June 2016 Artist Feature: YUMI JANAIRO ROTH
Yumi Janairo Roth was born in Eugene, Oregon and raised in Chicago and suburban Washington D.C. She currently lives and works in Boulder, Colorado where she is a professor of sculpture at the University of Colorado. Yumi has created a diverse body of work that explores ideas of immigration, hybridity, and displacement through discrete objects and site-responsive installations, solo projects, as well as collaborations. In her projects, her objects function as both natives and interlopers to their environments, simultaneously recognizable and unfamiliar to their users. She received a BA in Anthropology from Tufts University, a BFA from the School for the Museum of Fine Arts - Boston, and an MFA from the State University of New York - New Paltz. She has shown her work throughout the U.S.; including in New York, San Francisco, Houston, Denver, Santa Fe, and Seattle, as well as internationally; including in Mexico, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the Philippines.
Janna Añonuevo Langholz: Hi Yumi! I'm so glad to have the opportunity to talk to you about your work. To start, can you tell me a little bit about yourself and living/working in Colorado?
Yumi Janairo Roth: I've been in Colorado since 2003, when I moved here to teach at the University of Colorado-Boulder in Sculpture and Post-Studio Practice. Before that, I lived in suburban Washington D.C., Manila, Chicago, New York (both the city and upstate), Boston, and Wisconsin. Since coming to Colorado, I find that I travel a lot in order to realize different projects, placing myself in unfamiliar places. In Boulder, I have a bit more of a studio-centered practice, probably because I have a studio here. When I travel, I try to divest myself of studio trappings and use the location as the primary site for my practice. I like the back and forth between studio and post-studio based practices.
JAL: As an artist who creates site-responsive objects and installations, what kind of sites are you drawn to work with?
YJR: When I work onsite, I find that it's usually a place that I'm unfamiliar with, maybe even uncomfortable. In these situations, I think that I'm a more keen observer, typically because I'm just trying to find my bearings.
JAL: Can you tell me about your Filipino heritage, and how that comes into your work?
YJR: My mom is from the Philippines and moved to the U.S. during the large wave of immigration in the 1960s. My father, who is from the U.S., was trained as a cultural anthropologist and we moved back to the Philippines in the early 70s so that he could work on his dissertation. We lived in Manila, and at that time Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Many years later, while cleaning out my late-grandmother's house, I found letters from my dad to my grandmother describing the situation and his concerns that my mom, and possibly I, might not be able to leave the Philippines. I had never heard those stories, so it was interesting to stumble across that information so many decades later.
Much of my early experience with the Philippines was filtered through stories, my family, the language, food, and the kitschy cultural objects that we had around the house. When we moved from the city to a more homogenous suburb, those aspects of my childhood suddenly stood out.
In some of my projects, I use many components from those objects, e.g. mother of pearl, capiz, carving, cane, etc. often merged with pretty pedestrian objects like pallets and furniture dollies. In other projects, I have been interested in certain social spaces that are common throughout the Philippines, e.g. jeepneys and call centers. More generally, I think that I'm constantly interested in the slippage of meaning that happens in translation.
JAL: Many of your projects, such as Meta Mapa, involve directions; such as arrows or trail markers, that reorient the viewer/participant to the engage with a specific location in a different way. Can you tell me more about these projects and your interest in maps and directions?
YJR: In Meta Mapa, Small Acts of Public Service, or the trail markers, these usually start with my own sense of displacement. For example, in Meta Mapa, I was working in the Czech Republic in a town where very few people spoke English and I spoke no Czech. I was clearly an outsider, maybe a tourist, so I decided to embrace that role. I asked locals to draw maps on my hands to familiar sites. After photographing and printing those maps so that they looked like tourist maps, I returned to the city and approached people as a tourist might, asking for help with directions. Since I didn't speak Czech and rarely did the residents speak English, the residents had to decide if and how to help me. It was an interesting experiment in communication and how one translates a simultaneously familiar and unfamiliar situation.
JAL: I love your unexpected uses of everyday materials in combination with well-recognized symbols, like your Louis Vuitton potato stamps and traffic cone piñatas, to name a few. They're humorous, while subverting the original intentions of those objects. Can you tell me more about the materials and objects you choose to work with?
YJR: That's a pretty good summary. I like to work with familiar tropes and materials, but in unexpected ways. By recombining materials, approaches, and contexts, I hope to reveal something new about our various assumptions around ideas like labor, value, and immigration/migration.
JAL: So what about tumbleweed?
YJR: That's a pretty new idea, one that's still in the experimental phase. I'm not sure if it's an image, an object, a series of objects, or an installation at this point. I've lived in Colorado for over a decade, so I guess it's understandable that some icons of the American West would permeate my thinking. It's a little ironic, though, since the tumbleweed, Russian thistle throughout Colorado, is an invasive species accidentally introduced to the U.S. in the 19th century.
See more of Yumi's work at: