo, the sky and sea were reflected like a mirror image, so it was like looking at the sky and the sea looked like it continued upwards. When we think of the sea, we just think it’s just the ocean, but in fact water is moving freely, which means molecules are scattered. In the end, the sky or the landscape in the photographs, are a collective of molecules. It may sound strange if I say that there is not much difference between them, but there’s a connection between that photograph and what you just said —”everything is connected”— and what you said about the crystal. I got a sense that Ms. Miyanaga has attained to this point now and was really excited about it.

M: That was a salt lake in Uyuni which is 3,600m above sea level. Originally, it wasn’t so much that I wanted to go there, but that I wanted to see an opposite landscape to Japan — it was as simple as that. It is probably connected to the enclosed series I’m making now.
I believe the rock salt found in mountains is like “fossilized oceans”. As the earth’s crust moves, ocean water starts to be enclosed within land, and as the water evaporates it becomes salt. When the Andes were formed, Uyuni salt lake was originally a lake left on the top of the mountains which became a salt lake after the water evaporated. It is in a stage just before the fossilization of the sea. I just wanted to go and see how that would look. Fossilized ocean is enclosed in mountains by the power of nature, but I enclose things deliberately.

– Your work is although small, comprises an extremely large sense of time. Is that what you mean?

waiting for awakening -clock- 2011
Naphthalene, Ladder, Mixed-media 16.5×16.5×12.5 cm
MASKED PORTRAIT II [Marianne Boesky Gallery]

M: If not, it wouldn’t be interesting, would it? It’s really because of these small experiences that my world is broadened.

A: Ms. Miyanaga’s story is really interesting. There’s a beginning but no end.

M: The first work I made had that same phrase as a title, “There’s a Beginning But No End”. People can’t really change so fast. And as I’m not really skilled with my hands, I try to make use of the first feeling I have, like I’m living with a feeling that I’m spinning a thread. I think I’ll continue to live in that world.


*This talk event was held on April 22nd, 2012 in the exhibition space Lady Dior As Seen By in Ginza, Tokyo.


Born in Kyoto, 1974. After graduating from the Sculpture Course at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, she completed her MA at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. In 2006, she visited America and in 2007 she participated in the Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artists in England. In 2008, she exhibited at Busan Biennale 2008. In 2009, she was awarded the 3rd Shiseido Art Egg Prize and had her solo exhibition, Mirage of Water at Shiseido Gallery. In 2010, she had a two-person show at Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris with SEKINE Naoko titled, Doubles Lumières. From October 13 – December 24, 2012, Miyanaga’s large-scale solo exhibition, NAKASORA -the reason for eternity will be held at the National Museum of Art, Osaka.


Born in Tokyo, 1984. MA, in early modern Kabuki, at Graduate School of Letters, Keio University. She started to write novels while she was a graduate student at the suggestion of the chief editor of literary magazine, “Shincho”. In 2009, her first novel Ryuseki (Traces of Flow) was published in Shincho, making it her debut as a novelist. The same novel was awarded in 2010 the 20th Bunkamura Les Deux Magots Literature Award, making her the youngest author in the award’s history. In 2011, her third novel, Kikotowa won the 144th Akutagawa Prize.


(English translation: Eric Luong)


(Publication: 15 September 2012)