Art.Downtown 2017, Grand Rapids, MI

tinygami-origami-tamaki-artdowntown-2017Last Saturday I spent the day on Division Ave. S in downtown Grand Rapids for the annual Art.Downtown event. It’s kind of like a mini ArtPrize except there is no voting/contest aspect and it only lasts for a single day from noon to 9:00 PM.

There were four artist’s sharing their work at the venue where I was invited to participate. Our curator, Zahara Avalon, also set up an interactive aspect asking people to write down on a restaurant order pad “What does it mean to be American?” The guests were then invited to hang their responses on string strung throughout the venue. The responses ranged from sobering:

“Despite having already been enrolled at GVSU… I had to provide my birth certificate to take one class at LMU. Why couldn’t they have accepted my transcript?”

To cynical:
“Being American means ignoring the needs of those less fortunate and being self centered. Then I Tweet it!”

To humorous:
“I eat burgers and hotdogs”

artdowntown-2017-public-art-grand-rapids-miFor me, Art.Downtown was quite different than ArtPrize mostly because instead of bringing mobiles of thousands of tiny cranes that represent Japanese traditions and customs I created three small framed pieces (11″x14″ frames) that told a very personal story. Would people like them as much?

I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I was in a pop-up space, a former (and future) restaurant that is currently unoccupied. That’s it to the left in the picture above. Would there be 20 visitors? 200? 2000? I didn’t count but can say I spoke to more than 20 and less than 2000 people and they were all great! I knew some, met many new art lovers, and had the most fun I’ve had, well, probably since ArtPrize last fall 🙂

avenue-for-the-arts-origami-artdowntownThe thing that made me happiest was that quite a few people who had seen my past ArtPrize entries commented they recognized me or my work and said that this exhibit was “so different,” “more personal/powerful/heartfelt,” and that they loved the framed format, that it “suited” the miniature scale of my work. I truly couldn’t have hoped for a better response. That people connected with my work and appreciated that these pieces had required more thought and vulnerability made me glad I took the chance and strayed outside of my ArtPrize-mobiles-comfort zone.

If you wanted to come but couldn’t make it, here is the exhibit and the words I printed onto small signs to set above each framed piece along with my artist’s statement and a renzuru diagram so that people would understand that the strand of cranes in the “Interned” piece was folded from a single sheet of paper.


art-show-business-cards-tamaki-grand-rapids-miNEVER FORGET
(Artist’s Statement)

This collection comes from a more personal place than the sets of 1000 miniature cranes I’ve made in the past. When people I know say “We should round them (people of MiddleEastern descent and/or Muslims) up and put them in a camp in the desert” or that my family was interned to “keep them safe,” I am reminded that I need to continue to speak out about the injustices imposed on American citizens when 75 years ago President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 leading to the incarceration of over 110,000 Japanese Americans.

My reply is always that they are perpetuating the same fear and/or hatred that led to my family being placed behind barbed wire, with armed guards who would have shot them if they tried to leave, and losing over 3 years of their freedom. It was as wrong then as it would be to repeat the same injustice today.

My dad (a Private First Class in the United States Army) was also held behind barbed wire after his company was sacrificed to protect two retreating companies during the Korean War. He was captured on January 1, 1951 and held until August 6, 1953 after the signing of the Armistice. When he returned he faced racism even as a decorated POW-MIA veteran because he looked like the enemy, even though he was neither North Korean or Chinese.

And yet my parents saw past what they had each endured and held no racism in their hearts. They passed their tolerance and shared belief in treating people as individuals (not labeled groups) on to me. As a result my life is wonderfully rich, filled with a wide range of friends more diverse than they could have ever expected or hoped for me to have.

Never forget. Speak out. Be kind. Have faith.

– Stacie Tamaki

tamaki-enemy-origami-crane-artdowntown

ENEMY

American? This is how Japanese American citizens were commonly viewed by the government and public after Pearl Harbor. Instead of seeing individuals, they were reduced to (and judged by) the color of their skin.

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INTERNED

Families were given less than a week to vacate their homes and report to a “relocation center” bringing only what they could carry in a single suitcase per person. This is my family in the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming where they were held for more than 3 years.

tinygami-stacie-tamaki-miniature-origami-artistBLENDING IN

As a child I wanted to blend in. I often felt conspicuously Asian. Now? I look around and see people embracing diversity rather than tolerating it. Over time I’ve reached a point where I’m more interested in being authentic and sharing my heritage rather than ignoring or hiding it. There is beauty in every culture, my art is my way of expressing mine.


avenue-for-the-arts-origami-made-by-guestsAnd just like ArtPrize, because I was making a few cranes to put on the display table thanks to the suggestion of a guest, several other guests asked for paper and made me things! I love that I always go home with more art than I arrived with when I participate in public events 😀 A huge THANK YOU to everyone who shared their talent with me!

avenue-for-the-arts-grand-rapids-miTo be honest I don’t really know that much about the Avenue for the Arts, the host of Art.Downtown. I will have to learn more about them on their website.

Thank you to Avenue for the Arts, my curator Zahara Avalon, and all of the guests, volunteers, and the artists I shared space with Carlos Gomez, Abigail Yoo, and Erick Picardo who made Art.Downtown such a fun and special event!

This weekend: Art.Downtown 2017

Coming to Grand Rapids, MI this Saturday? If you are maybe I’ll see you. I’m participating in the Art.Downtown one day event hosted by Avenue for the Arts and will be at my venue (122 Division St S) from noon until 5:00 PM though the exhibit runs until 9:00 PM

“AMERICAN” The exhibit asks: “What does it mean to be American? The space focuses on intersections of Asian and Hispanic/Latinx identities especially in a political climate of anti-culture/color/immigrant.”

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My contribution to the installation will be three framed pieces depicting my maternal family’s experience during the Japanese American internment and how I see myself as an American. The timing was impeccable. It felt as if no sooner had I posted the image above on Instagram to commemorate the signing of Executive Order 9066 on February 19th, the next thing I knew curator Zahara Avalon was contacting me to see if I’d like to be a part of the installation she was producing.

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So I’ll be there. Not with thousands of cranes, just a handful that came from a different, deeper place in my heart ❤

AMERICAN
Facebook Event Page
Saturday April 8, 2017
12:00-9:00 PM (I will be attending from noon until 5:00 PM)
122 Division Ave S
Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Origami OCD

I used to tell people (and I sincerely believed) that I had some bizarre form of what I could only call Creative OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). What else could explain why I would and could fold thousands upon thousands of origami cranes? I never thought about it hard enough to make the distinction if (for me) committing myself to origami was a decision or a compulsion. I was just grateful that if I did have OCD my energy was channeled into something with an end result that was beautiful.

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Current set of 1000 origami cranes I’m working on for ArtPrize 2016.

Though I’ve read books and articles about mindfulness and meditation I can’t say I’m one who has ever fully embraced the idea of the act of setting aside time to meditate as a normal part of my day to day life. I understand that the goal is to achieve a state of consciousness in which one is aware of but not connected to one’s own thoughts, feelings, and/or self. It’s a type of clarity that is created when you are able to let go of your “self” and observe rather than get caught up in what is happening in your own mind.

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This 5/16″ (.793 cm)  high crane is still larger than the 1/4″ cranes I make.

Folding has never made me feel frustrated or impatient, quite the opposite actually. When I fold I feel nothing but calmness. Because the precision of each fold is the most important thing, even when folding the most simple of models, it creates a mental space that requires a single focus. The byproduct of this clarity is that all other thoughts (in my head) and distractions (in the environment around me) are left unnoticed.

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Batch folding the first four steps of making paper cranes.

I do recall it was years and years ago (well over a decade) that a person who saw a set of my tiny cranes for the first time and stated: “I’ve heard of working meditation before but never understood what that meant until now.” With that a new concept was introduced to me that the focus, time, patience, precision, and repetitiveness of folding tiny cranes was creating a benefit I wasn’t appreciating beyond the finished cranes themselves. Had I in fact been meditating for years without realizing it?

#OrigamiInMyHand

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A fun thing I was participating in before my dad got sick was an invitation by another one of my favorite Instagram origami artists white_onrice. Ross Symons started the hashtag #origamiinmyhand and asked people to fold something, photograph it in your hand, then tag and share it.

Of course in keeping with my Tinygami name I had to fold things miniaturized. That is the smallest frog, heart, and shrimp I had ever folded.

tinygami-miniature-origami-crane

The crane in the lower image is only 1/4″ high. I’ve decided to call this size “Micro” because it is my smallest. It goes along with “Itty Bitty” my medium size at 3/8″ high, and my large “Tiny” size at 3/4″ high.

If you’re also a folder I invite you to join in the fun 🙂

Miniature origami: A unique entry at ArtPrize 2015

I spent the better part of yesterday in Grand Rapids and the better part of this year working on my latest entry for ArtPrize 2015. You can view my ArtPrize profile at this link.

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You may recall that I entered the same competition in 2014. I’ve found it’s the one thing that has motivated me to not only begin producing art but to focus on becoming a full-time working artist able to support myself by earning a living wage.

Last year many ArtPrize visitors encouraged me to make larger cranes if I want to be a serious contender to win the $200,000 cash Grand Prize by receiving the most public votes (large scale works have historically been more successful at this particular competition), but tiny is my thing so I’m sticking with it. Call me a rebel 🙂

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This year my entry is titled “4000 Culture Cranes.” I created 4 mobiles ranging in size from 1/4″ to 3/4″ high. The finished mobiles range from 7″-8″ in diameter and from 24″-36″ in length. Three are comprised of 1000 cranes each while one set (Sadako) ended up with 2000 cranes. LOL Last year the first thing people asked was “How many are there?” so I incorporated the number 4000 into the title. Then, 48 hours before the opening day I decided to deconstruct a set of cranes I’d made years ago and incorporate them into this year’s entry increasing the total but too late to change the title of the piece to 5000 Culture Cranes.

The series is hanging in the front window at the Grand Central Market and Deli.

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It’s located at 57 Monroe Center NW right in the heart of Downtown Grand Rapids and less than a block and a half past the Grand Rapids Art Museum (aka The GRAM) heading east down Monroe Center NW.

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Each mobile is themed after a different Japanese cultural tradition. Two are more readily recognizable and two are less well known. From left to right they are:

  1. Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes: World peace
  2. Maneki-neko: Prosperity and good luck cat
  3. Daruma: Goal setting (aka Wish Doll)
  4. Mochibana and Kagami Mochi: New Year decorations both made from the sweet confection mochi

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-maneki-neko

I’ve created brief photo journals of the build process for each mobile. To challenge myself I decided to try working with air dry clay for the first time. For the larger pieces like the Maneki-cat and the Daruma I used styrofoam to carve base forms then covered them with a thin layer of clay which then had to be painted.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-neko-sushi

Other elements were made of paper, wire, and beads. Some of the sushi that surrounds the cat are made of origami and other pieces are sculpted/formed with paper but not technically origami. A lot of prototyping and pattern making was involved for both the sushi and the washi paper doll of Sadako.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-daruma

The Daruma and Maneki-cat also required hand-painting fine detail work to the finished sculptures. I don’think I’ve done that type of painting in well over a decade. Was relieved to know it’s (apparently) like riding a bike.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-sadako

The 3-D washi paper doll of Sadako was a challenge because I could only find one tutorial online that kind-of showed how it’s done. The designer was generous to share photos of each step but didn’t include size or dimensions of each element so it took a day or two of mocking up the prototype testing each piece over and over until I figured it all out.

Quite a few kids had asked me last year if I was familiar with the story of Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes. They had read the book about her so they knew she was a 12 year old girl who suffered radiation poisoning when the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Several years later she developed cancer and attempted to fold 1000 cranes so the Gods would grant her single wish to be healthy again. The crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan as a legend says the cranes live for 1000 years. Sadly, Sadako passed away before completing her cranes. The school children of Japan took up a collection to raise money to have a sculpture made of her that stands today in Hiroshima’s Peace Park. I wanted to create a mobile that reflected her story, something with resonance to connect visitors to the cranes in a small way.

tamaki-artprize-build-journal-mochibana

One of the biggest and kind of funny challenges was for the mochibana mobile. A New Year’s decoration the sweet sticky rice confection known as “mochi” is left in its natural white color and some is dyed pink. Small portions are wrapped around willow branches to represent flower blossoms in the winter when there are none. My dilemma? Where to get willow branches. There are MANY huge weeping willow trees all around Western Michigan, but I felt weird knocking on a stranger’s door and asking for some of the tree in their front yard. For months I drove around with willow-envy and was working up my nerve to ask a stranger for some of theirs when a chance visit solved my problem. It turned out my friends have a gigantic weeping willow on their property! Problem solved. The both the kagami and mochibana mochi are also also made of air dry clay.

I can’t convey how happy I am to be creating again. That pushing my limits, trying new things, being able to attend ArtPrize each day to talk to people about my work, it’s all like that Mastercard commerical: Priceless.

I love ArtPrize so much I’m already planning next year’s entry! If you’ve never been to ArtPrize it’s well worth visiting. It’s a fun, and imaginative art experience where you can wander around 3 square miles of Downtown Grand Rapids and view an incredible array of creativity all in public spaces and venues.

ArtPrize 2015 Japanese Culture

Washi Origami Squares

For ArtPrize 2015 I will again create four thousand tiny origami cranes.

Because the many visitors to the Grand Central Deli & Market in downtown Grand Rapids were so enchanted by the tiny crane mobiles representing the four seasons last year, I decided to do another series this year introducing visitors to elements of Japanese culture they may be unfamiliar with.

The first set I am working on represent the Daruma (pronounced Dah-roo-mah with a rolled “r”).

Daruma

That’s him painted on a utility box in San Jose, California’s Japantown. Considered a sign of perseverance and good luck the Daruma doll represents Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. When you purchase a Daruma doll they are usually made of paper mache and one (or both) eyes are painted white and left blank. The idea is for the recipient to create a goal. Once the goal is created you color in one eye with a black dot. When the goal is accomplished, you color in the other eye.

Washi Origami Paper

The color palette I’m using is predominately red and black, the traditional colors of the Daruma doll’s robe and beard. Now, where to get red and black origami paper in Greenville, Michigan?

Washi Origami Paper

My inspiration for the “good luck” a Daruma doll represents has already occurred. I can’t tell you how touched and appreciative I am that Stacey, Owner + Principle Designer at Emi Ink, a custom invitation + stationary store in Honolulu, Hawaii sent me an incredible gift: A care package of scraps of fancy washi paper, leftover from projects for her clients, to use in my ArtPrize entry this year! If you’d like to see the work she does just visit her website by clicking here or using the ad I’ve placed for her company on the blog sidebar under “Companies I Love.”

Miniature Origami Crane

I don’t recall exactly how and when Stacey and I connected online other than it was years ago and through a mutual friend. I think. We began interacting more last year via Instagram. It was there, when I saw the photo below , that I inquired if I could purchase her scraps. Instead of messaging me a price she insisted on giving them to me. I will do my best to give her paper a new life worthy of her kind gesture.

Emi Ink on Instagram

After spending a day hand-trimming all of the remnants to 1.5″ squares using an X-acto knife, self healing cutting mat, and a metal straight edge I ended up with 222 sheets of paper for the Daruma mobile. I’m not sure how many cranes I have folded so far. I’d gues I’m about halfway there. I’ll reveal the other three themes in upcoming posts as well as how I will be creating the structures the cranes will hang from.

There will definitely be more updates in the very near future.

#TBT high school art

The cat is made of layers and layers of pencil, smudged, lifted with a kneaded eraser, then drawn dozens more times to create the depth you see in its fur.

Today I picked up a set of pencils and a sketch pad when I went to the grocery store. I hope I can find my way back to creating things like this in the future. . .

Just realizing I want to is a start.

pencil-drawing-long-hair-persian-cat

The other day my very dear friend Kerri inspired me to take out some of my old artwork from high school.

Slowly the realization has taken hold that when you’re an artist you’re one even when you’re not creating art. You’re an artist even if art isn’t your career. The epiphany: It’s not what you do, it’s who you are. Seeing my old work has made me want to create new work again.

watercolor-resting-fox
A watercolor fox

I want to paint with watercolors, oils, and acrylics again. I want to take a handful of pencils and draw animals like I did when I was a kid. I’m feeling the urge to create intricate drawings that push me to my creative limit.

horses-water-pen-and-ink
It took months but in this pen and ink of horses running through water I drew every droplet and spray.

I should have gotten out my good camera instead of using my iPhone to take these images, especially the one above and below, as they are mind-numbingly detailed pen and ink drawings made using one of those old fountain pens where you literally dipped your pen tip into a bottle of ink over and over again.

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An acrylic paint wash with a pen and black ink sunset through Spanish moss.

The risk that one stray ink drop could have ruined either picture was ever present. It wasn’t until the following year when I went to college that I learned about Rapidograph technical drawing pens. They would have made both of these projects so much easier! But creativity isn’t about what’s easy, it’s about expressing something. Something about the subject matter? Something about yourself? Perhaps a bit of both.

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As an artist I don’t know that I’ll ever again be as prolific as I was in High School.

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What I do know is that I want to be.

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If nothing else it’ll make my mom happy.

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She’s always wanted me to do more art. When I was a kid she always encouraged my creativity in many different ways. I’m fortunate she did. Thanks mom!