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Man, tir, tor, fred
Kumi Machida's breakthrough in modern Japanese art.
Opening speech by D. phil. Else Marie Bukdahl August 2017.
Honoured members of The Japanese Embassy in Copenhagen, ladies and gentlemen. I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to open this exhibition of Kumi Machida's works in Kulturhus Kappelborg in Skagen. She is already very well known in Denmark and has studied here for a long time.
The renowned Danish scientist Niels Bohr created what would become a very famous dialogue between Japanese art and Danish science, which built new bridges between art and science. He wanted to explain his theory of complementarity to the Japanese audience through this dialogue. The cornerstone in this theory is, that neither visual nor verbal language can satisfactorily interpret the entire world, only fragments or complementary aspects of it.
In a speech expressing his gratitude to Japanese physicists, he used Mount “Fujiyama as a symbol of complementarity, by describing the impressions elicited by the different lights and perspectives as complementary in the sense that only when taken together could they give the full and impressive picture of the ethereal and pure lines of this mountain, something
attempted in the great work, Hundred views of Mount Fujiyama".  In this book from 1830, the great Japanese painter and printmaker Hokusai created one hundred woodblock prints, showing how the light and changing seasons altered the appearance of the elegant shape of Mount Fuji. This work is generally considered the masterpiece of his landscape picture books. One of Hokusai’s most famous woodcuts is The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which became a symbol of traditional Japanese art, inspiring both modern and contemporary art in the East and West and could also be a tribute to your waves in Skagen. His style features freely curving lines and a series of spirals best exemplified in this work. In his later years, he focused on massive broken strokes and a bright colouring style. Hokusai’s and other Japanese artists’ work with the special woodblock printing and ink techniques and their simplicity of style, characterised by an intense expressive power, had a major influence on the French impressionist Monet and later expressionists like Van Gogh and Gauguin. The French even developed the term Japonism to describe the vogue for the Japanese style in the 1870s.
At the age of 51, Hokusai entered the period in which he created the Hokusai Manga and various etehon, or art manuals. The first book of Hokusai's manga, which means sketches or caricatures, was published in 1814 and had a profound influence on the modern form of comics bearing the same name. Hokusai created thousands of drawings of animals, religious figures, and everyday people. They often have humorous overtones, and were very popular at the time.
It was only after World War II that Hokusai’s manga style in various forms made inroads into Japanese and later European and American culture and also had an influence on artists.
Two trends start to appear. One draws inspiration from the American cultural comic, particularly images from Walt Disney. The second continues the Japanese cultural and aesthetic traditions. Regardless of source, an explosion of artistic creativity took place in the post-war period involving manga artists like Osamu Tezuka, who created the famous Astro Boy. Both he and his colleagues became immensely popular in Japan and outside its borders. Manga became a global phenomenon, admired by children and adults alike. I am certain that many of you own manga comics. More and more artists began to work with the manga tradition in the years that followed, with originality and innovative strategies, such as those of Takashi Murakami, who blurred the boundaries between high and low art and is known for creating the term “super flat”.
A new generation of artists in the our millennium created fresh interpretations of the manga tradition. This applies particularly to Kumi Machida, who established her own unique style in 2006, reinventing the two-dimensionality and flat planes of colour that characterise the manga tradition.
Through this technique she also visualises attempts to elide differences in social class and popular taste and to create bridges - with humour and astounding pictorial inventiveness - between low and high art. This is why her works are legible beyond the bounds of cultural confines. In them you find a contemporary interpretation of the clean lines of draughtsmanship in Sumi ink (which is a traditional black ink in the far East) on Kumohada linen paper (a special Japanese paper) and paint based on mineral pigments. From a formal perspective, her linear brush drawings can thus be traced back to the tradition of classical painting and calligraphy, but in terms of motif the elegance and simplicity of traditional Japanese art is replaced by a contemporary content, often from our everyday lives.
One of her pictures, Relation (2006), shows that her work is not popular art but artwork of convincing artistic quality. There is intensity in every stroke and an underlying longing for warmth and love in human relations in a cold, technological society. In her works you can also see traces of inspiration from Denmark, for example the chairs Arne Jacobsen, and the intense yellow color in her painterly style which invade her artistic realm.
Kumi Machida won the prestigious Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2007 and has since taken part in numerous exhibitions in the East and West and is now a renowned and respected member of the international art community.
 Bohr, Hans, My Father, in S. Rozental (ed.), Niels Bohr. His Life and Work seen by his Friends and Colleagues, Amsterdam, 1988, p. 337.
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