Figure Studies: Yukimi Akiba: The Body as Unraveled
This week in Lenscratch, we look at the work of seven artists, exploring the many iterations of the body in photography.
Using embroidery, gold leaf, and emulsion lifts, Yukimi Akiba intervenes with the surface of instant film, crafting exquisite multi-media self-portraits. In Akiba’s imagery, the act of destruction is a powerful force for creating a new narrative about her own image. These intimate self-portraits, most of which were made in the artist’s room, directly address the difficulties of the outside world and her own mental illness.
Currently, there are 120 images in this collection of deconstructed self-portraits, each a unique object.
Creative ‘Self’ Destruction
Creative ‘Self’ Destruction showed me what I really thought. By keeping on destroying my body on the image, rules were broken, my soul was freed, my fragmented memories were put together, and what irritated me, what really gave me pain and suffering were revealed. I had lost all interest in the world, others, and myself; I had lost love, kindness, trust, and even hope. I was desperate to get back them and to rebuild them anew and stronger. In order to survive, I had to do Creative ‘Self’ Destruction. I wanted to believe that, by destroying what I hated, what I love can be created.
Yukimi Akiba, lives in Japan, created a series of Polaroid self-portraits from 2019 to 2021. Using embroidery, gold leaf, color & lifts, she destroyed herself and reimagine her own image. She calls it Creative ‘Self’ Destruction. For Yukimi, it played an important role as therapy for illness, a way of not physically harming herself or others, and a way of rebuilding what she had lost in her life by trauma.
How did you begin to photograph yourself and to add embroidery, color and gold leaf to the Polaroids?
Just when I was looking for something to express my mind without words, I got a gift of an Instax camera from my friend on Christmas day 2018. I started using it and share it with her on IG to kill the time. Then I found an instant photo community and Polaroid photo on IG. I thought that I could make something better if I use not Instax but Polaroid. I was frustrated by that, and I realized that I was so jealous of Polaroid people. That made me quit Instax work and start Polaroid work.
When I first used thread on a photo, is when I got bored of taking a photo and tried to destroy a photo of me. I found that there was thread in my room, so I just used it. When I did that, I felt both guilty about destroying a photo and a sense of release from everything. Then I found people doing destruction/embroidery on a photo as I did. I thought it felt like saying to me ‘you can create anything as you like!’, that encouraged me doing it.
Maybe it was natural for me to only take pictures of myself because I was no longer interested in the world, and I didn’t want to feel guilty about destroying others in my images. And I found that if I used instant films, I can handle it by myself throughout all process – from start to finish. Nobody can see it before I finish making it. It means like ‘my body is mine/my life is mine – My Body My Choice’ to me. I guess everything was a coincidence, but also inevitable.
Do you have a favorite method or tool?
Embroidery. Or I just like threads and needles, and the act of piercing the photo.
In what ways does making art effect your daily life?
As it turned out, it helped me survive. Now it helps me to keep healthy, to be myself, and connect to people and the world.
You say your work is a form of “creative self-destruction”, can you talk about what that means to you?
Creative Self Destruction is who I am, because for the past two years, this is all I have been doing with all my time and energy. It is a record of my struggle with suffering, a secret revenge against the society and myself I hated, and a desire to expand my possibilities and become a completely new and stronger person. Destruction made me creative, and Creative Self Destruction made me who I am today.
Looking forward what projects are you working on? Is there something you would like to try in the future?
I have been working on a project called the Moon Fragments Project that to deliver the piece of my Polaroid work, which was personal to me. Along with the works, I send my heart in words that I have been trying not to speak. This project has inspired me, given me a new perspective on my work and myself, and given me the courage to take a step forward. It also made me think that my work “might not be so bad”. I couldn’t love my work, but a became able to. I am grateful to a person who still loves my work, gives me a lovely letter, and are waiting for my work to arrive.
Also, I have been working on a project to embroider on others with vintage photos, postcards and Ukiyoe, to shift my attention to people and the world. Old things always make me more aware and respectful of life and death. I am grateful for that.
Is there something you would like to try in the future?
I thought I would never go back to working with Polaroid, but my mind is changing and I still have a lot of Expired Polaroid film in my fridge. I am thinking of trying to make something with them in the future.
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Flowering in PhotographyMay 23rd, 2022