Kumi Yamashita’s work has an understandable tendency to go viral. With an ingenius use of materials that draw attention to the shadow-casting capabilities of relatively simple materials, the New York-based artist presents dual and mutually compatible works that are both abstract and extremely naturalistic.
Take, for example, the Fragments works from 2009; each shadow-profile cast by every piece of resin in the series is a portrait of a different individual Kamashita got to know during her travels in New Mexico. Looking at the shadows cast on the wall, they all appear to be realistic representations in the manner of Victorian silhouette-outlines, but solely focusing on the physical piece responsible for the shadow evokes a much more simplified and abstracted image.
Kamashita has always worked with space: “Even when I was young I enjoyed making objects and all through my schooling and various art classes I had to create and make three-dimensional sculpture. So it was a form with which I was already familiar and enjoyed.”
Interestingly, the Post-It-esque quality to the facial portrait pieces, along with the use of toy-like numbers to cast shadows and the puppetry this evokes, masks the extreme spatial complexity involved in the successful and convincing formation of the shadow: “When it comes to the numbers, letters and building blocks that I use in my Light & Shadow work however, those have all been hand made by me. Sometimes I even have to create my own font so that I can get the organic shape I need for the specific work. While they may look mass-produced, they are all individually unique so as to fulfill their specific function.”
Naturally, there are restrictions when it comes to using light as one of her premier tools: “Ambient light is my nemesis! I am always battling light spill (which causes other shadows also) when installing in new spaces. Unintentional excess light or shadow can really destroy the integrity and poetry of the work. The key is to have an environment which can be controlled.”