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Subtle Appreciation in Daily Life: Rui Sasaki

The Japan Institute’s First Artist-in-Residence Creates Work for Portland Japanese Garden

Rui Sasaki in the Strolling Pond Garden of Portland Japanese Garden in 2019. Photo by Meg Nanna.

On August 31, the Japan Institute’s Global Center for Culture and Art will welcome internationally acclaimed Japanese artist, Rui Sasaki, as its first Artist-in-Residence (AiR). A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design and Musashino Art University, Sasaki’s work is part of permanent collections in museums across Asia, Europe, and North America. Lauded for her “dogged exploration” of glass art by The New York Times, Sasaki has won an impressive and still-growing number of awards.

Sasaki’s recent body of work includes selecting plant specimens, then firing them in a kiln between sheets of glass to create ethereal traces of those plants left behind in the material. With her work focused on the natural world, Sasaki will be a welcomed frequent presence in Portland Japanese Garden as she searches for the proper flora. “I would like to know and digest more about the Garden through the community, and finally get started [on] the new body of work with plants that I am going to collect from the Garden,” Sasaki shared. “I would like to harmonize my inspiration from both where I am in Japan and at Portland Japanese Garden, like the phenomena of teleportation, even though they are thousands [of] miles away. I hope that I can give a key, as an artist, to make visitors and volunteers discover subtle appreciation in their daily life.”

Rui Sasaki. Photo by Meg Nanna.

In addition to creating the art that will later be showcased in an exhibition at Portland Japanese Garden in 2023, Sasaki is looking forward to experiencing the vast array of nature and art here in the Pacific Northwest during her residency. “I was fascinated with [the] cloudy and rainy weather that reminded me [of] where I live in Japan and [how it] suddenly felt ‘uncanny’ but also welcoming,” Sasaki shared when thinking back to her past stays in Oregon.

The Japan Institute is delighted that Sasaki will be its inaugural Artist-in-Residence. Aki Nakanishi, Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education noted that the goal of this program is, “To give world-class artists an opportunity to immerse themselves in everything that this great Pacific Northwest has to offer while exposing the local arts community to each artist’s unique sensibilities through organic dialogue.” The AiR Program will provide our community the opportunity to engage with artists from Japan as they work in our neighborhood with local materials, allowing members and visitors to experience Portland Japanese Garden from a fresh perspective. Nakanishi notes, “This residency is a critical part of the constant evolution of the Garden and its vision.”

Visitors to Portland Japanese Garden’s 2022 exhibition, “Gifts from Japan.” Photo by Jonathan Ley.

Ask the Curator: Why does Portland Japanese Garden Have Art Exhibitions and Residencies?

Upon visiting Portland Japanese Garden in April, the current Japanese Ambassador to the U.S., Koji Tomita, remarked how it is “…truly an unparalleled example of Japanese landscape art.” Traditionally, the role of Japanese gardens is to offer a place of quiet contemplation detached from the noise of modern society. But at the same time, Japanese gardens have always embraced, if not strived for a sense of symbiosis created at the intersection of architecture, art, and nature, which demonstrates the balance that can be achieved when nature and human ingenuity converge. As we launch the Japan Institute’s inaugural Artist-in-Residency program, we are excited to continue exploring and revealing the potential of the trifecta of landscape design, architecture, and contemporary art here in Portland.

As explained by our Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education, Aki Nakanishi