Interview with ‘Media Lux’ Artist Gina Takaoka

This is the second installment of the Media Lux artist interview series. Media Lux features work by Clay Dunklin, Mason Hurley, Irene Pantelis, Monroe Isenberg, and Gina Takaoka.

Gina Takaoka | Graduate Student and Artist | Exhibiting in Media Lux from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018 at The Stamp Gallery | University of Maryland, College Park | Interview by Cristy Ho

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Let’s begin with some background: where are you from, where have you studied, and what brought you to study at UMD?

I am from Southern California. I got my BFA in Drawing and Painting from California State University, Fullerton. I came to UMD because I wanted to live someplace new, and Washington D.C. was a good fit for my partner’s education and career goals at the time.

 You’re a tattoo artist as well as an installation artist. What aspects of these occupations do you enjoy the most?

On the surface, my job as a tattooer is very different from the approach I take in the studio. When it comes to tattooing, the part that I enjoy the most is those moments where I’m working and I can shut my head off and get lost in the process. Tattooing is all about craft and process, whereas my studio work involves a lot of research and problem-solving. My favorite part about my studio practice is getting to constantly learn and discover new things.

 You’ve described your artistic interests to be in “the poetic intersections between history, memory, and place.” Can you talk a little more about your experiences with moving frequently and how they’ve inspired you to create the work you make today?

 I like to think of physical places as a kind of repository for history and memory, and I think that idea is rooted in the fact that I moved around so much. The chronology of my memory is organized by place, and I think that everyone experiences this to a certain extent. Because of this, place tends to be the theme that organizes my work, and I spend most of my time investigating locations of historical or personal significance. Lately this train of thought has taken me toward issues of environmental significance and the idea of “future forgotten places”.

 Now, let’s talk about your artworks currently on display in the Stamp Gallery. There is imagery relating to maps in both of your artworks,Above/Below and Data Mine/Mine Data. Are these works based on any maps in particular?

Data Mine // Mine Data is a map of the locations of known abandoned coal mines from Pennsylvania to Mississippi; it basically spans the Appalachian mountain region. Above // Below is more general; I pulled satellite images from the surface of the earth, maps of underground mine workings, points from the map used to create Data Mine // Mine Data, and some abstracted images from the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Above/Below, printed acetate, vellum, paper, plexiglass, 2018

 I really enjoy how your artworkAbove/Below sprawls across the wall. The composition reminds me a lot of one of my favorite pieces at the Hirshhorn called In Memory of Your Feelings by Mary Bauermeister. This piece as well as this particular artwork of yours consist of backgrounds that are obscured by blobs and overlain with glass. Do the scattered and covered maps in Above/Below represent how one might remember or recall places in their mind?

 With Above // Below, I was interested in the idea that the various images I had been looking at, despite the fact that they represented very different types of information at drastically different scales, seemed nearly identical when their scale and context were shifted. These tiny dots that represented forgotten underground places looked like stars, and images of stars looked like a tunnel entrance viewed from beneath the earth. Each panel has layers of information from above the earth, below it, or the surface of the earth itself, arranged in sequences that don’t necessarily correspond to their usual order.

 Another question I have aboutAbove/Below: How did you decide where to place each piece in relation to each other on the wall?

There isn’t a strict system that governs the arrangement of the panels; I hung them somewhat intuitively, hoping that the overall result might resemble a constellation.

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Data Mine // Mine Data, lasercut matboard, charcoal, LED, 2018

 Moving on to your other piece, is there a story behind why you named it Data Mine // Mine Data?

Titles are always a struggle for me. With work that is based on specific information, I always go back and forth between choosing a title that explains the whole thing, or being a little more vague. “Date Mine // Mine Data” was a working title for when I showed the piece at the National Academy of Science, and it was definitely geared toward announcing the content somewhat.

 The lights splattering the walls and ceiling from inside the cube strongly reminds me of stars. In fact, the blobs inAbove/Belowalso remind me of stars as well as galaxies. Was this intentional?

There are an estimated half a million abandoned mines in the United States, and about fifty thousand of them are coal mines. When I assembled a map of them, I was struck by the fact that there were so many, it looked like they could have been stars in a night sky. I wanted that experience to come across for viewers. I’m fascinated by the notion that we this reverence for combusting elements trillions of miles away, but we’ll dig these caverns to remove elements for combustion and then happily forget those voids existing right beneath our feet.

 When Stamp Gallery visitors experience your work, how do you hope they respond, or what do you hope they realize through your work?

While my work often engages with issues that are somewhat political, I’m not necessarily interested in communicating a particular stance; I’d rather generate awareness and questions that viewers can answer for themselves.

 Lastly, can you tell us what you are currently working on?

The project that I’m currently working on is an inventory of different places that will disappear in the future due to sea level rise. I’m not entirely sure what the final result will be, yet.

Check out Gina Takaoka’s work in Media Lux at The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from April 2nd through May 19th, 2018.

For more information on Gina Takaoka, visit http://www.ginatakaoka.com/

For more information on Media Lux and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.

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