Kasumi, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, creates interdisciplinary media artwork that explores memory and perception through the syntheses of film, video, sound, animation and live performance. Her work is in collections and has been screened worldwide: from Lincoln Center with The New York Philharmonic to performances with Grandmaster Flash and DJ Spooky. BREAKDOWN, the 2010 Vimeo Remix Award winner and premiered at Carnegie Hall with the American Composers Orchestra. She has created new works for the Cleveland Museum of Art, EMPAC (Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center), Instituto Superior de Arte del Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires, CAMP (Creative Art and Music Project); and her work also was featured at Art Miami, Art Palm Beach, unpainted Media Art Fair, Munich, Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow, Contemporary Museum Wroclaw, Itau Cultural Center, Sao Paulo, The Butler Institute of American Art, The Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, San Diego Museum of Art, Chroma Festival de Arte Audiovisual, Mexico, and many others. In 2014 a selection of her Perpetual Series was installed in the historic grand opening of DC (Donau City) Tower 1 in Vienna’s Donaucity, Austria, and her work recently completed a tour of the major museums and art institutions of Poland. Selections of her work are currently broadcast on France’s La Télédiversité #Numero23.
www.music-news.at: What exactly is that, what you’re doing?
Kasumi: I’m interested in understanding how a concept intersects with its new environment and how it adapts – how is it processed, dictated, hybridized and transformed in processes of motion. Particularly, I want to know how a small violent action can move across social geographical and chronological space.
With this in mind, I create media art that evokes strong emotions and feelings and in doing so tells a story. I’m interested in cause and effect, violence and revenge and how expectation creates memory, how memory makes the brain and how the patterns of those memories make “reality.” But now, our media and tech saturated culture has extended and augmented our memories in ways we don’t yet understand. Where does memory start and end?
My work isn’t based on formula, the latest trend or a gimmick; rather, it is work that connects with you in a personal way and at the same time represents universal truths. My work challenges and questions, and it is informed by the past but would not be possible without very new technology. It is the art of human memory created in the most contemporary of art forms.
www.music-news.at: How did you come to this kind of art, what you’re doing today?
Kasumi: My work has taken many turns and has evolved from the many art forms I’ve explored. It’s hard for me to separate one from another: my training in music, for example, especially informs my effort not just to integrate the individual elements of a piece into the whole and to discover the most effective timing for introducing new elements, but most importantly, how to use expression to inform and amplify what I am trying to convey. Music taught me how to breathe life into a work of time-based media art.
Theater, dance and conventional filmmaking, all collaborative art forms, gave me an understanding of the metaphorical power of human gesture, movement and drama, and my work in visual arts lead me to think of film as an object to be sculpted and perfected through the manipulation of color, form and composition.
Writing, through metaphor, cadence and rhythm, is vital in the construction of my work. Especially through metaphor my work bridges seemingly unconnected neural networks – thus activating perception outside of awareness: gut feeling, subliminal understanding and subconscious understanding.
All of this adds up to an almost hyperbolic effect to my work that provides viewers a visceral, synesthetic and intense hallucinatory experience.
www.music-news.at: When did your work with experimental media begin?
Kasumi: Every art form ignites some kind of experimentation and variation from the “norm” but when I started using the computer to assemble, mix, destroy and create with it, something really lit up for me. Each art form I’ve explored presents a unique set of tools, containers for different forms of expression. Each is able to express different aspects of the human psyche, simultaneously influencing and informing the other.
My lust for experimentation though, comes from my parents. My father, himself the child of an inventor, was a NASA rocket scientist who was instrumental in putting a man on the moon. My mother was an experimental artist who viewed the world as her studio and supply depot: she commandeered otherwise banal household objects (toys included) and broke them up to use in an assemblage works. I learned that nothing was out-of-bounds; anything could be swept into the process of creation and experimentation. There was never a time in my life (at least that I can remember) that I wasn’t making art and finding new ways of doing it.
But what’s exciting is that the tools of technology allow me to combine and fuse different ways of making art, smashing artificial walls of style and form in order to explore new and more effective ways to communicate ideas and to expand our perceptions.
www.music-news.at: Tell us about your new film Shockwaves!
Kasumi: Shockwaves (shockwavesthemovie.com) is a densely and intricately constructed 80-minute, looping media art work, composed of over 25,000 separate samples and shots, that explores the nature of memory and our collective consciousness.
There are two versions of this piece: one, a perpetually looping installation – itself the perfect metaphor for the circularity of existence – recently debuted in an American museum. (Shockwaves)
The other is a re-edited theatrical screening version I created so that viewers who wanted to experience Shockwaves in a more conventional story format from beginning to end could do so. It’s now on tour in theaters and on line at:
The story of Shockwaves is told looking through the window of a man’s mind as he tries to comprehend the transformation of his life from fairy tale to tragedy. He recalls falling in love, a wedding and a promising future. But fatherhood resurrects the ghosts of abuse and he is transfigured into the slave of psychic trauma he cannot escape. He plays the part his heritage commands recapitulating his own father’s role. But trauma and suffering have always, through the ages, called forth a response. Like an Aeschylean Fury rising from depths unknown, the memory of his savagery wreaks its vengeance and finally annihilates his sinister inheritance.
Shockwaves explores our individual essences as creations of our own brains and explores the fundamental conventions embedded in imagery and contemporary insights into the formation of memory – the ways our expectations shape our memories and the ways our memories shape our expectations.
www.music-news.at: Which statement do the constantly repeating video sequences have in your work?
Kasumi: Shockwaves presents an account of what could be called behavioral recursion, outlining the way that repeating patterns of interpersonal violence twist and derail both individual lives and the fate of nations. Human history is a mosaic of such emotional templates, a matrix woven from love and hate, creation and destruction, and Shockwaves takes both a long and short view of these eternal dilemmas as it winds through the foreshortened time of the past half-century. Repetition is built into our most essential existence; without it, life would cease to exist.
www.music-news.at: Which technologies and programs are you using for your art?
Kasumi: Ableton Live, Modul8, the entire Adobe Creative Suite, Final Cut Pro 7 and various other software and apps all run on a Mac tower packed with RAM. I have about 30 TB of hard drive space. I also incorporate actual 16 and 35mm film into my work. I bleach and then hand paint directly onto the celluloid, then digitize and composite it onto the timeline. In addition to the massive amount of sound samples and recorded music (some provided by Thomas Maos of CAMP), some of the sound recording was done using piezoelectric mics taped onto both a theorbo and a shamisen. Then, I took those sounds and distorted and played with them in Ableton Live, mixing with literally thousands of other samples.
www.music-news.at: Many of your clips appearing kind of political at us. What’s their core statement?
Kasumi: My work has always been about the ways individuals understand and react to the events in their lives because individuals are, it’s almost too simplistic to say, the component parts from which political movements are made. In Breakdown, for example, I appropriated the vocabulary of propaganda to expose the ways political forces feed on individual weaknesses and fantasies to achieve their impersonal ends. Shockwaves burrows even deeper into the individual psyche, but paradoxically finds deep within the individual precisely the same cultural iconography derived from the mass media as is used by the forces of political propaganda.
On the one hand, mine is a very sympathetic view of the individual, basically casting him as a victim of forces he isn’t even aware he’s subject to. But even more importantly, it’s a view that compels me to do what I do—I try to uncover and show the things that really do drive us and the other things that we allow to drive us. Fear of the unknown and childhood trauma are understandable human weaknesses, but until we are able to disconnect them from the violence they too often provoke, we’ll never escape them. I understand warmongers and wife-beaters, but I don’t excuse them.
www.music-news.at: What exactly is making your work special?
Kasumi: My media art reveals the complexity and depths of the reality in which we live in ways that haven’t been done before. Its style, which mimics the free-associative internet’s intertextual cacophony that is constantly bubbling up in the background, depicts not what happens in your life, but what you remember and how you remember it.
My characters exist, as we do, in a sort of psychological multiverse of intersecting realities. The characters, who in conventional narrative film would be portrayed by single actors, are constructed into existence and “act” through the cutting together of thousands of clips from disparate sources and eras. In this way, I express the concept of a person’s life as a multi-dimensional construct of past, present and future moving through time and space.
The goal for my work is to illuminate the mysteries of human thought and behavior on their own terms – viscerally, instinctually – and to trigger viewers’ similarly unconscious feelings through their powers of perception and association.
The multi-layered sound track weaves into the densely textured stream-of-consciousness imagery, providing viewers a visceral, synesthetic and even hallucinatory experience.
On the technical end, the production methods were demanding – it took four years to make Shockwaves – but required to achieve the end result. For example, I “wrote” the found-script by using snippets of the original dialog embedded in the over 25,000 film samples used in the production and the result is a dense, polyphonic stream of sonic and visual sub-consciousness. Like a piece of symphonic music, Shockwaves reveals something different with each viewing.
www.music-news.at: How much time a day do you spend on your art?
Kasumi: Even though I might not be physically working, my art occupies 99% of my mental, emotional, psychological, intellectual and subconscious energy. The parts of my life that aren’t directly involved with making art, I’m embarrassed to say, are left in the dust at times.
We had the chance to see your performance live at the CAMP Festival 2007 and we had the feeling, that the audience was keen about your work. How have you experienced your performance?
I love the audience that CAMP attracts, open to new ideas, methods and styles. It’s especially fantastic to work with the group of artists and musicians making up the incredible energy of CAMP. It’s like entering a new dimension of creativity. Fried Dähn and Thomas Maos, along with all the others who manage CAMP, are heroic!
with Thomas Maos and Fried Dähn at CAMP ‘07
with Ken Rei and Kramer: