Interview: Hitomi Uchikura

Mirroring the Fundamental Life Force

Nothing is more elemental or common than light. Although taken for granted, it is the life-giving force that sustains our tiny planet in the cold immensity of space. As the definition of ultimate speed, it is also one of the parameters of the Universe. No wonder, then, that light has always carried strong symbolic meanings.

"People are supposed to be radiant like rays of light," artist Hitomi Uchikura explains, extending the symbolism into the human world. It is one of those brilliantly bright Winter days when Mt. Fuji is visible from central Tokyo and she is telling me about her current exhibition at Ginza's Plus/Minus Gallery.

"Happiness is when each person shines brightly in the world in their own unique way."

She tries to realize this philosophy in dazzling works, made using broken pieces of mirror, that give a sense of individuality to light by breaking it up into separate rays. Set together in mosaics, these mirror fragments help create works that interact with light and invite the viewer to try a variety of vantage points. An example is Ido (Well) a 2-meter tall vertical cylinder that draws the viewer's thirsting glance deep into its glittering heart where the light is reflected in rich web-like patterns that seem to go down several meters. Hana (Flower), a shallow, flower-shaped mirror bowl, sends up a shower of light, creating a glittering tree, with each reflected ray adding another leaf.
Works like this refer back to the artist’s own ‘Road-to-Damascus’ experience in 1993 when she first ‘saw the light’ of her artistic vision:

"One Spring day I was working in my studio, when I was suddenly caught in a flood of light. Everything looked different, the same way that snow changes the usual scenery."

The light came from a heap of old mirrors piled up near the window that had caught the beams of the Sun.
"I often collect old things like that without knowing what I’m going to do with them."

After this she knew, and started to break the mirrors into small pieces to use as the active ingredient in her art work. How did she feel about the superstition that breaking mirrors brings bad luck?

"At first, when I used a hammer I felt some hesitancy," she confesses. "Every time I hit the glass with the hammer, I saw myself in a bad light. In fact, it looked quite masochistic. Now I use pliers to cut the mirrors. This is much more gentle. I don’t fear bad luck because I work with sincere feelings of love."

Her art works evince this tender quality, such as the coy-looking Shining Cells, of which there are several examples at the exhibition. The mirrored surface is on the inside of these hollow pods, drawing the viewer’s attention in through lenses set in the leather-covered polyester resin surfaces. These mysterious structures have an anthropomorphic quality, such as U-Ki, whose lenses stare back at the viewer like the eyes of an innocent child. On a more profound level these cells also crudely mimic the way in which external sensations are taken into the mind and combined within to create ideas.

Despite the excellence of her work, Uchikura remains modest.

"I’m not a perfectionist. I don’t want to make the same thing again and again. Sometimes I think I won’t be able to get a new idea, but then I do. I’ll quit if the ideas don’t come."

All that glitters may not be gold, but Hitomi Uchikura, both literally and metaphorically, is one of the bright spots on the horizon of contemporary Japanese art.

Hitomi Uchikura: Shining Cell runs until Feb. 13 at the Plus Minus Gallery.

Japan Times
21st January, 2001
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