Rieko Whitfield ’14: A Promising Young Artist

During my time as Communications Coordinator at the American University of Paris I interviewed and wrote a piece about alumna Rieko Whitfield and her work as an artist. I even got a student to pose with me in one of her exhibits to get a good picture! Spot me! The original piece was published on aup.edu. 

Rieko Whitfield ’14 is a Japanese-American artist and recent graduate who has worked on various projects both as a student and since graduation. Rieko sat down with us to discuss her work and inspiration as an artist.

What do have your various exhibits involved? How would you describe your process, and the concept behind your pieces?

My installation METANOIA was a curated social performance, transforming a private space into an ephemeral public experience. It consisted of a temporary art installation in the sanctuary of the American Church in Paris  — a 10m by 10m cube constructed out of scaffolds and plastic screens. Inside the installation was a performance consisting of 9 live models encased in sculptures made of wax soaked bed sheets. Each model entered and exited the sculptures at timed intervals. The viewers walked through the cube while filmed by CCTV cameras.

The live feed was projected on another plastic screen in the adjacent room, creating a voyeuristic experience. The Greek word “metanoia” literally means “change of mind” or “beyond perception.” In the contemporary context the word has come to signify “repentance.” The original meaning of the word does not center around repentance, but rather the shift of perception that precedes it.

METANOIA at the American Church

My project Tokyo Dreaming was a site-specific installation in the AUP Fine Arts Gallery. I created a meditative space evoking the mistranslation of memories over geographical and temporal distances. I constructed a canopy using thousands of my late father’s Japanese postage stamps he collected when he was growing up in Tokyo in the 1960’s.

The display of postage stamps created a portrait of a man I never had the chance to know through the tactile ritual of collecting. Surrounding the installation were dozens of picture frames, covered in mirror film with no images on display. Under the canopy I created a communal lawn space of fake grass and pillows, inviting viewers inside the installation. Tokyo to me is not just a city, but a location in the landscape of my identity.

                                                           Whitfield’s Tokyo Dreaming installation

My latest project, Kippiebou, is a short film exploring how flesh, being flesh, and interacting with flesh, creates meaning. The three tableaus inflict visceral reflexes of hunger, to desire, to disgust in the course of three minutes (Kippiebou will be featured in WHITEBOX Souvenirs from Earth’s International Video Art Festival).

My upcoming exhibit is WHITEBOX Souvenirs from Earth Video Art Festival, a public broadcasting of short video works by artists from every corner of the world, curated by AUP professor Barbara Matas and I for contemporary art television channel Souvenirs from Earth. The cocktail reception will take place on May 13th from 7-9 pm at Tokyo Eat at the Palais de Tokyo. The program will be broadcasted daily for 10 days on the cable channel in France and Austria, at Souvenirs from Earth’s permanent installation at the Palais de Tokyo, and online at souvenirsfromearth.tv.

Where do you source your inspiration?

My art is an intuitive regurgitation of my dreams, experiences, and obsessions.

How has your time at AUP shaped you as an artist? Did specific courses or faculty members help you grow?

At AUP I was given the flexibility to design my own major, in Visual Practice and Critical Theory, so I was able to shape my education to reflect my multidisciplinary practice. I also took several directed studies and was able to spend a lot of time outside of class with professors specifically on my creative projects.

As I explained to Medium, Philosophy Professor Jérôme Game was intrumental in the development of METANOIA:

“I began meeting weekly with philosophy Professor Jérôme Game, who served as an invaluable mentor throughout the process of making METANOIA a reality. He told me that as useful as it was to learn by the textbook, it is more important as an artist to think through practice. Professor Game, in essence, called me out and made me realize I needed to think from the bottom up. I tried my hardest to let go of the concepts and names and dates I had memorized for his courses for a moment, and strip my ideas down to its bare bones. I started asking myself more humble, grittier questions. What I came up with were the simplest of “elevator pitches.”

    Peacock TV reports on METANOIA with an interview featuring Professor Game

Fine Arts Professor Jonathan Shimony‘s advice also proved invaluable in finding a space:

“As I started working on my project, all I knew is that I first needed to find a space to exhibit my work. I spent several afternoons brainstorming with Fine Arts Professor Jonathan Shimony about different options for spaces around Paris. I brought several rough sketches to explain equally rough ideas about what I wanted to exhibit. As I rattled off my fragmented ideas, Professor Shimony suggested lists of galleries and spaces in Paris that could potentially house my large-scale creations.”

Lastly, what advice would you give to freshmen who are considering majoring in Fine Arts?

There is only so much you can learn from the textbooks. You have to take risks, make mistakes, and get your hands dirty. Go out to gallery openings and reach out to the people who inspire you. Cherish the fact that you are young, and studying in one of the greatest cultural capitals in the world!


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