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An Interview with Eden Advocate Miya Ando

The first thing that struck me when I met Miya Ando, is her infectious generosity. She's also tiny, like a little bird, which is such a juxtaposition to the monumental projects she creates. With a history rich in Japanese sword making, Miya has embraced the beautiful traditions of her ancestry, and creates amazing metal sculptures that have a life of their own.

This past September Miya took on a highly admirable project commissioned by the 9/11 Foundation as part of a project aimed at teaching British teenagers about the events of 10 years ago. In memory of all those people that lost their lives in the terrorist attack, Miya created the "Peace" sculpture. Made from recovered steel from the remnants of the Twin Towers, the sculpture was unveiled at a temporary location in Battersea Park, South London. The polished metal reflects the beauty of its surroundings, and reminds us of hope for the future. I am truly inspired by the amazing talent and vision of this young woman.

I asked Miya a couple of questions about creating her 9/11 sculpture, and wanted to share the interview with you guys!

1. Please describe your 9/11 Memorial Sculpture?

The sculpture is a piece of World Trade Center Steel, I polished part of the steel to a mirror finish. When I was commissioned for the sculpture, I was asked to create something with a piece of World Trade Center steel and was given the opportunity to select a piece from Hangar 17 at JFK airport where the steel was being stored by the Port Authority. I selected a piece that was actually three 30 foot columns held together by a big plate, I left the form of the steel exactly as I found it, I just transformed it by sanding and polishing the plate into a mirror. I had never worked with a 'found object' before, as my practice has been to work with raw materials and create my own forms and surfaces, but I thought it could be powerful to leave the piece of steel exactly as I found it, stand it up and show a (polished and sanded) transformation in the surface of part of the steel.

2. You live in NYC, what were you feeling when you were first asked to create this piece?

I felt and still feel incredibly honored to have been given the opportunity to create this sculpture.

3. How did you choose the metal for your sculpture?

When I visited Hangar 17 at JFK airport where the WTC steel was being stored, the head archivist Peter Gat of the Port Authority showed the piece to me at the very end of the day, it had this huge plate which reminded me of the steel plates I had been working on in my studio practice and it was very clear that this was the piece for me. The entire 30 foot piece was covered with very very heavy rust, but I knew that sanded and polished, inside would be a shiny, refined surface.

4. How did you feel when you saw your sculpture erected in it's home in the UK?

It was really the first time i had seen it in direct sunlight and I was stunned at the bright light that was reflected by the mirror finish - for such an object of materiality, it felt very ethereal and almost transparent as it reflected the sky, the clouds, redirected the sunlight.

5. What draws you to use metals in your work?

Light and Reflectivity are my main interests right now. Metal has this amazing, dynamic ability to become a mirror and become almost a void of light which intrigues me. I started working with steel when I was pretty young, I fabricated these big steel sculptures, worked with blacksmithing, jewelry, and then patinas and finishes for the past several years. I was drawn to the medium when in the beginning because I had been exposed to metals when I was a child and I come from a heritage of steel in my Japanese family. I still hope that I honor my family by my approach to and respect for the material. I just developed this brand new technique where I'm working with water instead of fire - for years I've been creating these different finishes on metals with fire in conjunction with patinas and chemicals, acids - now I'm hand dying aluminum in these big vats of dyes in gradients and anodizing them so the color is embedded into the skin of the metal and very tough, can't be scratched. It's really fun and exciting to do something pioneering and the effects are these really subtle shifts in color and feel like soft watercolors on hard, solid metal..

6. Please describe the process of creating the piece?

I worked with Milgo Bufkin, metal fabricators in Brooklyn for almost 2 years on this piece. The team there is Incredible and they helped me move the piece and all the very hard work of transforming the rusty steel into the mirror finish. I was so humbled by their commitment, their belief in my idea for the piece and their dedication. They treated the material with such care and respect, there are over 50 people there who moved this 8000 pound piece of steel with such care and worked so incredibly hard to make it shine. They all stood outside their Brooklyn shop on 9/11 and watched the towers fall, they worked incredibly hard and it was a long process to sand and polish such a rusted object into such a refined surface.

7. What is upcoming for you?

I just had a solo exhibition in Tokyo and will have another in Los Angeles coming up. I am very excited to be showing a new technique that I have been developing in the past few months. I've created a technique that is inspired by 'Ai-zome' (a word that means traditional Indigo Dyeing in Japan) but instead of dyeing fabric with Indigo, I am permanently dyeing aluminum plates and solid cubes. The process is that I hand dye the aluminum in big baths of dye and water and then anodize the aluminum, the result is like a permanent watercolor and gradients of color embedded into the material, it is very very tough and can even go outdoors - I think of this new series of work as a switch from working with fire to working with water - in the past I've created wall works on steel by using fire and heat and acid and chemicals. This series is all about water and dye and is really fun and exciting...the results are very ethereal and has very subtle shifts in color...but in solid metal.

I'll be showing sculpture and wall works in the new technique at Lora Schelsinger Gallery in Santa Monica, the opening is December 10 and the show runs from December 10, 2011 - January 14, 2012.

Galerie Sho

Miya Ando 'Elements' Solo Exhibition
Opening Reception 10/24 18:00- 20:00
Artist's talk 19:30
Galerie Sho Contemporary Art
B1F Sansho Bldg., 3-2-9 Nihonbashi Chuo-ku Tokyo 103-0027
Phone + 81- 03 - 3275 - 1008 | Fax. + 81 - 03 - 3273 - 9309
Weekdays 11: 00 - 19: 00 | Saturdays 11: 00 - 17: 00
Closed on Sundays & Holidays

Contact :

8. Any other public projects?

I just completed a public commission that was unveiled in Korea last week for the Haein Art Project. It was so fantastic to install work at the Haeinsa Buddhist temple, about 4 hours drive deep into the mountains outside of Seoul. I was commissioned to create 108 luminous cube sculptures which I installed outside of the temple. The cubes are made with resin and phosphorescence and are arranged in a gradient of color, from white to orange (I was inspired by the color of Buddhist Monk Robes in Korea) - the cubes contain a phosphorescent pigment that absorbs light during the day and at night emit a gradient of soft light, from a dim light to a very bright orange color light - so the piece is a gradient of color in the day and a gradient of light at night. I titled the piece 'Obon: Temple' - i will also be creating a public, temporal outdoor commission for the Fist Art foundation based on the 'Obon' concept.

9. The sculpture is in a temporary location at Battersea Park in London. How do you feel about that?

I've not been involved at all with that part of the project, as my only role was to select the steel and create the concept for the sculpture and make the sculpture itself. I very much hope that the 9/11 London Foundation and the city of London are able to find an appropriate, permanent location for the piece. - from an interview with Miya Ando, September 20, 2011