April 01, 2011
Project will probe mysteries of cognition
The ability to think in metaphor is one of the distinguishing characteristics of human beings and a source of endless fascination for Associate Professor Kasumi. A $44,000 Guggenheim Fellowship will allow her to explore metaphoric thinking, as well as other “mysteries of cognition,” in a film/ videoart hybrid that she hopes to complete by the fall.
Kasumi learned in April that she is one of 180 North American artists, scientists, and scholars receiving the coveted award from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; more than 3,000 applied. Since its establishment in 1925, the foundation has granted nearly $290 million in fellowships to more than 17,000 individuals.
Kasumi is the second CIA faculty member to receive a Guggenheim Fellowship, after Edris Eckhardt ’31, who was honored in 1955. Eckhardt, a glass and ceramics artist, taught at CIA from 1934 through 1964. Two other CIA graduates have won Guggenheim Fellowships: painter Robert Mangold ’60 won in 1969, and photographer Shelby Lee Adams ’74 won in 2010. “We are so proud to have our accomplished colleague Kasumi receive this award,” said CIA President Grafton J. Nunes. “A gold standard among recognitions for excellence in scholarship and the arts, the Guggenheim Fellowship spotlights the quality of Kasumi’s work and the contribution that her work is making to the nation’s culture.”
Guggenheim funding allows Kasumi — who does not use a surname — to assemble a team of CIA digital artists and animators, as well as dancers, actors, and others to collaborate on what she envisions will be a “very experimental” work, loosely based on a script by Cleveland writer Carolyn Jack.
“It will be a multimedia composition built on live performances of inter-related theater; music; projected, mapped videoart; cinematography; and dance elements,” she explained. In her application to the foundation, Kasumi proposed using “traditional and modern media to imagine the complex processes of the human brain, synthesizing different methods of expression into a metaphorical language that not only resembles the stream of messages in the subconscious connections making up human perception, but also examines the stream’s causes and effects.”
Her immediate reaction upon learning she would receive the Guggenheim funding to make this ambitious project a reality: “incredulity.” She said the award “really validates all this work that I’ve been doing. I have not followed a traditional path.”
Nontraditional Path to Digital Art
Raised by “fearlessly inventive” parents — her mother an artist and her father a NASA scientist — Kasumi says that from her earliest memories she knew she was going to be an artist of some kind. She started college with a punishing double major in music and art at Washington University (“I barely slept”); traveled to Germany for more intense music study at Staadliche Musik Hochschule in Cologne; then went to Japan to teach Baroque music at the Tokyo College of Music.
Kasumi spent 11 years in Japan, where she recorded four LP records, performed on a soundtrack that was nominated for a Japanese Academy Award (for the 1978 film Oginsama), wrote and illustrated a satirical book in Japanese and English, The Way of the Urban Samurai (1992, Tuttle), and created large-scale ink drawings.
Returning to the U.S., she settled in Cleveland where she worked in set design for local theaters; wrote several feature- length scripts; and, at the urging of her book publisher, began publishing opinion pieces on music, politics, and social issues in Japanese and American journals and newspapers.
She learned to work in digital media as a matter of practicality. When her teenage son, the actor and producer Kitao Sakurai, needed demo reels, Kasumi bought a computer and learned editing software so she could help edit his tapes. “It was so hard to teach myself,” she recalled. “But gradually, I became interested in the artistic possibilities of this medium.”
In 2000, Kasumi made her first experimental film, a montage she titled Technical Aids. It won Best Experimental Film at the IFP/Midwest Short Film festival and at the Athens International film Festival. She was hooked. In her increasingly complex digital compositions, Kasumi manipulates image, sound, light, and color to create vividly surreal experiences. Her works comment on human perception, emotion, greed, aggression, and mass media propaganda.
Her Guggenheim is the latest in a string of recent kudos. Last year, Kasumi won a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship from Cleveland’s Community Partnership for Arts and Culture; earned a Vimeo remix award; and produced her first feature film, Aardvark, which has screened in dozens of film festivals around the world, including the Cleveland International Film Festival. She has created commissioned pieces for New York City’s Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, as well as The Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Her work has been viewed online more than 2.5 million times.
Inspiring to and Inspired by Students
Kasumi began teaching digital art at CIA in 2001, shortly after her first piece hit the film festival circuit. She said she is continually inspired by her students and their hunger for creative opportunities. Her students, in turn, credit her with not only teaching the technical skills necessary for exploring new media, but also with encouraging them to find their own artistic voices.
Said acclaimed multimedia artist Ben Kinsley ’05, “I owe much of my early development and success as an artist to Kasumi. She was an incredibly encouraging and valuable professor to me during my time at CIA.” Ian Zeigler ’06, a 3D animator at Sportstime Ohio and Cleveland’s NBC affiliate, WKYC, called Kasumi a creative role model. ”By utilizing her real-life experiences as an artist and professor, she taught me a plethora of crucial information regard- ing real-world production and freelance practices dealing with clients.” And Bill Davis ’06 said, “It is a rare opportunity to have such a talented artist with such a strong professional presence, who also has the patience, ability, and generosity to teach students with such devotion.”
Kasumi will be back in the classroom in the fall, after a year’s sabbatical and a busy summer of creating, filming, and editing.
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