Kyoko Kumai

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nature, wind
Design and Crafts (textiles)
Visual Arts (installation art)
Asia, Eastern
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June 28, 2003
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Tracing wind with steel

Kyoko Kumai uses stainless steel fibre to create wall-hung works and installations. Her work experiments with the use of a man-made material to express the natural world, in particular the cycles of life and the movement of air.
"Kyoko Kumai´s fluid steel lines attempt to follow the tracks of the wind, holding the movement of the moment, seemingly in a state of transience. Although there is monumentality in her works, they are also the antithesis of what we expect from this material. The quality of light, both reflected and within the work, adds to the impression of floating movement, the sense of weightlessness."

- Lesley Millar, ´Textural Space´ catalogue, 2001

After graduating from the Tokyo University of Arts, Kyoko Kumai studied textiles for a year and a half after having been inspired by the tapestry of another woman artist. Since then, she has largely been self-taught, gradually developing her own interlacing and knotting techniques to suit the material she uses -steel. Speaking of this artistic independence, she has said, "I have made what I like most from the materials that I like. I have been dependent only on my own sensibility."

Although Kumai has pursued a unique aesthetics of her own, she has found inspiration in the works of two contemporary artists in particular, Magdalena Abakanowicz from Poland and Sheila Hicks of the United States. Despite this however, she is quick to balance their influence with the role played by her cultural heritage:

"Even if we are influenced by foreign works, even if our works are exhibited abroad, we have in our daily lives a delicate awareness of cloth as is exhibited in our koinobori, carp streamers and furoshiki, wrapping clothes. I cannot annihilate the Japanese blood that flows through my veins. Rather, I would like to accept it directly as a resource."

During the early stages of her artistic practice, Kumai used stainless steel fibre to create wall-hung works, which would inflate with air when the wind blew. Since then she has worked with on a larger scale and with a particular focus on spatial installation.

In 2001, Kumai was invited to participate in the ´Textural Space´ project in the UK, which was originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College, UK and partly funded by Visiting Arts, UK. The touring exhibition involved thirteen leading contemporary Japanese textile artists and featured large-scale work that explored, in innovative ways, the three-dimensional potential of textiles within an installation format.

In Manchester, to coincide with the show at the Whitworth Art Gallery, Textural Space entered into partnership with Arts and Business and the contemporary clothing and lifestyle store, Muji. As a result of this collaboration, Kumai created an installation of her stainless steel fabrics within the Muji store in the city centre.

Despite her use of steel, Kumai is concerned with the natural world and aims in her works to "express the cycles of life" and, as curator of Textual Space, Lesley Millar writes in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition, "to connect the organic and inorganic through the processes of making".

Millar highlights this apparent paradox, explaining: "There is the sense that the steel is used as much for its inherent possibilities in interpreting her ideas about the natural world as for the unspoken contradiction in using an industrial material to echo an elemental force of nature."

Kumai´s piece ´Wind From The Cloud´ is a wall-mounted work constructed from interlacing stainless steel filaments. The materials are placed at random on the floor then intertwined using a shuttle or needle.

Millar again: "The resulting fabric seems, in turn, solid or transparent depending on our position in relation to the work. The light source is of particular importance to this piece and as different intensities of light play across it, the work can appear to be either a series of fissures or to be describing invisible currents of air, billowing and folding."

Kumai´s interest in the movement of air partly stems from childhood memories of watching wind moving through grass. She recreates this in ´Grass´, a work that must be is reinstated each time it is seen. Millar explains, "For the purposes of transportation the work is rolled, flattening the - blades -of steel, meaning that each knotted strand must be carefully re-positioned for every installation, re-creating that specific movement in time. Kumai´s intention is that the stainless steel becomes the wind and contains the air."

Following the Textural Space project, Kyoko Kumai donated her work, shown at Rochester Guildhall, to the Medway Council permanent collection, UK.

Source: Based on texts by Lesley Millar in the ´Textural Space´ catalogue and website and on text by Madoka Moriguchi and translated by Akira Mizuta Lippit on E/ENCYCL/CAT_H/FIBER1-E.HTM
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts


Kyoko Kumai was born in 1943. She studied at the Tokyo University of Art, Japan, graduating from the department of visual design in 1966. She now teaches as a professor at the Nagaoka Institute of Design in Japan. She has had solo shows in Japan and has participated in many group shows in Europe. She has also won several awards for her works.



Exhibition / Installation,
Tokyo Budokan Tokyo Tokyo Toritsu University Tanabata Kaikan Fukuoka Ogohri-Shi Ebisu Garden Place Tokyo Act City Hamamatsu Library of Shizu-Shi Mandara Garden Tateyama-Shi Foris Fuchu-Shi Tokyo Heiwa Co. Kiryu-Shi


Exhibition / Installation,
Savaria Museum Hungary Museum of Decorative Art Montreal Museum of Modern art New York Ashikaga City Museum of Art Science Museum London Lodz Central Museum Poland Oita City Museum Museum of Modern Art Gunma Museum of Textile Art France


Exhibition / Installation,
2001 ‘Textural Space’, contemporary Japanese textile art, Foyer Gallery and James Hockey Gallery, Surrey, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Brighton, and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich, UK 1999 ‘Weaving the World’, Yokohama Museum of Art, Kanagawa 1998 ‘International Triennale of Tapestry’, Central Museum of Textiles, Lodz Poland 1997 ‘Challenge of Materials’, Science Museum, London, UK 1996, 99 ‘Triennale International Mini Textile’, Angers Museum, France 1995 ‘Japanese Studio Crafts: Tradition & The Avant-Garde’, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK 1995 ‘Mini Textile International Contemporary Art’, Barcelona, Spain 1995 ‘FUWA FUWA Wonderland’, Asahikawa Art Museum, Hokkaido


Exhibition / Installation,
2001 Muji store, Manchester, UK 1998 Wacoal Ginza Art Space, Tokyo 1998 Senbikiya Gallery, Kyoto 1998 Gallery Space 21, Tokyo 1997 Gallery Maronie, Kyoto



1989 ASAHI Modern Craft Exhibition, Osaka, Excellence Prize
1987 1st International Textile Competition, Kyoto, New Technology Prize and Governor´s Prize
1985 Kyushu Craft Design Exhibition, Fukuoka, Grand Prix
1983 Japan Craft Design Exhibition, Tokyo, Excellence Prize
1975 Japan Craft Design Exhibition, Tokyo, New Talent Prize


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Textural Space

Contemporary Japanese Textile Art

(01 April 01 - 31 December 01)


Kyoko Kumai

Artist´s website

Textural Space

Website of ‘Textural Space’ project originated by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design University College, UK
Wind From the Cloud