Artist Profile: Ibuki Kuramochi

Ibuki Kuramochi; Image courtesy of the artist

Ibuki Kuramochi is a Living Art-Body Performance

Written by Genie Davis
Working in a wide variety of mediums, Ibuki Kuramochi bisects the body and tears open her heart and soul. Whether she creates paintings, video, or performance art, her images are equally intimate and passionate.

Kuramochi explains all her work is “produced with the consciousness of improvisation” when it comes to body-performance. Her videos and paintings are both an extension of this work. She notes that “The performance is very ephemeral, as the time that is flowing now passes by in an instant. Video works and paintings can cut out the moment, and they can continue to fascinate [beyond it].”

As an artist, her passion is finding a way to “engrave a special and living art moment in my body, because my body will eventually decline and die.” In a sense, she is preserving herself – and the human condition – in an eternal record through painting and video, while celebrating the immediate through her performance art. Each of her works, regardless of medium, is a mix of both realistic elements, the abstract, and the surreal, fraught with the grace and anxiety of modern life, and the eternal conundrum of our species: the physical body does not last.

All of her paintings are evocative and dreamy; her video often more visceral, as if dream-like elements were caught in real space. She believes dream experiences have directly influenced her work, and that “the visual experiences that I see every night are inevitably the essence of my work.” She says she has very few nights sleeping peacefully, and often remembers the “strange, violent, weird” nightmares that unspool for her like a movie.

“Also, in my dream experience, the ‘Id’ is exposed,” she asserts, referring to Sigmund Freud’s writing. “When I’m creating a video, or creating my paintings, I consciously discover my own ‘Id’ and output it. That process feels like swimming. The subconscious and conscious extracted ‘Id’ have a consistent physicality.” Going further, she explains “My video work represents the output of Id’s body sensation and my painting work represents the output of Id’s brain sensation.”

Over the years, Kuramochi’s work has changed from precision pencil drawings and film photography in her student days to collage works, abstract paintings, and Japanese ink paintings (sumi-e).

But her current catalog has taken her in a different direction, embracing the “consideration of eroticism and fetishism.” This direction began with her introduction to Japanese Butoh dance. “I was reminded of the possibility of my physicality. Butoh dance is very poetic and very similar to the process of making a painting.” In fact, she says she becomes a painting herself, giving “color to the canvas of space.”

Another milestone came when she moved to Los Angeles from Japan two years ago. “When I lived in Japan, Japanese values, mono-ethnicity, Shintoism, Buddhism…were commonplace. However, since I moved to LA, I have witnessed the diverse religious views, multi-ethnicities, and various racial views of the United States. Western countries are paternal and individualistic societies. Japan, on the other hand, is a maternal society, and we are educated from childhood in groupism and taught not to assert our opinions. Japan also has many natural disasters. We Japanese have a deep-rooted awareness of animistic nature worship.”

When she first came to Los Angeles she found herself “impatient with the differences in the culture, society, and the strength of assertion of Western art. Eventually I reconsidered and studied what I wanted to [assert] as an artist.  I thought about the physical improvisation of Butoh dance and the possibilities of the human body, that is, my own body. As the anatomist Takeshi Yoro says, ‘there is nothing more personal than your body.’”

Over the last several years, she says layers of experience and inspiration combined to create her current artistic style and move her work to a body-based theme. When she performs, she enters an almost fugue-like state. “For me, performance is a ritual, almost an out of body experience, meditative and sometimes violent…ephemeral, precious, momentary, and [it] disappears over time.” This affects her approach to performance as well. “There are living fungi called slime molds in the forest. They go back and forth between life and death, the sexual and asexual, and they are something between living things and plants. Ideally, I would like to be a slime mold when performing.”

The body itself is what inspires her. “Physicality exists in various parts of our daily lives. The chair you always sit in, the clothes you wrap around, the world of SNS on your smartphone, the bed where you sleep at night, etc. The more conscious you are, the more you can see that the world is built around physicality. I’m also inspired by things that involve sexuality, masculine and feminine, transformation, meltability, and compatibility. Since I grew up in the Japanese anime culture of the 90s, I also take inspiration from the human physicality of anime.”

Another inspiration for her are certain areas of fetishism, “the sorcerous elements and attachments in fetishism are like stretching the desires of the body.”

Although her images are all very much of the body, they’re also infused with spiritual elements, Freudian philosophy and Aristotle’s metaphysics, as well as the ideas of Japanese anatomists Shigeo Miki and Takeshi Yoro.

Her father was a devoted Shintoist, and she grew up listening to stories about the mysteries of Shinto. “In the world of Shinto, it is said that spirits dwell in everything in this world. For example, in eyeglass cases and stuffed animals or anything that have been used for many years, there is a 神-Kami (spirit) named 付喪神(Tsukumogami). Since I’m living in that consciousness, spirits are always present in my life, and are reflected in my own body. I have long hair, and it feels like there are countless spirits living in each hair. Hair is a dead cell, but it grows every day, so there is a view of life and death there.”

Kuramochi often uses her hair as an element in her video work. “It’s a part of my body and has a mysterious feeling. I like to create artwork where spirituality – invisible, and the body – visible, intersect and change positions; [creating] for example, visible spirits and invisible bodies.”

Like everyone else, the pandemic has affected her both personally and as an artist. “…there are fewer opportunities to use the body to connect. People’s awareness of physicality has changed, mainly through communication, personal computers and smartphones. When our consciousness is condensed into the online world, we feel like we have forgotten our bodies. Early in the pandemic, I felt a sense of physical loss, despair and fear. So, I started to create video art works about my body almost every day and started muscle training.”

This practice made her feel even more connected to her body. “As I read in an anatomy book by Takeshi Yoro, ‘Human cells change cells every day. I am not the same as I was a week ago.’” Muscle training also led her to feel that “any human creation is made up of muscle movements… the female uterus is also made of muscular tissue. I became interested in the idea of feminism and physicality-muscles. The pandemic has allowed me to shut down my everyday physicality (as if I were trapped in a lab) and awaken to a new physicality.”

And within that new physical embodiment are several upcoming exhibitions, including work in the group exhibition Sanctuary of the Aftermath, this spring at The Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, organized and curated by LA Art Documents. Kuramochi will also be exhibiting digital paintings in another group show at the New York Hall of Science, Culture of Contamination, organized by the Sci Art Initiative and curated by Tarah Rhoda, come fall.

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