Linda Nishio

Do you often incorporate family stories and/or community stories in your work?

My work has basically been about perception and how that perception is influenced and conditioned by how we think. Much of my early conditioning originated, of course, at home. So in that abstract sense, my work has evolved from ideas of family. There have been specific works that deal with references to personal stories, most often in performances I created in the 70's and 80's (i.e. "The Ghost in the Machine," "In the Dark Once Again," "Global Aphasia"). By the very nature of being Japanese/American woman, performance/conceptual artist in the late 70's, one's sense of identity became an issue and I found myself exploring the dilemmas and paradoxes of this existence in my work. There were very few artists of color who were in the contemporary art scene then, very different from today. At that time, I was fortunate to have found a supportive community of artists at the Women's Building in downtown L.A. In that environment, the personal stories became the tools for making art, as opposed to the more formal issues that dictated contemporary art. And although I always secretly liked and often utilized formalism in my work, it never seemed complete without another edge. More recently, ideas that originated from personal experiences have been the springboard to sculptural installations, photography and conceptual issues. Sometimes the personal references are direct, sometimes they are not so readily visible.

How did the idea for your pieces for Finding Family Stories begin?

Kikoemasu ka? (Can you hear me?) was originally created for a kiosk in Little Tokyo in 1982. It faced the street so both pedestrians and motorists would see the piece as they passed by. The kiosk is still there on Second Street between San Pedro and Central. In the photographs, with exaggerated gestures, I am mouthing out the syllables of "ki-ko-e-ma-su-ka?" with my face smashed against glass. Accompanying these photographs is text that reads like a brief bio that comments on a state of alienation. I was recently trying to remember when I made it and the context for it. All I remember was feeling very invisible then, and wanting to break that sense of obscurity. The second work, Watashi wa Nietzche-o desu (This is Nietzsche-o speaking) was created specifically for this installation. It is an answer to Kikoemasu ka? and really is about presumption and deception. I began investigating Nietzsche because his name had a similar sound to Nishi(o). I also became fascinated with associations between Germany/Japan/America. I wanted Watashi wa Nietzsche-o desu to look like a Japanese scroll. The text is excerpted from Nietzsche's Human, All Too Human and seemed the appropriate text to reference for this work. Excerpts from the essay From the Souls of Artists and Writers in Human, All Too Human were typeset in a pseudo-Germanic typeface called Wilhem Klingspor Gotish and is tilted on its side to resemble Japanese characters. It is written in an English typeface. If one takes the time to interpret the work, another level of understanding is gained. Otherwise, it appears to be just another Japanese scroll hanging on the wall.

By choosing to portray your family stories and/or community stories in your work, you bring something that is private to the public. What do you hope to achieve?

It is interesting that you ask about the meaning of bringing something private to the public. I've always felt that the Japanese people were by nature very private people who kept their emotions in check and thought it was in bad taste to "air their dirty laundry" in public. This always seemed to me to be a paradox of being American.

Linda Nishio is a sansei, third-generation Japanese American, living in Pasadena. A recipient of a NEA artists fellowship, her work has been exhibited locally and nationally. She received her MFA in fine arts from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. She teaches at Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles in the new genres department and owns a graphic design business. Her work ins conceptual in approach and stems from curiosity about how our perceptions of the world are formed and transformed.

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