An untempered spirit in the face of a lockdown

The lockdown that occurred with the arrival of a pandemic seemed to make many working mothers’ anxious because of the cancellation of daycares and schools; however, my experience was that of amazement. I materialized a new vein of sculptures made from a broad array of materials: animal bones, brass, copper pipes, and seashells, in collaboration with my three-year old daughter, Ai.

Here, in the photo, I am working on brazing a life-size brass sculpture while my daughter entertains herself. I used to rely on steel to build the foundation of my work but with my daughter around, it presented a challenge for re-invention. I had to avoid using the harsh fire spark and strong UV light of the welder. One day, I had an epiphany at the sight of raw plumbing pipes laying around my neighborhood. I realized that brazing copper and brass is less dangerous, producing only a minimum hand-torch flame that I could isolate from my daughter. At the same time, I recognized how compatible it was for creating armatures allowing me to substitute it for steel.

Ai has learned to navigate around and identified what is sharp, heavy, hard, hot and cold through her own physical sensation and enchantment. The discoveries we accrued in the studio together consisted of Ai understanding my desire to make objects and I learned how incredibly fast young children can adapt to new circumstances. She seeks opportunity — not security. Ai is a perfect example of an untempered spirit.

Several years ago, I decided to place my studio on the border of Brooklyn and Queens. I’ve learned what it’s like to make a new land my true home. I used to move a lot when I was a kid, and I developed a habit of not caring about my local surroundings because I knew I would just be uprooting myself eventually. But at some point, I became very motivated to start over with a new perspective.

For now, I am likely back to my pre-lockdown routine. I am currently working on a public sculpture project in Governors Island, gearing up to exhibit work in a few group-shows opening in the Spring of 2021 in New York, and preparing for a solo presentation in Tokyo next Fall. I am also in the process of moving into a new studio, so the studio Ai and I spent so much time in together is not accessible to us anymore.

Ai is about to roll into her 4th year. As she grows, I wonder how she will recall the memories of being in the studio with me. Although the year 2020 brought on a worldwide tragedy and anxiety, it taught me to rethink certain things: a family unit is defined by its members; a town is more than the individuals who inhabit it.

– Yasue Maetake