Letter to George, Yarli and Youngsook
Dear George, Yarli and Youngsook,
In communicating with colleagues and friends about Noguchi’s works and lived experiences for the previous October and November despatches, I feel as if I have travelled multiple times back and forth between the US, Europe, Southeast Asia and Japan. While it has been an illuminating journey, for this last batch of missives, it brings me great joy to reconnect with you all who are at 'home' in London and the UK.
Home has come to mean different things, and sometimes can be found in different places, as I’ve been fortunate to discover. But certainly, we feel most at home where we can rest and regenerate.
I think back to our various interactions in relation to Asia-Art-Activism, the research network that was launched in 2018 with a residency at Raven Row in East London. The residency gave us the precious opportunity to have space and facilities for an extended period, allowing us to make a little nest for our different interests and lived experiences. I have precious memories of you all in that space, whether it was when we had a meeting, or when Yarli and Youngsook were research associates. This was before AAA activities went online during the pandemic. And then we were all part of AAA’s hopeful, community-focused digital programme in 2020, Till We Meet Again IRL, Best Wishes, Asia-Art-Activism, where together with friends and colleagues in London and across the world, we explored our shared anxieties and how we might reimagine a post-pandemic future. George, as part of a panel on how to produce during a time of crisis, you referenced your curatorial work in Indonesia and Taiwan, and your turn towards gardening during the lockdown. Yarli and Youngsook, your art practices explore loss and longing in the different traumatic histories of the Chinese and diaspora communities in the UK, through your use of different media in moving and virtual reality imaging, and ritual and performance. These coordinates of Asian and diasporic collaboration mark our entwined interrelations within the migrant and home ecologies of London, the UK and beyond.
These conversations and collective endeavours, as well as interpersonal gestures of care, remind me of the intersections of Noguchi’s mobile sculpture, Bird’s Nest, which had inspired this series of exchanges for Noguchi: Resonances. Its interconnected form exemplifies our growing awareness of being interdependent, where reciprocity strengthens our mutual survival, regeneration and growth. It reminds me of the various conversations we have had about gardens and wilding, the categorisation of botanical histories in relation to intertwined species. It brings to mind the deep entanglements of roots beneath the ground, invisible to the eye, discussed by Suzanne Simard for her TED TALK, “How Trees Talk to Each Other,” and the collective image we created at a recent Asia-Art-Activism meeting. In co-dreaming of our shared futures, we imagined many offshoots, branches and tendrils, abundant harvests of flowerings and fruits, where careful nurturing might take place alongside unexpected, energetic sprouting.
In these encounters and memories I find myself thinking back on temporality, space, absence and presence, and like Noguchi in his childhood home, looking to, and seeking that space of rest and regeneration. Noguchi was very fond of gardens and managed to plant quite a few with his works across the world.
Perhaps like Noguchi-san, our hopeful mapping of our relations to land, is an example of the possibilities of regenerative systems, and how our creative efforts can enrich us all. In this, we can draw strength from each other and be encouraged.
How does your garden grow? Does it have fences for good neighbours? Where might our pathways lead through the evergreens and perennials?
See you all very soon again.
Letter from Yarli
Hello from my South London cave,
Writing to you I’m staring at the white wall
between my window and the outer world -
a constant reminder of how we're surviving in this city
that we’ve yet been able to call home.
At times I thought of this wall as a mental obstacle,
yet it shields me from undesired attention.
My mind could roam freely within this little horizon.
Not long ago a haunting sentiment burned across the world along with the pandemic,
resisting people of my skin.
I thread this through our 100 years of historical timeline
back to the beginning of the 20th century,
when Noguchi and my grandfather were born.
Their warm blood ran between whiteness and Asian-ness.
In their lifetime, the Alien Exclusion Acts1 would rage across nations.
Perhaps as diasporic individuals,
a psychological border defined by external prejudice is inevitable,
(what can you not detect in my art when you see my ethnicity?)
I desire to set my gaze free, as much as
I desire soft boundaries to retain individuality.
I exhale-breathe-in-tiptoe in places you asked if I feel I belong,
on lands we might be banished-uprooted-removed
as we seek permanency.
Never fully queer, fully East Asian, fully North American
foggy, nor clear,
bobbing through a constant state of voidness from hybridity.
Noguchi describes the void as a haunting sense of unreality2,
the middle one with no middle ground.
Accepted neither by the Japanese nor by America,
his longing for freedom comes over him,
not only about how he was received and overwhelmed by in-betweenness,
but also the freedom of expressing rage and democracy.
Unsure if it involves a sense of anticipatory grief
(as familiar as in our time),
Noguchi weaves humanity and acceptance beyond barbed wires.
I recall that he attempted to redesign the environments of the Internment camp3,
To dissolve hostile angular structures into organic curves.
In a centralised system,
he tries to evoke a sense of belonging
among those who are confined on the basis of ancestry.
Getting their hands wet, squeezing local clay to mould brick after brick.
A tangible touch to an unfamiliar land.
The object you had control over in your palms, is now the object used to lock you in.
If it is futile to change the functionality of the walls,
we shift our mind to what the wall signifies.
We build the bricks not singularly, but
by multiple bonds as if crocheting a nest of our own.
Even if that means that we are entrapped in between,
we are released through reciprocal care.
Back to 2019, Hong Kongese blood-shedding for better lives.
We sat in front of our screens in our London and Paris homes,
gazing through the portal with enraged tears.
The barrier between us is not geographic distance but the fall of humanity.
That night, we held deep within a sense of homelessness.
What is our childhood home to us,
if we can no longer confirm its spatial accuracy?
Soft walls from my memory.
I expand this tenderness from mine to yours,
traversing between your soft walls,
touching its characteristics engravings,
To re-form an entire street in Liverpool of its disappeared Chinatown.
Pitt Street in the 1900s, aired with coal dust and noises from steamships and seagulls,
was home to a community of ethnic-Chinese seafarers serving the British Navy.
They were raising dual-heritage children in an environment that later turned out to be hostile.
Once every few months the fathers would vanish into the sea,
leaving family on shore for many fading months to come.
These temporary absences during their childhood would become permanent,
when the British authorities drove the seafarers out of the country.
It’s the end of 1946.
Within 48 hours, there would be no sight of East Asian seafarers in 1947.
Where has my father gone?
A question that remains open for the descendants of the seafarers today.
No right to remain.
There's a hope that doesn't pierce through the surface of our skin.
What about the wall on our side?
Is this something we might be able to build and leap through, together?$
Letter from Youngsook
The end of 2021 is fast approaching. It feels like we are landing without ever having taken off. How has all this time evaporated into thin air? I almost sense the loss. How has your time of displacement caused by the pandemic restrictions been? You have been a transnational nomad in the last two years, changing the postal address multiple times. I assume, in this slippage of time, we also share the sense of liminality when talking about home – you being in your home country but not able to come home, me being at home on foreign soil but not able to visit my home country.
I wonder whether Noguchi shares this sense of liminality too - being a US citizen but not feeling at home in America; strongly feeling a cultural connection but being treated as a foreigner in Japan. Wouldn’t it be the reason why Noguchi travelled all over the world, made so many friends and collaborators, and in the end arrived at the idea of himself as a ‘citizen of the earth'? As he says ‘I found myself a wanderer in a world rapidly growing smaller. Artist, American citizen, world citizen, belonging anywhere but nowhere.' I love his assertion that our legitimate being, a citizenry existence, is not limited by the charted territories of nationality. It is located instead on the relational grounds that we share with others through the very process of making a home. I am also deeply moved by how Noguchi resonates this liminal identity within his practice, questioning institutional categories such as architecture, design, painting and sculpture, where the art comes to integrate with the purposeful social ends, and rejecting the idea of personal possession in the making and ownership of art.
Recently, I had a couple of good opportunities to explore the Barbican Conservatory. The first was during the opening night of the Noguchi exhibition, and the other was when I ran a day of Barbican family workshops inspired by Noguchi’s ideal of civic sculpture. Noguchi often made his sculptural works in the forms of street furniture and for play. He refused the idea of sculpture as an object merely for looking at, but instead intended for active interaction with by the public. The participants first responded to Noguchi’s sculptures, and then across the sessions, to the works created from the previous session(s) as well, by making new works with the playful introduction of different materials and techniques. Beyond making and interacting with the works themselves, the workshops experimented with the possibility of whether reciprocity and interaction can be a method of encouraging collective creativity. Through the day, our temporary civic sculpture park slowly emerged with a growing collection of different works within the garden room of the Barbican Centre.
In leading these workshops, I encouraged the participants (family groups of different ages) to begin by roaming around the Conservatory to seek inspiration from the various shapes, structures and movements that its plant residents offer. Consequently, the temporary civic sculpture park with a variety of works held much resemblance to the Conservatory in revealing the power of interdependent resilience, trusting process and collective creativity.
This Conservatory accommodates more than 1,500 species displaced from all over the world, including palm trees, banana plants and a cactus collection. It can feel quite magnificent to be in this human-made Eden walled in by glass panels, if you turn a blind eye to how a botanical garden often exists due to the violent legacies of an extractive colonial practice, with its knowledge production based on the ignorance of indigenous people’s wisdom, histories and harmonious relationship to nature, the brutal displacement of life forms, and profiteering out of exoticising foreign species. And yet, the majestic feeling I have in this urban oasis is genuine as I witness all the plants that have migrated from different parts of the world to survive so beautifully together. They are especially beautiful whilst gently tendered by Noguchi’s Araki Cloud during the course of the exhibition. I realise that the human aspiration to rebuild Eden is impossible without the resilience and effort of the displaced in co-survival and homemaking with other species of various origins. The possibility of this green utopia depends on the interdependency between human knowledge-centred care and the plants’ will to survive and cooperate with other species. Walking through the conservatory, I feel honoured to notice the strength of all these transnational species. I see you, myself, and Noguchi san - as citizens of the earth, with our liminal bodies that belong anywhere with kinship of solidarity but nowhere with claustrophobic and violent borders.
Noguchi's identification as a ‘citizen of the earth’ also reminds me of my residency at Hawkwood College last May, where I explored the decolonising methods for reconnecting with nature. During the residency, I walked in the green fields that surrounded the College every morning. I sought the different areas of landscapes, smells, textures and energies, where I laid down on the ground and untied my hair. My hair is one of the few ever-growing parts of my body, which I used to make an anchor to Mother Earth. Being replanted like this to the land myself in these moments enabled me to forget about all the borders and hierarchies that socially construct and define who I am with my birth certificate, passport, language and cultural affinities. It felt like finally coming home. You know what? Next time we meet, we should celebrate our paths of displacement. How have our lived experiences as the diaspora brought us to something bigger than all of us, and deeply entangled us into an ecosystem of earthly solidarity?
Letter from George
Dear Annie, Youngsook and Yarli,
There are so many places to start with Noguchi so this letter will be multiple with a few protagonists. 'To be hybrid anticipates the future,' as Noguchi reminds us. Thinking about Noguchi for me is to think about what it means to work across space and time. This was fundamental to him, in his dual-national identity, his many international projects, his multiple studios and gardens as well as his constant search for places in which he could work, belong and be free. As Noguchi’s friend and mentor Brancusi said to him, a person 'who is no longer a child is no longer an artist'. It’s no wonder he made so many works which doubled as playgrounds.
His work is a garden of forking paths, so I ask for your indulgence to follow some of these routes. I will start with the past following various traces and responses to you, Youngsook and Yarli, and end with a recent correspondence with the artist Margaret Honda. I have spent a lot of time working and thinking in-between places - never quite settled in one and while doing this I have been making or remaking gardens as an attempt to set roots. My own modest gardens have been in Los Angeles, Tainan, Jatiwangi and from where I am writing now, in South London. I always think of gardening as a cinematic activity in the way that it links time, place, light, and play.
As you know I spent the last few years retracing fragments of a ghost film made by Chilean director Raúl Ruiz in Taiwan. What you might not know is that the commissioners of Ruiz’s film - the Chin Pao San cemetery - wanted a film about their art programme and the Taiwanese sculptor Shiau Jon-Jen/蕭蕭長正. Instead, Ruiz proposed to make a film about a fictional documentary maker who wants 'to follow the journey of a stone from being discovered at the seashore to being transformed into a sculpture that is absorbed into the landscape of the cemetery.'[3This film within a film was never finished as the director has a car accident and spends the rest of the film in the afterlife attempting to make another film. This time a fiction.
This might seem a long way from Noguchi, but if you follow me, I will, like Ruiz’s fictional documentary maker, attempt 'to draw an analogy between the journey of stones and that of humans.' If these layers are not bewildering enough, Ruiz’s production was never completed and was largely forgotten. I doubted if this fantastical cemetery or the film existed at all. That was before I met Laha Mebow, an Indigenous Taiwanese director who worked on the film while still a student and was able to tell me stories about it directly.
Incidentally Laha’s first film Finding Sayun/不一樣的月光 (2011) follows her search for her ancestral home and the origins of an Atayal tribal myth. The myth was the subject of an earlier film called サヨンの鐘/Sayon's Bell (1943) directed by Hiroshi Shimizu made during the Japanese colonisation of Taiwan. It tells the legend of Sayon, a 17-year-old Atayal woman who fell to her death in a stream while carrying a Japanese teacher's belongings. While celebrated as an example of Imperial devotion in the Japanese film, Laha sought to retell this story from her grandmother’s perspective who was a schoolmate of Sayon, as a process of reclaiming her ancestral roots. The reason I mention this is, in the Japanese production, Sa Yun was played by the actress Yoshiko 'Shirley' Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi was a romantic star of many Chinese films as well as Japanese productions who from 1951-56 was married to Noguchi finding kinship in their bifurcated identities.
Yoshiko Yamaguchi/山口 淑子, who was born in Manchuria China on 12 February 1920, is a fascinating figure with a complex transnational career. She assumed many identities in order to work. In the 30s and 40s the Manchukuo Film Association concealed her Japanese origin and promoted her with the Chinese name Li Xianglan/李香蘭 (rendered in Japanese as Ri Kōran) allowing her to represent Chinese characters in pro-Japanese films. For her roles in these films, she was accused (in 1945) of treason against the Chinese government and faced the death penalty. She was only saved when a friend smuggled her birth certificate into Shanghai inside the head of a geisha doll to prove she was not a Chinese national, and all charges were dropped.
While with Noguchi she adopted the name Shirley and sought to relocate to America. Her complex background was called into question once again as she sought to develop a career in Hollywood. Her time in China and her artistic circle this time led to her being suspected of being a communist sympathiser. In his letter to the film director King Vidor, Noguchi states: 'as the man at the visa office said, all artists and scientists are held in suspicion, but at least I feel you may be in a position to reassure them that Shirley is not temperamentally inclined to fellow-traveling, and that if she did meet people whom they question, it could only have been as human beings, especially in view of her limited English.'
If these letters of mine will not settle my case right and any further trouble follows, I should rather like to give up my visa. Because I have not done anything wrong to be blamed of or to feel guilty.'
In 2007 the Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose father was born in Kaohsiung, Taiwan during the Japanese rule, sought to raise funds for a film of Yoshiko Yamaguchi’s life. This film Night-fragrant Flower remains unfinished, another displaced ghost. These fragments and stories speak to lives caught in the conditions of their time, subjected to the political reconfigurations and displacement even when not moving. These conditions show the illusion of stasis and the necessity in Noguchi’s call for the hybrid forms and approach to time and material aware of its state in flux. While thinking about these issues I have been reminded of the work of Margaret Honda that blurs the lines between film and sculpture, emphasising process throughout. When I asked her about Noguchi she shared with me a text he had written about his friend and mentor Brancusi, in which he states 'Things come and go, and some things endure. Art endures when it has its own identity.' 
In his work with industrial processes Noguchi sought to shift static conceptions, forging other ways of working and belonging to propose another way of being:
'If you want to live and work in an industrialised situation, you have to use industrial materials and tools. However I was not quite satisfied with that because I felt the limitations of such, you know, tools, that forced one to be part of industry really rather than free. And I felt that the old-fashioned way of doing things, for instance with stone with your own hands left you greater freedom. And so I went back to stone and I am still working on stone. I was working on wood for a while, but you know, one shifts, I do, backwards and forwards. Sometimes I think I am part of this world today, sometimes I feel that maybe I belong in history or in prehistory or that there is no such thing as time. But if you’re caught in time, in the immediate present time, then your choice is very limited. You can only do certain things really, correctly, belonging to that time. But if you want to escape from that time constraint, then the whole world you see, not just the most industrial world, but the whole world is someplace where you belong.'
The idea of belonging is not just a question of place but also a question of time. Gardens combine these two modalities, they are both fixed and in flux. This tension was filtered through Noguchi’s work which exists across vast times scales and durations – the time of wood, stone and metal aligned to that of play, performance and light. Through his life he worked in numerous studios. From his industrial workshop in Queens, New York to his studio and garden in Mure in Japan, as well as working with marble in Pietransanta region of Italy and other sites for creation. His ability to find a means of belonging through this mobility is central to his work, a means of reversing displacement and turning the whole world into a garden, a playground in which everything is alive.
When you asked me to write a letter responding to Noguchi I wasn’t sure where to start and now I am not sure where to end. One of the first places I began was to contact Margaret Honda as her practice and her processes of working has and continues to inform how I think about sculpture so maybe it’s fitting that to end my letter to you I will go back to share my first letter to her. I have long been drawn to Margaret’s work as I feel it constantly shows the entanglement of time, labour and material, from her 70mm film Spectrum Reverse Spectrum to her scale studio remakes Sculpture (2015). Since we have known each other, we have talked about lots of artists and filmmakers but had never talked about Noguchi. Her recent exhibition Stasis paired her work with that of Brancusi. So, prompted by this timely coincidence and your invitation to think about the wide resonances of Noguchi, I took the opportunity to ask Margaret about her connections to sculptural legacies, modes of production, relationship to industry, how materials are transformed by time yet stay the same, and the legacy of Japanese-American internment.
So rather than end our correspondence I offer you another forking path, a letter followed by another letter, further entangling our correspondences and introducing you to Margaret Honda.
Letter from George
I hope you are well. The days are getting short and cold here in London but still have some night winter light. I am contacting you as I am writing a short text exploring broader resonances of the work of Isamu Noguchi who has a retrospective at the Barbican in London currently. While I have been looking at his work and reading some of his writings I have been reminded of your work and our conversations, as well as your way of thinking about sculpture, about place and time, and their entanglements. This is a bit free form, but there are a few points of connection and some resonances I wanted to ask you about as a way of find out more about your recent work.
I am not sure if Noguchi is an artist you are interested in, but I noticed you recently had an exhibition showing works alongside photos of sculptures by Brâncuși (who Noguchi worked with in his early years). I noticed you had some new projects that challenge the fixity of forms which I often think of as a central part of your practice. The title of the exhibition is Stasis and your works explore this in contradictory directions, from the ongoing photographs Unfixed to the collected drawings encased in the preservation material Marvelseal. This tension between the desire to fix something and its evasion seems central to a lot of your work. Is this the first time you are using Marvelseal? I wonder what attracted you to this material. The photographs you show are dated as ongoing works as they are unfixed. How do you think they will change? How will their change relate to that of the sealed drawings?
Looking at Noguchi’s work I have been thinking about your work Sift and Fish Trap, which if I am not mistaken, were part of the exhibition, Relocations and Revisions: The Japanese American Internment Reconsidered, at Long Beach Museum of Art. What I remember is how you took these works and melted them down into new forms, a decade after the show. I have only seen them as recast sculptures and wonder what they look like originally? Could you describe these works for me? Do you have images of them which you could share?
These works and their transformations address the mutability of forms and histories which for me provides a way of thinking about the history of Japanese internment and its impact, despite its lack of visibility. I think about the impact of this on Noguchi who entered the Colorado River Relocation Centre (Poston) in Arizona in 1942 to stand in solidarity with those forcefully interned there and develop an arts programme within the camp. He wrote a remarkable essay about this time, 'I become a Nisei.’ An early draft of this text has the opening line 'To be hybrid anticipates the future.' I read that unlike other internment camps, Poston was built with a dual function. Following the release of detainees in 1945, it was used to help resettle the area as part of a strategy of the Office of Indian Affairs. Built on land that has been a Mohave reservation since 1865 and home to the Chemuhuevi shortly after, the Parker Valley area was designated as a new reserve, and efforts were made to attract Hopi and Navajo peoples to the area. The infrastructure developed and built by detainees was used to support this resettlement. In the summer of 1992 the Poston Memorial Monument, designed by Ray Takata and Stephen Hamamoto, was built following permission from the Colorado River Indian Tribal Council. The Parker Valley where the camp was located is now fertile farmland with few traces or artefacts from this period.
Was the legacy of Noguchi’s generation part of this exhibition and your work at this time? I don’t believe I asked you about this before, but I wonder if your family experienced internment - has this been something you have written about at all? I would be interested to know more about that.
Reading about Noguchi I have been moved by his ideas of belonging and place despite his itinerant life. He worked in numerous studios and different countries. This reminded me of your own collection of studios that you reproduced in the various iterations, most recently the Sculpture works from 2015 and 2017. As well as these places of work Noguchi had a fascinating way of thinking of labour and industry which makes me think of your connection to working with processes unique to the film industry. On this subject Noguchi said, 'If you want to live and work in an industrialised situation, you have to use industrial materials and tools. However I was not quite satisfied with that because I felt the limitations of such, you know, tools, that forced one to be part of industry really rather than free.' I often find those limits on these processes quite freeing but that is also because I can work with them as an outsider with different time pressure. Noguchi continued his reflection on industry saying: 'If you want to escape from that time constraint, then the whole world you see, not just the most industrial world, but the whole world is someplace where you belong.' I wonder if you find these industrial processes limiting?
I am sorry these questions are probably coming out of the blue… would be lovely if you have time to write something.
Sending warmest wishes to you,
Letter from Margaret
It is so wonderful to hear from you! I hope you're doing very well and I'm glad you're in a flat where the winter light is available. Are you able to garden, perhaps a bit indoors during the colder months?
It's been a busy year for me, more in terms of sculpture than film. I had wanted to make a film with my 35mm short ends but that keeps getting put off. Perhaps soon.
It's great that you are writing about the Noguchi show at the Barbican. I had read about it and wished I could see it. He is a very interesting artist and I had not thought about him a lot until relatively recently. When I was doing research for Stasis, I read a book called Brancusi and Rumanian Folk Traditions by Edith Balas. Jonathan Pouthier of the Centre Pompidou told us about it and Morgan found me a copy. It was probably the most informative book I've read on Brancusi. The Foreward is an essay written by Noguchi for Crafts Horizon in 1976. I can photograph the pages for you if you'd like.
Your questions are really intriguing and not at all out of the blue. I have answered them below, your questions are in blue and my answers in black.
This tension between the desire to fix something and its evasion seems central to a lot of your work. Is this the first time you are using sarvelseal? I wonder what attracted you to this material? The photographs you show are dated as ongoing works as they are unfixed. How do you think they will change? How will their change relate to that of the sealed drawings?
A few years ago, I had the idea to wrap all my work that was in storage in Marvelseal. Some of these works had been stored for decades and I identified them more with their wrapping since that’s what I saw of them. Sealing them forever in Marvelseal acknowledges what they have become—things that are stored. Marvelseal is extremely strong so it’s used by the military for wrapping large items for transport, and it’s also used by museums for long term storage or pest abatement. I was finally able to do this work last winter, at the height of the pandemic. It’s a two-person job so I worked remotely with two people who were in their own 'bubble.' Each work retains its identity—its title and provenance—but its original manifestation is no longer visible. The date something was Marvelsealed is added to the original date of production. The Marvelsealed works that were in Stasis are only a fraction of everything that has been sealed.
Unfixed, the photographs from Stasis, are dated '2021 - ongoing' since they will always be changing. Unfixed is an edition of 2 with 1AP. An edition implies that all the photos will look the same, but this may turn out not to be the case despite all three being made at the same time and according to the same procedure. Each work will be changing constantly in response to its display conditions. Unlike most photographs, each will not record a single moment. Each will mark real time. I don’t know what they will look like in the near or distant future. As with my film, Color Correction, I wanted to make something where I wouldn’t know what it would look like. With Unfixed, I don’t even know the length of the whole process.
Change in both the Marvelsealed works and Unfixed is an interesting question. With Unfixed, you can watch the change taking place. The objects inside the Marvelseal allegedly should be pretty stable, it’s just that you can’t see them so there’s no way of confirming that. But the Marvelseal is what you’re looking at so, in a way, that outer material has destabilized the works inside. Unfixed will always be unstable until, I guess, they fall apart.
I remember how you took these works, Sift and Fish Trap were melted down into new forms a decade after this show. I have only seen them as recast sculptures and wonder what they looked like originally? Could you describe these works for me? Do you have images of them which you could share?
Fish Trap was made in 1989 from bronze wire woven into a funnel-shaped fishing trap. It was stored at the back of my garage and every day when I came home from work, I had to try not to run into it with my car. At some point I realised the sculpture didn’t have to remain the size it was and, around 2007, I decided to melt it down into ingots. It would be the same work, but would just have a different form. I didn’t really need to see the original form anymore, but I did need to see what I could do with something that was accepted as complete and stable. It took until 2010 for me to find a foundry willing to do the work. With both Fish Trap and Sift, the foundries decided what the reconfigured work would look like—the number and size of the ingots—based on the weight of the metal and the available moulds. Nothing was added or lost in the process. There were no aesthetic choices for me to make.
Sift consisted of three large sieves made from steel O-rings with brass and copper mesh. I made it in 1992 for an exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art and then it became part of their collection. In 2012, the museum agreed to my request to melt down the sculptures into a reconfigured work that would remain in their collection as the same work. The sculpture now exists as five industrial ingots with the title, Sift, 1992, 92.17a-c and the date of its reconfiguration, 2013. It retains its provenance but has a new accession number.
Making Fish Trap, 1989 changed everything for me. It opened up ideas about malleability, both in terms of what I do and how my work exists in the world. As with the Marvelsealed works, images of the sculptures in their original formats are no longer available. The works look the way they do right now.
Sift in its original format was part of the exhibition Relocations and Revisions: The Japanese American Internment Reconsidered at Long Beach Museum of Art in 1992. Was the legacy of Noguchi’s generation part of this exhibition and your work at this time? I don’t believe I asked you about this before but I wonder if your family experienced internment - has this been something you have written about at all? I would be interested to know more about that.
Both my parents’ families were from southern California so they were incarcerated at Poston. (Neither ever mentioned Noguchi, but my father was active as a community organiser so it’s possible they could have met.) The legacies of the Issei and Nisei were definitely a part of the Relocations and Revisions exhibition. Most, if not all, of the artists were born after the internment, so we were addressing a life-shattering event that wasn’t part of our lived experience but that informs our understanding of the world. Some of the artists’ families had chosen not to talk about the internment so they had to research it on their own and were bringing to the surface a suppressed family as well as political history. In my case, my parents shared their experience of the evacuation and incarceration with us from an early age because they knew we would not get the full history otherwise. Sift is the only work I’ve done specifically about the internment. In its original form, I was thinking about the use value of a sieve.
Noguchi said 'If you want to live and work in an industrialised situation, you have to use industrial materials and tools. However I was not quite satisfied with that because I felt the limitations of such, you know, tools, that forced one to be part of industry really rather than free.' I wonder if you find these industrial processes limiting?
Like you, I find the limitations of industrial film processes to be quite generative. This is true of how I work in sculpture, as well. The standard lengths and sizes of various materials, or the protocols for producing something, are often the starting points for my work. The limitations are where my ideas begin. The hard part is getting businesses to work beyond the boundaries they have established. I also don’t face the time pressures of conventional commercial production. It’s more like I’m producing prototypes, and that’s usually a very slow process that starts and stops over many months. I couldn’t do a lot of my work if it wasn’t for a number of amazing people with vast technical knowledge who are genuinely interested in doing something they haven’t done before. As long as the setting allows everyone to work at a pace that supports experimentation then, as Noguchi said, you feel like you belong to that world and you begin to see more possibilities.
I hope this is what you had in mind. It was so great to see my family. They returned to their respective homes yesterday and I miss them already.
All the best,
Audio Essay by Nine
In this two-part audio essay, Japanese-French artist and scholar Nine Yamamoto-Masson explores how the political dimensions of Noguchi’s life and work resonate with the contemporary, especially from a post-2020 perspective, and her own experiences where they intersect with Noguchi’s. A multi-temporal venn diagram so sprawling that it may be a kaleidoscope of non-linear time and non-euclidean space.
Music / contributors
A Lettersong for Isamu, by Mariam Tamari, 2021
A specially produced original composition, A Lettersong for Isamu is a half-musical voice message to the artist. We honour as well as question parts of his legacy, asking how we might pick up where he left off. Mariam notes that “‘middle people with no middle ground’ and ‘unthought heights of beauty’ are Noguchi’s words”.
Cosmos 4, Negative, and facepalm by Pillarist
Artist singing a cover of Ella’s Song: We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until it Comes, originally written by Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, in summer 2020 in New York City, part of the movement for Black liberation.
Thank you to Alex Hing for voice acting (Roosevelt quote).
All contributors retain full copyright of their work, music, words (used here with explicit permission for non-commercial use for Nine Yamamoto-Masson).
Building upon her experiences of displacement, Yarli embodies ‘emotional geography’ studies to compose both sculptural and virtual fictitious scenarios that are seemingly hopeful and functional, yet on the verge of falling apart. Often interacting with personas or creatures, these imagined worlds consist of her invented survival tactics and coping mechanisms. Yarli utilises the process of cognitive restructuring and belonging remapping to play with the sense of futility and the uncertain future of ‘what if’. Themes including border systems, datafication, and function creep are explored, along with skinships, queerness, and sexual objectification. Yarli’s recent virtual reality generated work, referencing her early age refuge-seeking experiences with ‘digital gamification’ in cyberspace. They pose questions on sculpture’s physicality, mobility, and its preservation in the posthuman and dematerialised conditions to come. Despite this, she constantly returns to her sculpture-installation background, leaving strong raw-handcrafted traces in her work that emphasise accidents caused by human errors in the making.
An artist, writer and curator, George Clark's work explores the history of images and how they are governed by culture and technology as well as social and political conditions. His work and research have focused on moving image in the expanded field working across film, installation and performance with a focus on collaborative practice in global context. Recent work includes Double Ghosts, an evolving multi-part project exhibited as part of the 2018 Taiwan Biennial and Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival 2019. The project explores the status and potential of unrealised and fragmented histories from the legacy of Chilean filmmaker Raúl Ruiz (1941-2011) to animist cinematic traditions in Taiwan. In 2018 he co-founded the West Java West Yorkshire Cooperative Movement with Ismal Muntaha, Bunga Saigian and Will Rose a collaborative project with the Jatiwangi art Factory, Indonesia and Pavilion, UK, that has supported new projects with over 30 artists across communities in both regions. His curatorial projects for museums, galleries, cinemas and festivals focus on broadening the histories of film and video practice globally. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, exhibition catalogues, journals and books. He teaches at University of Westminster and Royal College of Art.
Annie Jael Kwan
An independent curator and researcher, Annie Jael Kwan's exhibition-making, programming, publication and teaching practice is located at the intersection of contemporary art, art history and cultural activism, with interest in archives, histories, feminist, queer and alternative knowledges, collective practices, and solidarity. She is director of Something Human, a curatorial initiative, that launched in 2017 the pioneering Southeast Asia Performance Collection (SAPC) which represents 50 artists from the region at the Live Art Development Agency. In 2018 she curated UnAuthorised Medium at FramerFramed, Netherlands, co-curated the Archive-in-Residence exhibition, Southeast Asia Performance Collection at Haus der Kunst, Munich (2019), and is currently curator-in-residence at FACT Liverpool where she has cu-rated the exhibition, Futures Ages Will Wonder.
She leads Asia-Art-Activism (AAA), an interdisciplinary, intergenerational research network exploring the entanglements between Asia, art and activism, and is the instigating council member of Asia Forum. In 2019 she was the co-editor of Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia’s guest issue: Archives, and a recipient of a Diverse Actions Leadership Award. She currently teaches Critical Studies at Central St Martins, University of the Arts, London, and Writing and Curating at KASK, School of Art, in Gent, Belgium.
London-based artist and researcher Youngsook Choi has a PhD in human geography. Her practice relates to the subjective position as a woman, mother, and migrant of Korean Heritage, coming from a working-class background. Youngsook’s recent performances explore the concept of 'political spirituality and intimate aesthetics of community actions through composing speculative narratives with research evidence, folk tales, mythologies and performative instructions for audience participation. Youngsook is the recipient of Arts Council England Project Grant for the collective healing project for Asian diaspora, Becoming Forest.
A Japanese-French interdisciplinary artist, practising theorist, researcher, writer, translator, and community organiser. In academic research, pedagogic and artistic practice, her work analyses the gendered necropolitics of (neo)coloniality with regard to the legacies of Japanese, European, and US (military) imperialisms, whose coded architectures of power and economies of knowledge continue to subject bodies and futures to violent disciplining. Her artistic research embraces many methods, such as drawing, photography, installation, sculpture, performances, collage, poetry, writing, sound, video, curating. Rooted in a decolonial abolitionist feminist framework, her work engages with the modes of organisation and artistic practices of networked resistance to the above, future-building, peace activism, the workings of resistant living archives and antiimperialist disruptions of revisionist dominant narratives, focusing on the role of art in inter-diasporic, internationalist, inter-generational solidarities and knowlege production.
Letter from Yarli
 Britain's Alien Exclusion Act 1905, U.S. Chinese Exclusion Act 1882
 Quote from Noguchi’s I become a Nisei
 The War Relocation Camp in Poston Arizona
Letter from George
Isamu Noguchi, I Become A Nisei, 1942, draft of essay for Readers Digest,delivered late and different from commission it went unpublished at the time. https://www.noguchi.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Isamu-Noguchi-I-Become-A-Nisei-The-Noguchi-Museum.pdf
 Balas, Edith. Brancusi & Romanian Folk Traditions. United States: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006. p.xi
 Cheung, Alge/張國翔, 'Trailer “影子喜劇’ City Entertainment Magazine/電影雙週刊, Hong Kong, 1996, volume 1, N. 405, p26. Translated by Dub & Ko Language Services, September 2018
Cheung, Alge/張國翔, 'Trailer “影子喜劇’ City Entertainment Magazine/電影雙週刊, Hong Kong, 1996, volume 1, N. 405, p26. Translated by Dub & Ko Language Services, September 2018
 '[I]n that era, there was a vigorous anti-Japanese movement and so I tried to avoid being identified as Japanese. I masked the fact that I was a Japanese completely, making sure that I didn't behave in a way that betrayed my Japaneseness. Appearing in films as Li Xianglan (Ri Koran)' - Looking Back on My Days as Ri Koran Li Xianglan), The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 2, Issue 10, Oct 2004, p1-2
 Letter from Noguchi to King Vidor, March 2, 1953. Noguchi archive ref. MS_COR_338_023. Maybe one of the ‘fellow-travellers’ referred to could have been Charlie Chaplin who was an outspoken critic of the House of Un-American Activities and trials of Communist Party members, with whom Noguchi and Yamaguchi were friends. There are several photos of them together including a remarkable gathering for tea ceremony from a master with whom Yamaguchi was studying at Ray and Charles Eames house in Pacific Palisades, California https://archive.noguchi.org/Detail/archival/64986
 Balas, Edith. Brancusi & Romanian Folk Traditions. United States: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006. p.xi
 Noguchi speaking in the documentary Isamu Noguchi (1971) directed by Michael Blackwood.
 Stasis: Constantin Brâncuși and Margaret Honda, Curated by Camila McHugh, June, Berlin, July 2 - August 31, 2021