Artists Of New York: 2nd Edition

Artist: Yasue Maetake
Origin: Japan
Medium: Sculpture and Installation

Yasue Maetake is a sculptor who came to New York from Japan over fifteen years ago. She earned her MFA at Columbia, studying sculpture and installation. I met her at her studio in Ridgewood, Queens to discuss her creative process and unique approach to art-making.

Abribat: Can you tell me about your most recent work?

Maetake: I have my new work in the show Amorphous Terrain II at 5–50 Gallery currently on view. It’s a two-person show with Andrew Erdos curated by Greg Barton. Two artists gather, fabricate and manipulate a wide variety of raw and treated components: safety glass, resin, fibrous pulp, steel rebar, plumbing pipes, molten aluminum among others. These bodies of units will be merged in different degrees and into different variations as they are elevated by specifically designed scaffoldings in the space. By evoking the external support structures used in construction, as well as ecological natural references, the sculptural objects and scenographic design creates larger bodies of work.

The individual pieces and armatures meld rigid and fluid parts, fusing together robust and fragile materials, volumes and surfaces. Andrew and I often describe the first step of the process as “attempting the artificial re-enactment of each material’s virtual melting point, by treating them as if they were directly malleable.” Like the assembly, performance and demolition of buildings or infrastructure, these artworks involve elemental substances, chemical reactions, extractive economies and physical labour. The challenging part in this show was to leave a nuance of an “ongoing” transitional state of physical objects rather than a finalized form.

Abribat: How did you become an artist?

Maetake: As an artist since childhood, I was always interested in visual presentation. My first dream was to become a comic artist, maybe loosely a designer or something related to craft arts. Originally I was studying glass art as an engraver making decorative art with my hands and tools.

Maetake’s drawings become the blueprint and inspiration for her three-dimensional sculptures

Abribat: Where did you grow up?

Maetake: I have vocational training in Japan. A professor in the Czech Republic with a very famous Bohemian glass tradition invited me to an exchange curriculum at the Prague Academy. While I was there, I experimented with other classmates and artists, familiarizing myself with the fine art form. After the program, I stayed for 4 years in Prague. There I trained myself to cooperate with space and installation. When I looked at New York as the most active place for contemporary art, I started to read contemporary art magazines. At that point, I was scared actually. I was in fear, but I thought it would be more interesting to challenge the physical objects of presentation rather than just shaking hands and being friendly with my existing practice. There is no pressure like in New York. After studying at Columbia University’s MFA program in Sculpture, I gained tons of substantial portfolio work.

Maetake: There I learned that sculpture is very formulable, that there is no fixed evidence that we can claim something as sculpture, because it is blended into space and time. Video filmmakers can claim that they are sculpting time. In that sense, a filmmaker is a sculptor. This was a contemplative time period for me to define what a sculpture is. In the past I believed that a physical object constituted a sculpture, but then I had to consider others’ claims — installation artists, architects, performance artists, everything. After this shaking period, I returned to my original position that for me, I am a sculptor making physical objects. Now I am still claiming the same thing, but internally I have a different perspective.

Maetake’s sculptures in progress
The ever-curious studio cats

The other part I’m exploring involves illusion, an artificial arrangement of animated objects, such as Baroque sculpture in a church. Freezing the moment of animated matter is directly inspired by my favorite artist, Bernini, from the Baroque Period. In 2012 or 2013, there was a small show focused on the Bernini collection at the Metropolitan Museum. I went three of four times. After that I started to have the idea to make brown sculpture by loosely letting the material rot and corrode and be suspended in gravity.

“The animating and creation of illusion is almost like working against the gravity. I have to figure out how to support those skinny legs or how to support that heavy object as if this is floating in the air. It’s as if artificial engineering is involved.”

Abribat: What else inspires your work?

Maetake: I’m also influenced by the idea of “Mono-ha” which is a Japanese word that translates to “School of Things.” In the 1960’s a Japanese sculpture group formed the Mono-ha collective. There is a lot of overlap in thought with Minimalist sculptors Richard Serra and Walter De Maria. Like Minimalism, Mono-ha in Japan was using the physical matter in a very simple way. Here Minimalism referred to the Modernist thinking of bringing natural rock in the gallery context or burnt wood, a huge pile of charcoal or something like that. Mono-ha was more concerned with this corrosion or decay issue, and that was interesting to me.

Maetake: In any art philosophy there will be a good part, but inevitably there will be a problem left behind. As artists, we often consider what we can continue and maybe even improve. I’m not necessarily inheriting and continuing the exact same idea of Mono-ha. I still want to to claim why I am making the art. Baroque’s attempt to create an illusion with extreme artificial engineering was what I used to neutralize these two opposing elements.

Maetake speaking about her work, seated right, at mh PROJECT nyc

Yasue Maetake has had several recent compelling exhibitions at The Chimney, False Flag Project and her current installation, Amorphous Terrain II, with Andrew Erdos at the 5–50 Gallery, curated by Greg Barton in Long Island City until March 23, 2019.

Amorphous Terrain II