People | 20 QUESTIONS

Maya Onoda: 'I am inspired by the spontaneity of stains'

Staff Writer

Name: Maya Onoda
Age: 35
Nationality: Japanese
Occupation: Installation artist
Likes: The beauty of stains
Dislikes: Pigeons

1. What do the kanji that comprise your first name mean? Would you say they match your personality? I don’t know exactly what the kanji in my first name mean. My parents picked my name more for the sound of it and chose characters based on whether the number of strokes were lucky or not. In spite of this, Maya is such an international name that I was virtually destined to go abroad.

2. What do you miss most about Japan when you are overseas? Miso soup and a bowl of steamed Japanese rice, especially koshihikari because I’m originally from Niigata where the variety comes from.

3. Where do you go to escape Tokyo? Inside myself. I stay at home and do some yoga, or pour myself a cup of coffee and read a book to get into my own imagination.

4. What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? “表裏一体” (“hyōri ittai,” or “two sides of the same coin”). I like this phrase because it explains the cosmos perfectly in just four characters.

5. What’s your favorite phrase in any language? “Whatever happens, happens!” Just believing this makes my life so much happier and easier!

6. What’s the most exciting/outrageous thing you have ever done? I partied too much the day before the final presentations of a painting class in college. I had to present my work in front of the whole class still smelling of alcohol and couldn’t stay awake for my classmates’ presentations.

7. What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? Someone asked to install my (“Kaleidoscope”) installation in a bathroom. However, I really enjoyed how people reacted.

8. Name the person in Japan you admire the most? Artist Tadanori Yoko. He’s a mentor who has taught me to trust my intuition.

9. If you could share a bottle of wine with any artist from history, who would it be? Taro Okamoto. It would be fun to drink with such an eccentric artist like him.

10. Your artwork primarily uses everyday items you find around your apartment. Don’t you ever run out of materials? I don’t think I ever run out of materials — in the same way that you never run out of your imagination.

11. Your recent installation, “Kaleidoscope,” is covered in stains. What do you find inspiring or attractive about such streaks? I am inspired by the spontaneity of stains. When most people get a coffee stain on their clothes, they try to get rid of it; that same shape, though, becomes beautiful as a drawing. Art changes your perspective and allows you to see things differently — as if you’re turning the tube of a kaleidoscope.

12. If you were a color, what kind of artwork would you be? The black of sumi ink in suibokuga. I admire how the gradations of ink can express a lot of color.

13. How does your art make you feel? It surprises me because I pretty much improvise when I install my work.
Sometimes I even feel like someone else did it for me. I enjoy that feeling.

14. How would you get an elephant into a refrigerator? I would put an elephant drawing on a piece of paper into it.

15. Name three uses of a stapler without staples. Use it as an instrument; present it as a found object sculpture; deconstruct it and use its parts for something else.

16. What superhero would you most like to be? Goku from “Dragon Ball.” He’s great at martial arts.

17. What song best describes your work ethic? “Imagine” by John Lennon. I’m using my art to visualize things that you don’t see (but you might see).

18. Who would win a fight between a lion and tiger? Neither. They both understand they don’t need to fight.

19. What do you want to be when you grow up? A martial artist.

20. Do you have any words of advice for young people? See your own country from the outside; it’s easier to see something you haven’t experienced before when you’re not stuck on the inside.

Maya Onoda’s “Kaleidoscope” was displayed at the 2013 Moscow Biennale: Onoda also makes custom-made Converse sneakers:

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