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Interview: Moe Wakai's Accumulation of Memory

Interview: Moe Wakai's Accumulation of Memory

Tell us about yourself, how did you become an artist?

It started out with accessible and easy things when I was young, like drawing and knitting, but I never got formal training. When I got into high school I really enjoyed developing and printing photographs in the darkroom. I didn’t know anything as a 14 year old girl but one of the few things I was confident in was the fact that I really hated academic work and loved making things. It was simple as that. I’m not sure what I really need to become a full-fledged artist yet, maybe I already am and don’t have the confidence to say so, or maybe I’m building myself up to it now.

Moe Wakai

What is your background? and how did it inform the focus of your creative exploration or the medium you're currently working with?

I was born in Osaka, Japan, and moved to Boston, MA when I was 8 years old. I had no email address or phone number, but somehow stayed in touch with friends in Japan. Even now I don’t call or text them often, not at all, but knowing there are people out there who knows me and likes me for who I am even after 13 years (and counting) of not being physically close with them gives me confidence in who I am. I also very much believe that people around me, people who has been involved in my life has shaped the person I am today. My work is all about relationships and the steps we take within a given relationship. Sometimes it's intense, sometimes it’s more subtle, sometimes it’s something that is not obvious. Because of the way I was able to meet the people I did and keep them in my life for as long as I have, I make the work that I make now.

What ideas interested you in the beginning of your practice, which ideas have you continued to explore, and where have they led you?

I’m just starting out now, so this is the start of my practice, but I have always been interested in people. I thought I liked people in general and did small personal projects that were more performance based, but it didn’t really click well, it felt incomplete. So then I realized I only liked the people and things around me because I thought they were nice, and that’s why I kept them around me, and that the experiences we shared and the connection we have are what is important to me.

Who were and are the biggest sources of your inspiration?

The biggest source of my inspiration was my teachers. They still are, but I think they were one of the only sources I looked for before. I admired them for who they were and aspired to be more like them, and was always inspired to work harder. Now, my biggest source of inspiration is books. I am not a fast reader and I don’t read as much as I should, but I love them. Good books, the ones with words and sentences that read like butter, make me reflect on the things that I’ve done, people I’ve met, and what I can do in the future to live better. Someone once told me, art can't change the world but books do, and I think that's why I read.

Where do you find inspiration?

I seek inspiration through my friends. Most of my subject matter is relationships so it makes sense that I find inspiration in my peers, but also seeing their works and hearing about their thought process is motivating. Most of the time, a trivial conversation I have with a friend develops into an idea.

Moe Wakai

Moe Wakai

Is there are a single work, project, or series that is pivotal in your current trajectory?

Yes, this work called "'We shouldn’t have all these bruises' but we did, and now it’s useless." This was a performative work where I cut through a handwoven wool blanket I wove. I had sort of a friend-breakup that I wasn’t able to process and tried to hold onto for a long time, until one day I realized I’m not her friend anymore. That got me thinking I should record the relationship I have now that are important, so that it doesn’t pass me by.

How did it begin? and how did it evolve?

At the time I was really involved in weaving, and was starting to discover the relationship human body has to textiles. I was also thinking about how textiles retain memories or embodies the history/experience it has gone through. I couldn’t stop thinking about the relationship a body has to a textile, the ways in which it accumulates memory. Now I explore that same idea outside of textiles and in my photography and other medium. Even though there is an inherent relationship a body has to textiles, I think photography definitely can relate to that since photography feels documentary and is something that records personal history.

What are you working on now?

Right now I'm working on a photography series, where I document my relationship with my houseplants. Because of the pandemic, I've started to re-think of what a relationship could look like and what forms it can take. It's rough not being able to go out and live a normal life, but trying to restructure the way I think about plants and thinking them more like a companion has helped me.

About the Artist

Based in Chicago, Illinois

Moe Wakai is a fiber and textile-based artist, focusing on dysfunctional weavings with embellishments, such as embroidery and stitching. Her works explore the idea of relationships and their development throughout time. Wakai also studies photography. Similar to her fiber works, she looks deeper into relationships with a series of photographs that document relationship through time. She also enjoys freelance photography, and is currently attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is a 4th-year undergraduate student.