To say that art was an obvious career move for Seiko Kinoshita would be a lie. It wasn’t. By her own omission, she wasn’t born into a typically creative family, but a traditional Japanese household. So, when she first told her parents of her chosen profession, they were less than supportive of the notion.
“They thought I was stupid,” Seiko explains candidly. We’re sitting in her art studio in the heart of the industrial city of Sheffield in the UK. She’s made a fresh batch of real coffee on my arrival; the smell fills her tidy yet creative space. Among her tools and sketches, she has small models of her installations dotted around on shelves and her worktop; there’s a large loom in the corner where she’s been weaving an ongoing project. I’ve not long arrived and just begun to ask her how she came to be the artist she is today.
I soon find that her story is laden with ups and downs, and that it goes a little like this: After studying a BA in Formative Art at Kinki University (she laughs as she tells me the name of the institute), she landed her first job. It was a position designing bed linen and, as she tells me, was less than inspiring.
The company made mid-range products at affordable prices, so there was very little room for creativity. Seiko was to create mockups of the most basic of bedding. While she enjoyed the work and made some great friends along the way, designing linen was not exactly a life-fulfilling role.
The role meant that she had to leave for work early and return back late at night. That state took an inevitable toll on Seiko. She had no time to look around. One day, as she tells me, she woke up to find that winter had slowly shifted in without her noticing. The seasons barely had any significance to her anymore. It was then that she knew she had to quit. “I couldn’t dedicate myself – you know, all myself – to the company,” she tells me.
Leaving a stable job would never be a simple task; she knew that finding a backup role was essential first and yet her heart longed to study once again. Being awarded a Rotary Scholarship, soon enough, she completed an MA at Nottingham Trent University.
Fast forward a couple of years later, and Seiko had the qualifications, but was back in Japan doing odd jobs while attempting to get as much commissioned work as possible.
Then in 2002, on a second trip to the UK, Seiko discovered in a magazine the Yorkshire Artspace Starter Studio Programme: an initiative where select up and coming artists receive access to a fully equipped studio and compensation for the cost of living. Seiko applied and won a spot. And the rest, as the old expression goes, is history.
Some of the most exciting spaces in the UK from Bilston to Sheffield have now hosted Seiko’s work. Her installations are never obtrusive, but always extraordinary. They are fluid and become a part of the space rather than dominating it. “I want to work within a space, not disturbing a space,” she proclaims. “Not a completely divided space.”
You can say that art is finding aesthetic pleasure in all aspects of life, and when Seiko worked with the scientist Dr. Nathan Adams, she soon learned that beauty really was in the eye of the beholder. “I met him and I didn’t understand what he was saying at all, but what was interesting was that he thought his research was so beautiful.”
“How he described his work was quite striking for me,” she says. “You wouldn’t expect science to be beautiful. He talks about science very passionately.” The two collaborated on a couple of science-centric pieces, and they hope to work again together soon.
Still, a decade ago, Seiko created Blue Bird, the one piece that she is most proud of today. This flock woven out of paper yarn now adorns a major spot in Sheffield Library. The inspiration for the piece lies both in nature and her own childhood. She nostalgically recalls a famous Japanese tale, which is actually based on a French play entitled ‘L'Oiseau bleu’ or The Bluebird.
The installation came to be a favourite among both locals and tourists; the cascading birds drew every eye that happened past them. Since the library had a large skylight, the flock flew upward towards the ceiling. Moreover, if the cloud of birds gave you pause when you walked through the area, that was precisely what Seiko desired. The greater the pause, the better.
Some years ago Seiko first came upon the idea that art could make people stop, take a moment, and reflect. “I saw some work from the sculptor Isamu Noguchi,” she says. “His work came to Kyoto when I was a student. I saw one piece and thought ‘wow.’ I just got into that work. After that, I wasn’t thinking of anything else. I was just in his work; looking at his work and fascinated by it.”
“We have really busy lives,” she continues. “People don’t have time, but I’m happy if somebody comes across my work and thinks of something, even if it’s hateful. If I can give them the time to cut off their thoughts and stop thinking about something else, I think that’s a nice thing. It’s precious.”