⟨ Unexpected Welcome ⟩

Miyuki Nakajima: The embroidery sculptor

A sculpture made thread by thread

Text / Ron Lam
Translation / Iris Heung

走進多治見的百草藝廊,莫明奇妙地,我們自自然然就蓆地而坐了。展覽場地佈置得如尋常的起居室,我們圍著圓形小几,盯著几上一個七輪炭爐,炭爐上的秋刀魚正烤得微焦,看來皮脆肉嫰,竟彷彿也嗅到了烤秋刀魚的鮮美——都怪刺繡雕塑家中島美雪的作品太過迫真,鼻子被眼睛矇騙了。

For some unknown reason, people tend to sit on the floor when visiting Galerie Momogusa in Tajimi. The exhibition space of the gallery is set up like a typical living room with a small charcoal grill on a coffee table. We sat around, admiring the perfectly grilled mackerel pike that looked so tasty, at some point, we thought we could almost smell the freshly grilled mackerel. The fish made by the embroidery artist/sculptor Miyuki Nakajima looked so real that even our noses were deceived by the visual sight.

「這秋刀魚還有需要反省之處。」中島美雪說。「有人看到展覽的宣傳照後,跟我說,『這條魚看來該是用煤氣煮食爐的烤魚箱烤成的吧,用七輪的話,烤焦的痕跡會不一樣。』想來,現在以七輪作展示的方法原來是不成立的。」中島美雪說話時聲音明亮爽朗,姿態動作大刺刺的,說到高興處時眉飛色舞,但談到作品的不足時,總不自覺就收起笑容。看似不拘小節的個性,對作品的像真度及表現方式,卻異常地執著。

大學時期,中島美雪專攻雕塑藝術,後來自學刺繡,現在以刺繡作為創作媒介,她卻不視之為平面創作,而是雕塑作品。沒有人會質疑她的說法,因為她的作品著實是由細線堆疊而成的。一條立體的小魚乾裡看來腦滿腸肥,裡面並非塞了綿花,而是她一針一針地,將線越縫越滿,小魚越縫越厚,直到使盡全身力氣,都無法把針插進去,才肯收手。一尾不過五厘米的小魚乾,花了整整一個月才完成,別人取笑她「變態」,她欣然接受,不作否認。

雕塑藝術對中島美雪的吸引力,在於創作時五感得以自由運用,因此也希望自己的刺繡雕塑,能夠予觀者香味、觸感、聲音、口感的想像。看著眼前的秋刀魚,我們忽然感到肚子餓,原來除了鼻子,連腸胃也實實在在被觸動了。

“This mackerel pike can still be improved,” said Miyuki Nakajima, “I’ve received a feedback, after someone who took a look at the exhibition promotional photo, that went, ‘The fish looks like it’s cooked in the fish grill (a small pull-out grill that can be found in a typical Japanese kitchen). Mackerel pike cooked on a Shichirin grill should have some different grill marks.’ This made me realize it shouldn’t be displayed this way,” Nakajima explained in a cheerful voice. As a person who is not bothered by small matters, she is surprisingly strict with recreating things in the most truthful way and display them in the best setup. When talking about her art, she would all of a sudden become very serious.

Nakajima majored in sculpture art in college and learned embroidery on her own upon graduation; embroidery has, later on, become her primary medium of art. The biggest difference between her and other embroidery artists is how she identifies embroidery as sculpture art. Sculpture art is, perhaps, a better way to categorize her works. Instead of stuffing the embroidery fish with cotton balls, she actually kept stitching until it became a three-dimensional fish. As the fish embroidery got seamlessly stitched with layers of thread, it became almost impossible for her to poke a needle in even with the greatest strength; only until then did Nakajima decide to stop threading. The whole process is so manual and time-consuming, the little “dried fish” that is no longer than 5 cm actually took her one whole month to finish making. People may call her crazy, but she would happily take this comment without disagreeing.

Miyuki Nakajima has always been attracted by sculpture art. When making a sculpture, the artist can apply all the five senses in the creative process. Nakajima hopes that her embroidery sculpture can also spark the imagination of viewers from all perspectives including vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. Looking at the mackerel pike, we began to feel hungry. Not only did our nose get tricked, but our stomach also got triggered to feel ravenous.

R:Ron Lam
N:中島美雪/Miyuki Nakajima

R:您是甚麼時候開始作刺繡的呢?
N:大學時,一位我很昂慕的女性,送了我手造的刺繡髮飾,自此我便對刺繡產生了興趣。然而初時我完全無法掌握刺繡技術,無法造出自己理想中的作品。我曾經一度放棄剌繡,轉而製作皮鞋,就在因為腱鞘炎而考慮放棄造皮鞋時,刺繡髮飾壤了。那時我突然想,或許可以再次嘗試做刺繡,但這次希望能做出富個人風格的「自己的作品」。那是2010年的事。

R:您的作品風格非常獨特,是何時開始這風格的呢?為了建立原創的風格,你特意做了甚麼呢?
N:我早期的作品以動物及魚類等為主,現在的風格是在2015年開始,慢慢累積而成的。起初我並沒有意識到「原創」這回事,我沒有學習過刺繡,偶爾會被問「在哪裡學習刺繡呢」,但我其實連刺繡書都沒有讀過,更加不懂得刺繡花紋的專門名字。我確實是從一開始就沒打算學習刺繡,也沒有刻意去看別人的作品,我想,單憑原始的直覺,反覆嘗試,不斷摸索的方式,或許較適合我。因此,當被問到竅門時,我可以回答的,只是「一心一意地縫」而已。

R: Since when have you been working on embroidery art?
N: I got to know a lady who I admired very much when I was in college. She embroidered me a piece of hair accessory, which inspired me to learn embroidery. In the beginning, I was too much of an amateur who could not recreate what I had in mind using the technique of embroidery, therefore I had given it up for a while and turned to leather shoemaking. At the same time when I was considering to stop making shoes because of my tenosynovitis, my embroidered headpiece was broken. This reminded me of the option of trying embroidery for one more time. I would like to make something that can reflect my personality. This happened in 2010.

R: You have a very unique style. When did you start building up this style? How did you establish your personal style?
N: My earlier works were not limited to making animals and fishes. My current style began in 2015 and it started to build up from there. At first, I wasn’t too aware of the idea of originality. I’ve never properly learned embroidery. I am sometimes asked where did I learn embroidery, but to be honest, I haven’t even read any books on this topic. I don’t even have the knowledge of the technical terms related to embroidery. Honestly, I never planned to learn embroidery or to observe other people’s embroidery art. I believe it is more of my style to make artwork based on my intuitive thoughts. I enjoy keeping trying and exploring. So when people ask for my advice, all I can say is to suggest them to dedicate their mind to threading.

R:在創作上,您有否受任何人影響呢?
N:我想凡是遇到的人,都對我有影響的,但若要說是成為我的轉捩點的話,應該是我在多摩美術大學時指導過我的石井厚生教授了。我有一段時間對自己的方向感到很疑惑,那時心跟技術不太調和,每天都在掙扎。就在我決定要以刺繡作為創作方式時,教授跟我說「不管以任何方式表現,請不要忘記自己是一個雕塑家」,這話直敲進我的心裡,自此,我便以「雕塑家的刺繡」為創作目標。

R:您的作品很多都是以動物作主題的,您好像是被父母影響而喜歡上動物的,是嗎?
N:是呢。至今為此,我的生活裡都沒有缺少過動物。白兔、倉鼠、松鼠、青鱂魚,烏龜、矇眼貂、金魚、狗⋯⋯我總是跟動物一起生活的。

R:現在作品的主題是怎樣誕生的呢?
N:那些看似不自然的自然事物,究竟為甚麼會顯得自然或普通呢,是我經常探問的重要課題。我跟朋友曾在山上現拾落葉的遊戲,各自尋找被蟲咬過的美麗樹葉,看誰找到的較美。自然賦予的不經意的、美麗的、不自然的東西,常使我著迷著,我想這是現在作品主題誕生的契機之一。

R: Is your creativity inspired or influenced by anyone?
N: I believe I am certainly influenced by every single person I’ve met. If I have to name a turning point in my life, it would be when I was taught by Atsuo Ishii at Tama Art University. There was a period of time when I was a bit lost. I was struggling a lot to maintain a balance between my ambition and my skill. When I have decided to express my creativity through embroidery, Professor Ishii told me “No matter what medium you choose, just do not forget your status as a sculptor.” His advice was implanted in my mind. From then on, I endeavor to create embroidery works made by a sculptor.

R: Animal seems to be a recurring theme of your artwork. Is it true that you became an animal lover because of your parents?
N: That’s right. My life has always been surrounded by animals, I’ve been living with all types of animals like rabbits, hamsters, squirrels, medakas, turtles, ferrets, goldfishes, dogs and so on.

R: How do you usually come up with an idea for your art?
N: I’m often curious about how natural things appear unnatural, and what makes things look natural or normal after all? Me and my friends once played a game in the mountains to compete who could find the most beautiful leaf eaten by bugs. There are unpretentious, beautiful and unnatural things in nature, which are so fascinating. I would say they are the inspiration to my art.

R:可否談談您在創作時,會在意甚麼事呢?
N:首先,是要讓刺繡超越手工藝的框架,展現出藝術、美術的魅力,我發現這需要很多多餘的技術。我的作品很多都是以自然為藍本的,因此也希望能摹臨出自然的形態。例如動物的鼻子下垂直裂開的地方,可以很簡單以一條縱線來表現,然而,若要真實地傳達皮膚隆起的質感、毛髮的紋理,那道縱線,就得用無數的橫線來呈現了。製作鯨魚藍色的光滑身體時,我不想只用藍色的線,而是以很多種色彩的線相疊,一層一層地縫上去。至於鮭魚,被烤得香脆的魚皮跟肉的口感是完全不同的,在創作之初,仔細地調整縫線的密度,成品會看來更加美味。

另一方面,我希望能接觸到更多人對事物的既定觀念,從客觀的角度看我打算創作的對像。除了實物之外,我還會在網路上搜索大量的圖片及資料,整合過後才開始製作。

另外,我還會使用任何人都會使用的素材、任何人都會的方式創作。因此,我不會染製原創色彩的線,而是用隨處可以買到的法國25號刺繡線,將原本六條線卷成的線拆開,一條一條地使用。

R: What are your concerns when creating new work?
N: The most important thing is to take embroidery beyond handicraft. I hope to demonstrate the beauty of art through my embroidery. Then I realized it actually takes a lot more extra techniques. My works are mostly themed around nature, therefore I want to replicate their most natural form. One can easily make a vertical line to represent the philtrum; however, I would like to recreate the cleft as well as the texture of the skin, I would need to replace the vertical line with numerous horizontal lines. To recreate the smooth blue skin of a whale, I prefer to do it with multiple layers of thread in various colors. As for a grilled salmon, the crispy skin has a completely different texture when compared to the flesh. I need to carefully adjust the stitch density so as to make the end product look appealing.

On the other hand, I would like to learn more about the general perception of people so I can view the objects I plan to reproduce from an objective perspective. Apart from observing the thing itself, I would also spend a lot of time researching photos and information online. I would only begin the actual production process only after these steps.

My works are all made with common materials using generally known techniques. I do not dye my own thread; all I do is to buy the typical DMC 25 floss but pull the six strands apart to use them separately.

R:工作中最快樂及最痛苦的事是甚麼呢?
N:「究竟這工作是要多費勁、要多麻煩的啊」,我常這樣想。如果畫畫的話,只要把顏料一抺,眨眼間就能到一平方厘米的空間填滿了吧,但這工作則需要花更長更長的時間,因此,製作時,常感到自己身處一條很長的隧道之中。

作品在何時完成全由自己決定,當看到一道光,在長時間相處的作品中透出時,彷彿日以繼夜的工夫,總算得到回報了,感到非常幸福。然後,當看到作品的人,笑著跟我說:「何以花那麼多的時間,就為了做這些麻煩的蠢事」時,我便想:「好!再來造吧」,並跟著笑起來。

R:今後有甚麼想挑戰的事呢?
N:有很多想做的作品呢,例如我跟歌手中島美雪同名,若用刺繡造出她的唱片封套,該很有趣吧。不過,如要說是挑戰的話,應該是大型的作品吧,我想縫以我的愛犬為藍本,縫隻等身大小的狗。不過比起挑戰,細水長流地延續下去更為重要,我想以此作為跟一直支持我的人的回禮。「細水長流地延續下去」是現在的我的首要目標。

R: Could you share with us the happiest and the saddest moment in your job?
N: I often have a feeling that this is a really time-consuming and troublesome job. If I were a painter, I could easily fill up a one-square-centimeter space with a brush and paint. To fill up the same space with embroidery, it requires a lot more time. I often feel like being stuck in an extremely long tunnel when working on my work.

It is up to my artwork to decide when it is finished. When I finally see some light shining from the piece of work I am working on, all the effort I have spent seems to be worth it. This gives me genuine joy. After seeing my art, some would ask, “Why are you spending so much time on this clumsy and tricky thing?” I would laugh and say, “It’s time to make another one.”

R: Are you looking for taking up some new challenge?
N: There are many things I would like to try making. For example, I share the same name as the singer-songwriter Miyuki Nakajima, it would be an interesting project to make an embroidered album cover for her. But if you are asking about challenges, I think I would like to make an artwork of a larger scale. I want to make a life-size dog embroidery based on my own beloved dog. Compared to challenges, it is more important to focus on things that can last forever. This is my way of saying thank you to people who have been supportive of me. Making things that can last forever is now my utmost priority.