In a few words, Kana Harada shares some insights about the works from and inspiration for her latest exhibition. In Divine Spark at Asia Society Texas Center, Harada’s sculptural installations and works on paper aim to provide a space for repose and meditation — scenes mined from dreams, gardens and the mysteries of the cosmos and the deep sea.
Caitlin Duerler Chávez: I first encountered your work at your exhibition Celestial Garden at the Art Museum of Southeast Texas in June 2020. In that show, I appreciated how your work transformed the gallery into a meditative space after months of quarantine during the early part of the pandemic. How has the pandemic affected your art making in your new show, Divine Spark?
Kana Harada: When COVID first hit, it was so unreal, and I felt like I was floating in some kind of bad movie. And because I live in the heart of downtown Dallas, the sounds outside my window — the hustle and bustle of the city — was all gone one day. The more serious things got, the more serious the silence felt. Then, the stories I started hearing were more and more heartbreaking. Because my art has always been about wanting to convey a sense of peace, calmness and a joy of life — the joy of being given life — I was even more focused and determined to convey that because that’s what I wanted, not just for myself, but for all of us around the world.
CDC: Your show at the Asia Society, Houston travelled from the Crow Museum of Asian Art in Dallas. In what ways did working with the curator, the gallery space and the architecture at Asia Society influence the presentation of this body of work?
KH: Asia Society’s gallery space is about three times the size of the Crow Museum’s. The ceiling is almost double in height, so I needed more pieces in the show and ended up with nine more works at Asia Society. And I added larger sculptural pieces as well. I also included some smaller works that I hadn’t shown in a while — especially this little piece called Little Monster (2012). It’s a sculptural piece made with a found root, which is kind of fun.
The exhibition space at Asia Society is divided into four galleries and has openings to the different spaces — you can go into the next room, but you can also peek through the room. I really enjoy that setting and the little bit of subtle separation, like the corridor part of the gallery, where I am showing a lot of my white pieces. And I think the pieces that I added work because of the way the Asia Society gallery spaces are designed, and also because my subject matter is the same whether the work is white, dark, or in color.
I also got to show two folding screens in the show, and viewers can walk around them. But at the Crow, I wanted them against the walls. That’s how I envisioned it in that space and it worked out great. But at Asia Society, because the space is so huge, I requested that it be possible for people to walk around them and they made it happen.
CDC: I really enjoyed that aspect of the show. How do you approach these three-dimensional folding screen works compared to your framed drawings and watercolors?
KH: The folding screens were my late grandmother’s in San Francisco and I got them after she passed. Because she was a tea master, she had a few of those. So I received three or four of them, and two of them are in the show. For a long time I didn’t have the guts to do anything with them — once I put my brush to it, there was no going back because I can’t change the paper. So it took me a while, but last year for some reason, the light bulb went off and I thought ‘let’s just paint on it and see how it works’ and I really enjoyed doing it.
CDC: I love that green — it’s such a statement in the gallery.
KH: Right? I finished Welcome to My Forest on New Year’s Eve at 9 o’clock in the evening, 2020. And I wanted, I was really craving to be in green — just diving into green — I think I was craving nature, like a jungle…
CDC: My favorite thing about going into Celestial Garden at AMSET and Divine Spark at Asia Society was having the space to myself — that really made it special, immersive, and personal, because all of your work is moving and activated because of me…it’s because of my walking and changing the gallery’s airflow — creating a draft. The opportunity to go into these rooms and activate works just with my presence is a beautiful experience.
KH: I do wish that the people who visit let the show be about themselves — that they let it be about you, not me or the objects that you’re seeing outside of yourself. These pieces were truly made with you, the viewers, in mind…let the show walk with you, sit with you.
CDC: I want to ask about your inspiration for these huge hanging pieces, many of which resemble chandeliers — one work in Divine Spark even includes a lamp component. Do you look to or consider interior design as an influence in the shape of your hanging installations?
KH: I do love interior design — I consider it like installation but do not consider it an influence. I have wanted to use a lighting mechanism in my suspended pieces for a long time, ten, maybe even twenty years, and I never got around to it. But I found this special paper in Japan and it just came together.
CDC: How does your preparation for your 2D work compare with preparation for your sculptures? Are these practices similar?
KH: They’re similar, but with my 3D pieces the preparation can be a bit more physical. For example, if I have a piece of wood, I let the found object ‘tell’ me what it wants me to do with it. I find a place to hang it and start working from there. For a piece like Little Monster (2012) — because that is such a very distinctive looking piece of root — the result of the work was influenced by its cute, toadstool appearance and its anthropomorphic quality. When I first saw it, I was like, ‘oh, it looks like mushroom spores or something toxic.’
CDC: You cite your heritage as another source of inspiration in your installations and papercraft. In your AMSET show, you celebrated Mount Fiji in your airy, bright installation of Celestial Garden. For this show, you use a darker palette with neon bright colors in many of the works, like in Love Letter from the Future (2019). Could a potential inspiration for these works be an urban nightscape like Tokyo, near your childhood home, or Dallas, your current home?
KH: To me it’s like a midnight garden or a cosmic landscape. My inspiration is the very quiet, peaceful, almost out of body moment when you’re just right about to fall asleep. The colors in my work are not from a cityscape, but truly are from the cosmos, the astral plane, the heavens celestial. I also love the deep, deep sea, where light doesn’t reach and there are those fish and creatures that have adapted by becoming luminescent and colorful.
CDC: How has living in Texas influenced your work?
KH: Before I came to Dallas, to be honest, I never thought of making anything 3D. But when I came here, I was given a large space, with full ceilings and huge walls — oh my god, what am I going to do with this? So that got me started working with the corrugated cardboard that was lying around from my move from Tokyo. And then back in the early 2000s, I found foam sheet for the first time at a local art supply store and it just fascinated me. So I took a black sheet of foamboard home and that’s how it all started. I just wanted to fill my ceiling with chandelier-like, birdcage-inspired pieces, tons of them. And that’s how Texas changed me as an artist.
Kana Harada’s exhibition Divine Spark is on view at the Asia Society Texas Center through January 9, 2022.