Kelly Akashi

Kelly Akashi (b. 1983 lives and works in Los Angeles, CA) received her MFA from University of Southern California in 2014. Akashi has had solo exhibitions at François Ghebaly in Los Angeles, CA; Aspen Art Museum in Aspen, CO; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, NY; Sculpture Center in New York, NY; among others.
November 10, 2021
Tell us about your practice.
I am an artist from Los Angeles. I was born here and did most of my education here, but 
I also studied for a year in Frankfurt at Stäedelschule. I love being an artist in Los Angeles because it has so many resources. I feel like I can learn how to make almost anything here.
I am mostly known for my sculptures, but I come from an education in analog photography and still produce optical, cameraless prints. My objects evolved out of my interests in candid and documentary, chemical-based photography, which eventually led me to create candles, unique lost-wax bronze casts, and blown glass artworks. Since I began working with those materials, I have expanded my use of them, mixing materials and processes to incorporate stone, heirlooms, and fiber into my current exhibition, Faultline, at Francois Ghebaly Gallery.
You mentioned how your search to extend the meaning of an image, led you from photography to more sculptural works. How did your relationship and understanding of photography evolve for this particular show?
Photography is an incredibly complex field that incorporates technology, chance, loss, and representation with aesthetics.
When I graduated with my BFA in photography in 2006, the darkroom was already becoming a thing of the past. I spent years trying to understand what I wanted to get out of photography and how to make it relevant in a world that felt my darkroom processes and techniques were “dead” due to the rise of digital photography. Eventually, my object making led me to learn glassblowing, and I began using my glass objects in the darkroom to create photograms. I would exhibit prints of glass alongside other glass objects to give people different perspectives on what they were seeing.
In my current exhibition, Faultline, I wanted to work with a different chemical-based cameraless process. These images are unique prints of crystals that I grew, and I used Cibachrome, silver-gelatin, and chromogenic paper to image the crystals in different ways. They appear biological, geological, cosmic, and microscopic at the same time. I feel my work is most successful when it can balance information and aesthetics or convey complex emotions.
You mentioned how you look to triangulate approaches to talk about the “space in between” — can you expand a little on how that manifests in your practice?
I kind of hate saying “a space in between” but it’s been hard to find a better way to talk about giving shape to an immaterial subject. For my last show, Mood Organ, which was at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, I wanted to see if I could make objects that convey and carry emotions. I wanted to give intangible notions like instinct, emotions and intuition form since they can be felt even though they are essentially unseen.
I don’t think there is one way to do this, so I did it every way I could.
In the current show with Francois Ghebaly,
I wanted to dig deeper, to excavate these things we inherited even further. As I worked on this show, I found connections to ancestry materialized in forms I have produced for years, like plants, body casts, and wax. But I also found this language in objects from my own personal history. I have always sought to make work that was even more direct than photography in how it engages and reflects lived life. In art, there is always some mediation. By triangulating the conversation, which is always slightly off-center, the space opens to connect to the real, lived, felt experiences that I want to address.
Are there any mediums or techniques that you haven’t yet put into your practice that you are interested in?
Yes, but if I reveal them here, I will give away what is coming next! I have been studying a new technique for a year that may enter the practice at some point. I can say it is fiber-based. 
What has been inspiring you lately?
Camera Lucida has never stopped inspiring me. Recently I read Robin Kelsey’s book on chance in photography, which I enjoyed. Childhood’s End was my last favorite fiction book that I read. 
I am really interested in learning more about curator Karen Higa’s work, which led me to a book she wrote the introduction for: Manzanar, Architecture Double. It’s a series of photos by Andrew Freeman of all the Manzanar bunkers still in existence (many have been moved and repurposed). In addition, the work of Julia Phillips and Julien Nguyen inspires me to keep pushing my practice in a rigorous and generous way that educates my audience. And I have gone deeper into Noguchi’s work and life through the book Isamu Noguchi’s Modernism: Negotiating Race, Labor, and Nation, 1930–1950.
What’s next for you?
I am working on an exhibition in a new space in Venice, Italy, which will open in April 2022. 
I will get to work in Murano for that exhibition, which I have always wanted to do. After that, I have a solo exhibition at the San José Museum of Art, curated by Lauren Dickens. It will open in Sept 2022 and will continue to travel elsewhere. This exhibition will focus more on my family history, drawing from biological materials located at the site of their internment as metaphors and monuments. Coincidentally, Noguchi was self-interned at the same camp during WWII, and my research into his past connected me to my own family history since much of his correspondence is accessible, while my family did not want to discuss their time there. I guess this is another example of the triangulation I was talking about. Sometimes the path is not direct: like a spiral, you have to move sideways to give it shape.

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