2013 Artist of the Year Exhibition

At first I was ecstatic about mounting the 2013 Artist of the Year exhibition. Then panic ensued. The task of filling the entire main floor galleries of the Pittsburgh Center of the Art seemed insurmountable.

Flash back to times in my studio. I imagined works that inhabited spaces that existed deep in what I call my “dream space.”  The thought of having this world come to life for my exhibition was enticing.

Little did I know that this innocent idea could be so much work. I saw several of these “dream space” works in forms of laborious hand derived methods. I have a kinship to techniques such as crochet, weaving and stitching. These are often given little or no value in the realm of art. But I enjoy producing artwork from humble techniques that take contemporary forms.

These forms exist in a rarified sort of space: “white space.” I imagine it in my reverie. The space is pure. Innocence is complete and time ceases.  But the atmosphere is brilliantly light. The objects are proportioned in a way that activate the space around them. Space here is thought of as almost a solid entity. Contrast is totally for the sake of play. Using “women’s work” techniques to bring life to the forms that I conjure up in my dream space is how I delight in creating my work. Upon reflection, these techniques constitute the core concepts that I have threaded though out my journey in making art.

To view more short documentary pieces about Akiko Kotani’s work, click here.

This video was made possible through a Creative Development Grant, which is generously supported by The Heinz Endowments and The Pittsburgh Foundation. The video was filmed and edited by Ben Hernstrom of Ambulantic Videoworks.


The materials that I use allow for a wide range of expression. I delight in them all: the exhibition features silk organza, glass, paper, plastic, and bamboo threads. I had worked with plastic before. However, the exaggerated scale of crocheting of thousands of strips cut from 1, 000 white plastic 45 gallon bags over more than 2 years constituted an entirely new experience for me.

The entrance gallery features a diaphanous four-layered ceiling piece. Large layers of silk organza reach to the corners. On each layer, curved lines are stitched. These lines occur differently on each of the four panels. The work bends ever so slowly overhead. Its title is Silk Clouds.

Wind, Clouds, and Reeds inhabit the space of the second gallery. Each work consists of four etched panels, and each group of four is sized differently. Their images were initially inspired by the locations of artist residencies years ago: Wind and Reeds at the Vermont Studio, Johnson, VT and Clouds at the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Annaghmakerrig, Ireland. The weather patterns at both places changed so frequently and in so remarkably dramatic a way that I found myself compelled to mark them. Transformed by their glass setting, these pieces retain the mix of fragility and endurance characteristic of the nature that inspired them.

The space-engulfing structure called Soft Walls, installed in the third gallery, presents thousands of square feet of intertwined plastic enveloping a secure wooden underpinning. The plastic encasement flows off the wall and puddles at the floor. One wall is 18 feet long and the other is 13 feet long. Both measure 8 feet high by 1½ feet deep. Its combination of external flexibility and, thanks to the wood, internal solidity might be thought of as the image of a tender and soft mother who is, in truth, the strength of the family. In fact, one of the underlying motives was to honor my mother’s love of handwork and that of other women by employing this technique. Another was to transform an everyday material that we often take for granted into a means of artistic expression.

Views of the Bosphorus, takes its departure from my sojourn in Istanbul not long ago, where I taught art for two plus years. I had heard rapturous reports of Istanbul’s seductive beauty, but even these reports fell short of what I encountered there. The Strait of Bosphorus could be seen closely from the village of Sariyer where I lived, and most of the restaurants and museums that I visited were situated directly on its waters. The pieces in the fourth gallery were created by stitching bamboo threads onto paper, and constitute a dream vision of the waterways.