Inspiration in the Ordinary

Yuriko Yamaguchi was trolling her cul-de-sac beside Tysons Corner and ended up grabbing some acorns from a neighbors driveway. The result was an ambitious and eerie sculpture, one of a stream of works she has installed in venues around Washington, from the Shakespeare Theater and the University of Maryland to the Hirshhorn, and around the country.Video by Mike Laris/The Washington PostEditor: Jacqueline Refo/washingtonpost.com
By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008

Yuriko Yamaguchi was walking along her cul-de-sac near Tysons Corner and picked up an acorn. Then she grabbed another.

She took hundreds of them home, spilled them out and took a picture. She stuffed them into plastic newspaper bags, put them in a closet and forgot about them.

A year later, she pulled the bags out. The tight quarters of the dark storage area had been hospitable. Hairy shoots had broken through the shells, and a crimson and brown network of roots had bound the seeds into a tangled mass. She unpeeled the plastic, then teased the seeds apart.

"Look at this -- sprouts! I just didn't know in the beginning what to do with this," she said, pulling out another bag of what looked like alien tadpoles and lighting up at the discovery.

Such moments of mundane inspiration have shaped Yamaguchi's art for decades.

She uses objects and takes cues from her suburban base, away from the artistic epicenters of New York and Los Angeles, to create elaborate works that have been in the Smithsonian's Hirshhorn and American Art museums and in galleries and public spaces across the country.

Yamaguchi traveled this month to see her most recent public sculpture, installed at a light-rail station in Charlotte, and her work is part of an exhibit on display through June 28 at the Adamson Gallery in the District.

She was in her early 20s when she came to the United States from Japan in 1971. She spoke little English and had few friends. Her mother taught her the art of batik, and she spent long stretches of time painting waves of fabric.

"Most of the time, I'm alone," Yamaguchi said. "I just found making art is a sort of substitute for having friends and really kind of sustained my life. The material itself will become a vehicle to carry on our feelings."

She has seen the potential for art everywhere.

Her home, tucked up against the woods on oak-lined Snughill Court in Vienna, is minutes away from one of the Washington region's busiest centers of technology and business. "Back here is very much nature. Then once you drive to Route 7, tech companies," she said. Yamaguchi sometimes works until 5 a.m. on projects colored by that geography and her interest in how people live with change.

For a while, she had her friends give her old computers, which she broke apart because she liked the idea of "decomposing everything." She became fascinated with the colorful innards, and she wired chips and other digital compost together in a cloudlike mobile called "Floating Web."

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