Unfolding Stories

Mariko Kusumoto’s Charming Metal Box Sculptures

Enter the enchanting world of Japanese metal sculptor Mariko Kusumoto, and view her extraordinary and intricate metal sculptures and other fantastical constructions at the Racine Museum of Art.
Using a wide range of metal-smith techniques, Kusumoto creates worlds that will delight visitors to the special exhibit. Kusumoto’s miniature universe has doors that open, parts that move and make music, compartments and drawers, as well as characters and pieces that will tempt visitors to open, move, and play with the pieces. In her artist’s statement Kusumoto explains, “Most of my pieces are interactive, which is an essential aspect of my work. Because I like to surprise people, the viewer must keep opening things to see the secrets inside, or push, pull, or wind-up something to see movement or hear sounds. You never what will happen until you get involved with the piece.”

Each box is presented as a closed object then opened and manipulated so that their individual stories “unfold.” Many of the pieces within each box were created in the form of brooches, necklaces and bracelets that can be worn, taking on a very different aspect in the narrative of each box.
Kusumoto’s Japanese identity and heritage play important roles in her art, but the most pronounced element that strongly inspired the artist was the 400-year old Buddhist temple where Kusumoto’s father served as a priest, and where she lived and grew up. Kusumoto explains, “I was always surrounded by the beauty of nature and ancient things…I was also fascinated by the elaborate metal and wood ornaments…throughout the temple.”
The allure of the gold-colored ornaments that gleamed in the darkened temple played an early role in her inspiration to use metal in her work. Using nickel, copper, and silver, Kusumoto hammers, creases and manipulates the surfaces to “disperse light with their newly patterned textures. Her applications of finishes, use of color, and blend of textures produce a surface that emits a glow reminiscent of these gleaming ornaments of her childhood,” writes art historian Don Davidson in the exhibits accompanying catalogue.
Highlights of the exhibit include Daughter’s Room that was inspired after the birth of Kusumoto’s daughter. Fascinated by her body in its pregnant state, she created a metal box in the form of a pregnant torso with a door knob, keyhole and a key that unlocks it. The box opens up to a skeletal system and beneath the different layers, the final surprise is a music box with a magnetized figure of a boy who moves with the music.
Kusumoto also makes elaborate Japanese bento boxes with traditional place settings along with varieties of sushi-inspired sculpted pieces. Each sushi piece opens and either has a hidden item with movable parts or a secret scene. She explains, “The tamago sushi contains two eggs, which each open up to a lizard and snake inside.”
The exhibit will run through January 23, 2011 at the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Accompanying Unfolding Stories is a 30-page exhibition catalogue that includes text from the artist and images of many of the works on display, published by Mobilia Gallery based in Cambridge, MA.
For more information, museum times and directions, please visit the Racine Musuem of Art at www.ramart.org.

Image Credit
Kodomobeya (Daughter's Room), 2001         
Nickel silver, copper, bronze, photos, brass, wood and light bulb
10-1/2" x 7" x 5"         
Private collection
Photography: Hap Sakwa

Kodomobeya (Daughter's Room)(detail), 2001
Nickel silver, copper, bronze, photos, brass, wood and light bulb
10-1/2" x 7" x 5"         
Private collection
Photography: Hap Sakwa

Kaitenzushi (Sushi Restaurant) (detail), 2004
Copper, brass, sterling silver, nickel silver, bronze, found objects, acrylic paint, enamel and 24K gold leaf
13" x 12" x 12"
Private collection
Photography: M. Lee Fatherree

Shizuoka Ekiben (Boxed Lunch) (detail), 2006
Copper, brass, nickel silver, sterling silver, glass, decal, resin, fabric and acrylic paint         
Closed: 12" x 13" x 4"; Open: 24" x 13" x 2"         
Collection of the Kamm Foundation
Photography: Dean Powell



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