Interview: Sayaka Maruyama’s labyrinth of thoughts

‘memorandom 0’ by Sayaka Maruyama

Contributed by Emma Stolarski / I spotted New York-based Japanese artist Sayaka Maruyama’s memorandom 0 by chance on the growing art book collection of my former boss’s office shelves. On the cover, a vague image of in-progress notes and sketches prompted me to crack the spine, and from looking at the very first page I felt the familiar excitement for what an artist’s book might reveal. The fragmented thoughts and open-ended questions that run throughout the pages left me spiraling, charged between inspiration and validation. Sayaka Maruyama stops time, brings dream playgrounds to life, and strings random notes into something whole. She is a creative genius. 

By piecing together sporadic visions and messages Maruyama receives from the universe, memorandom 0 exists as a record of the space between Maruyama’s conscious and unconscious mind. She transforms the chaos of the creative brain and in doing so, asks readers to recognize their own inner voice and senses. The book was released this spring to coincide with an exhibition of her work in Tokyo. I asked her to expand on her recorded ideas.

Left: Sayaka Maruyama, Labyrinth of thoughts, 2017, acrylic on paper, 24 x 16 inches; Right: Sayaka Maruyama, Fragmented thoughts, 2017, acrylic on paper, 20 x 16 inches

Emma Stolarski: How has the response been to your first artist’s book, memorandom 0?

Sayaka Maruyama: I did a book launch and art exhibition of memorandom 0 in Tokyo in April. It was a limited edition of 100 copies, and I sold most of them. So the response has been positive and people seem to be interested in my work. I got especially good feedback from women. I’m working on memorandom 1. I’d like more people to see my work.

ES: You and your creative partner, Tomihiro Kono, created konomad, a multidisciplinary platform and independent publisher. How did this artistic endeavor come about?

SM: Yes. Tomi and I have been working together for 15 years, starting with “Neon O’clock Works,” which is really confined to making conceptual art.  konomad is a multidisciplinary platform for much more versatile activities, including fashion, design, pop-up events, exhibitions, and publications. We have created experimental artwork, including short films and photography series. I do the photography, film editing, drawing, book design, and graphic design. Tomi is a hair stylist and head prop and wig maker. We share a desire to create visual images, and both believe in the power of visual communications as a means of enhancing community relations and cross-genre collaborations.

Sayaka Maruyama, Antenna, 2019, photography, size varies
Sayaka Maruyama, Utopic playgrounds, 2017, acrylic on paper

ES: How do the diverse artistic mediums lend themselves to your eclectic style of thought?

SM: I played with different mediums for the exhibition, which was itself called “memorandom.” It consisted of drawing, photography, fabric-art, paperwork, collages, and objects. For me, thoughts just naturally lend themselves to different forms of expressions. Sometimes I think of new ideas and just draw. When I get strong inspirations from people, I take portrait photography. When I find pieces of wood, or stones in the street, I might be inspired to use them in some different way. Fabric was a new thing for me. I recently started using a sewing machine to make frames for photographs.

ES: You wrote that memorandom 0 is in part intended to clear up room for new ideas and connections. Now that you have put certain ideas out into the world, can you feel space opening up? 

SM: Yes, I definitely do feel space opening up. The process of making a book helps me tidy up my brain by recording a particular chapter in my creative journey. I can then move on more confidently to the next chapter but at the same time easily refer back to where I was.

Sayaka Maruyama, Eight women, 2017, acrylic on canvas board
Sayaka Maruyama, Space Poetry (ATLAS), 2019, paper, 8.5 x 11 inches

ES: What role do space and absence play in the design of your book?

SM: Leaving some space is important for memorandom. It means a pause for me. The contents of ‘memorandom’ do not fit in a specific form so I thought the randomized contents might confuse the reader in some way. That’s why I made some empty pages as chapters. Also the idea of ‘memorandom’ originally comes from memo – so I think it’s natural to have some empty spaces.

Even in the exhibition, playing with 3D space was a new challenge for me, I’m glad I did the exhibition to see my random oeuvre come alive.

ES: Communication and expression are a central focus in your work. What is your relationship to language, and how does it affect your inner dialogue and expression of it?

SM: I relate more to and am more comfortable with visual language than verbal language. I’m not as good at talking so it’s natural for me to communicate how I perceive this world through photography, drawing, short film, and artist’s books.

Sayaka Maruyama, States of mind, 2018, pen on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches
Left: “When a halo appeared on the notebook”; Sayaka Maruyama, Repeated words, 2017, pencil on notebook, 7 x 9 inches

ES: You write about receiving messages and interpreting them in your work. Can you talk a bit about your creative practice and how it informs your life, and vice versa?

SM: When I refer to receiving messages in daily life, there are two types of moments I have in mind. One is the light-bulb instant in which I have an idea or the vague contour of an image occurs to my mind. That moment can fade into vagueness in few seconds, and if I don’t somehow jot it down it can easily disappear. It might mean nothing, but it might also blossom into something important. Moments of this kind become elements of my personal record, which are explicitly included in the book. Then there are more abstract, subconscious messages that are harder to articulate verbally. To memorialize these I like drawing. It’s more casual than, say, painting, and I think a more direct reflection of my subconscious mind.

ES: How does your expansive art practice overlap with your photography career?

SM: My personal practice certainly brings positive energy to my photography work. I consciously avoid settling on one specific medium because sticking to a single form can artificially narrow or restrict ideas. More random forms of expressions also just refresh and stimulate my mind.

Sayaka Maruyama, Untitled, 2019, paper collage, pen drawings on paper, 8.5 x 11 inches
Sayaka Maruyama, Musique, 2017, photography, 6 x 9 inches

ES: Who inspires you?

SM: Sigmar Polke, Suellen Rocca, Nikholis Planck, Stan Brakhage, among many others.

ES: Lastly, what were you like as a child?

SM: My family moved to Amstelveen, near Amsterdam, in the Netherlands when I was 13. I loved art class and had a great art teacher. I was a shy girl who loved drawings. Actually, I haven’t changed much, lol.

Sayaka Maruyama’s memorandom 0 was published by konomad press in April 2019. A few copies of the first print edition are available at Printed Matter.

Left: Found painting, Paris, 1956; Right: Sayaka Maruyama, Re-interpretation of the found painting, 2018

About the author: Emma Stolarski is an interdisciplinary artist and writer based in New York. She is the editorial assistant at Two Coats of Paint and works in various studios throughout the city.

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