We recently caught up with artist Heather Ujiie to discuss her solo exhibition at the Museum. Heather Ujiie: Fairytales, Monsters and Hybrid Creatures is a fantastic show that runs until Jan. 8, 2017.
Q: What do you think it is about fairy tales and monsters that have enticed people for generations? Is this something you’ve always been fascinated with or something fairly new? Was there an incident, story or something that influenced you in this direction?
Heather Ujiie: I am particularly interested in myths, fairytales, and world religions for their power of narrative, and allegorical story telling. Many of the pieces in this exhibit were inspired from a kind of “data” mashing of both western and eastern world history and religion. This past year, I have been fascinated by the northern Renaissance Christian painting by Hieronymus Bosch’s: The Garden of Earthly Delights, as well as Persian and Indian miniature paintings, some of which depict polymorphic gods and demons. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we, in context to knowledge, sexuality, spirituality, and social context. I believe we are all evolving towards some kind of illumination, as we pass thru time, and every living creature on the planet is continually challenged to survive against the forces of nature, deception and violence. My personal philosophy is that all art and design can tell a story, and all design improves the functionality of our behavior in the world, and both can co-exist within the same framework.
A: As mentioned, I am really interested in the juncture of art & design. I have a broad background, in avant-garde costume design, textile print design for home furnishing market, and the arts. In my youth, when I lived in New York city, I did a lot of off-off Broadway and experimental theater design, and worked at Julliard for a year constructing costumes. The last year or two I have been trying to create one of kind experimental fashion designs that are both wearable and non-wearable.
I also have been trying to integrate more materiality into my work by investigating laser cutting, hand-interlacing, and more visceral materials into my designs. I wanted to create a garment, or persona that was made almost entirely out of paper…to reference the temporality of our existence in the world, but also to make something beautiful and almost functional, out of a non-traditional material.
There are many contemporary artists/designers working with only paper, that are creating amazing pieces/installations. just out of implementing paper cutting, and the idea of multiplicity into their work. Unexpectedly, this piece is taking much, much longer than I anticipated, but it is a labor of love. I made the corset and the skirt out of hand made white paper flowers, and different folding techniques.
Thematically, I am also interested in mythic tales of female heroines, who represent both the male and the female in terms of empowerment, beauty and seduction. I wanted this piece to conjure up current notions of what it is to be female, and also suggest a kind of fairytale like creature in an enchanted all white forest…I also see this work as a work in progress, since I would like to build more upon it in the future.
Q: Is there another piece in the exhibition that you could tell us something about? Maybe because it’s particularly important to the theme of the exhibition or because it’s a work that’s particularly special to you?
A: The Blue Monster textile installation is one of my favorites. I have been scaling up the imagery in my work for years, to give it a monumental appeal. But I have never scaled up any demons or monsters before, and I love the impact on the viewer. My blue demon/monster piece, is both playful and scary, just like in one of my favorite illustrated stories, by Maurice Sendek, Where the Wild Things Are. In this solo exhibit, almost all the work was designed to be site-specific. By that, I mean, I designed all the digital textile tapestries to fit in the second floor exhibition space of the Hunterdon Art museum. Ceiling height and width were tediously measured and applied to almost all the work…. so it would have a kind of cohesive mood and environmental quality. Even though the blue monster piece is my favorite, I wanted the entire show to feel like one giant master work that utilizes the whole space. So really, my favorite piece exists within hanging of all the digitally printed panels on the entire floor, as though they are one huge narrative on the duality of life.
Q: Can you tell readers a little about your technique and how you create these gorgeous large scale textile pieces?
A: All my textile work is a synthesis of several methods of artistry, including hand painting, drawing, stitching, and printing with innovative large-format digital printing technology. I love integrating the analog and the digital process into my work. I love the visceral quality of paint and material investigations, but I also love technology. Digital printing, laser cutting and smart textiles are all tools that interest me in creating more innovative work. On the other hand, I love sitting in my studio painting with gouache. Combing the two methods of working, by scanning my hand painted pieces, and then digitally a manipulating and printing them on different substrates is very gratifying. Large format digital textile printing opens up a world of opportunity for artists and designers to print on hard and soft substrates. Also going forward, I would really like to animate my work in video projections. It is the next adventure!
Q: What do you hope people will get out of your exhibition after viewing it?
A: I hope my work poses questions about the nature of our identity in the world, and offers the viewer a sacred space. Since my work is a fusion of both art and design, I want my viewer to see the potential of a well-designed object or artifact, and realize it can question notions about the body, our environment, and place. I have always loved the medieval Unicorn Tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, knowing they were functional, but also visionary. I hope my work can suggest a kind of digital tapestry in a castle of my own making.
Images: Aquatic Garden, 2016, Seemee Premium Backlit B4400 polyester, provided by Verseidag US, digitally printed with disperse dye heat transfer, at The Center for Excellence in Surface Imaging at Philadelphia University, Courtesy of the artist.
Warrior Woman, 2016, Paper, yarn thread and Stryofoam balls. Courtesy of the artist.
Blue Monsters, 2016, Seemee Premium Backlit B4400 polyester, provided by Verseidag US, digitally printed with disperse dye heat transfer, at The Center for Excellence in Surface Imaging at Philadelphia University, Courtesy of the artist.