Megumi Shauna Arai: The States Project: Washington
Megumi Shauna Arai was one of seven artists who participated in RIFFS, a collaborative artist residency I facilitated at Seattle’s Photographic Center North West last spring. For her piece, Arai collaborated with dancer Jim Kent to create floating semi-nude portraits which she printed on adhesive photographic paper and hung on the gallery’s walls. The work, which included thin strips of paper ascending towards the gallery ceiling, made the dancer appear to be levitating, and highlighted his fragility. Arai’s work continues to be collaborative and interdisciplinary, and while she largely works with light sensitive materials, often experiments with textiles and a range of other materials, and thinks of herself more broadly as an “artist” than a “photographer.”
Megumi Shauna Arai is a biracial Japanese and Jewish multidisciplinary artist working in photography, performance and the reinterpretation of craft and tradition into a contemporary conceptual context. Her work draws on themes of identity, isolation, the idea of freedom and contradiction. She has shown in Seattle, Portland, NYC, Indianapolis and soon Los Angeles. She traveled to Shikoku, Japan for an intensive workshop/residency in traditional papermaking in 2015. She was an Artist in Residence at the Photographic Center Northwest in 2016 and currently preparing for an upcoming show at the Wing Luke Museum in 2018.
Your background is in photography, but your practice has expanded over the years to cross multiple mediums, including textiles, etc. Do you define your practice by a specific medium?
I identify with the term “artist.” My first language is photography, but I love the idea of being multilingual. I firmly believe that the most interesting occurrences happen when things collide/mix/intersect.
Tell me a bit about the importance of performance in your work.
Recent work of mine has included photographs created in junction with a durational performance. A photograph freezes a fleeting moment. I love photography, but I continually fight against the capture, what feels stagnant and dead. It’s a continual theme for me, being in love with something and equally wanting more. Feeling restless and questioning the very essence that makes a discipline feeds my creativity. My answer is to work in between mediums. It goes back to the whole hybrid/intersecting thing.
You often acknowledge the impact your dual cultural identity has had on your work/practice. Can you speak a bit about this?
Much of how we view the world has to do with the way we grew up, how we assimilate or resist, each individual’s particular concoction of nature and nurture. My mixed race and cultural identity is an essential part of my person. Growing up it determined where we lived, the number of times we moved, how we ate, what we spoke, how my family dispersed, what we lost and what we gained. In my work, Osore (2015), I investigate these themes of mixed identity, the trained chameleon, ideas of choice and control. I am interested in the question, what does it mean to truly be free?
One thing I appreciate about the Seattle art/photo scene is its interconnected, supportive nature. How has this impacted your work and the way you think about making art?
Seattle has provided a wonderful home for me as an artist. There is a sense of openness and curiosity in the community that welcomes a self-taught artist like myself. I have great mentors that push me as a professional and support me as an individual. I wish for a more diverse population, but we are around if you look.
You recently participated in a few residencies. Did this change how you think about making work? If so, how?
Yes. Like my residency hopping English artist friend Lucy says, “Once you catch the residency bug there is no going back”. There are so many types, but the luxury of concentrated work time, travel, collaborating with fellow artists and studying unique skills with master’s in whatever combination is beyond fulfilling. I love the idea of being fully immersed and creating work based on that experience. I structure residencies based on the work I hope to make, similar to the idea of field research.
You often work with brands, and do quite a bit of commercial work in addition to your personal practice. Do you see these as independent entities? / If not, how do they interact/ influence each other?
When I shoot commercially, I am providing a service for a client. My art practice is driven by my curiosity, self-generated questions and recurring themes. The continuity between the two are me and my vision.
When we worked on RIFFS together, collaboration was becoming a larger part of your practice. Is this still the case?
I want it to be! You, reading this, do you want to collaborate?! Get at me!
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
Megumi Shauna Arai: The States Project: WashingtonMarch 18th, 2017
Serrah Russell: The States Project: WashingtonMarch 17th, 2017
John Keatley: The States Project: WashingtonMarch 16th, 2017
Alan Hunter: The States Project: WashingtonMarch 15th, 2017
Rodrigo Valenzuela: The States Project: WashingtonMarch 14th, 2017