STATICMULTIMEDIA.COM | november 5, 2007

Reverse Trash Streams: The Junk Mail Project
by R. Burke

Born in New Jersey, the state that brought us baseball and board walks, and educated at Yale, Barbara Hashimoto is an artist who works in sculpture, installation and performance. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, Japan, and the Middle East. She is included in more than 250 public and private collections such as The Smithsonian Institution's Museum of American Art, The Museum of Arts and Design, and The National Museum of Women in the Arts. She is a woman at the top of her game, and showing no signs of slowing down, having created a legacy of fine art that has touched humanity. While Barbara Hashimoto is preparing for her exhibition Retrospective: 17 Years of Sculpture, Installation & Performance to be presented at the Dubhe Carreño Gallery in the winter she is presently up to her waist in trash from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Since July 2007, Hashimoto has been collecting junk mail and shredding the unsolicited material as part of her latest exhibit entitled Reverse Trash Streams: The Junk Mail Project. Her installation/performance work premiered in Chicago at her studio housed at BauerLatoza Studio; a woman-owned multi-disciplinary Architecture firm founded in 1990 and located in the 100-year old Randolph Motor Car Building in Chicago’s Historic Motor Row District. There 100 assorted souls watched as a pianist played haunting melodies while Hashimoto piled her colorful strips of unwanted junk mail high on top of his concert grand – "A happening," says Hashimoto, a term reminiscent of the 60’s Warhol "pop art" movement. It was eloquent, entertaining, and poignant to say the least.

We all get inundated with those glossy and not-so-glossy paper pitches for our hard-earned dollars, the never-ending stream of advertisements stuffing our mailboxes hyping everything consumer land has to offer. In 2006 alone, Americans received over 77 billion pieces of junk mail. It is with this awful truth in tow that Hashimoto gracefully scoops up mounds of multicolored shredded junk mail while musician Edward Torrez vigorously plays lingering piano riffs. Hashimoto transforms Torrez into the unsuspecting dupe, who plays all tuxedo clad, a sort of domestic elegance, while the stream of junk mail envelops him completely. The harder he plays, the further he is swallowed by the superfluous pieces of paper. Watching his burial while attempting to finish his sonatas we are reminded of the insensitivity, caginess, and crudeness of it all. The junk mail keeps coming, over and over, more and more, piled high on top of him suggesting we are powerless to stop it. So we sit, passively, while it buries us alive.

The space is large, over 2,000 square feet and yet quite intimate due to a luscious array of vanilla curtains hung from steel wires stretched between huge wooden pillars. Hashimoto designed and erected them herself – no easy task considering they’re 12 feet in the air.
This is a grand space with large industrial windows revealing a city skyline of restoration and expansion. Old water towers looming in the distance create an almost Gothic appearance as if you’re looking out at Batman’s Gothem City. Tucked between the faded and fractured facades are contemporary housing developments with tenants already burning the midnight oil. This is the landscape that peeks in at Hashimoto as she entertains her fans. And there are many, picking their favorite spots to savior their exotic hors d'oeuvres while sipping an array of fine wines. Nothing is of the ordinary here.

Guests included fellow artist and sculptor Dennis Lee Mitchell who is presently exhibiting with Dubhe Carreño Gallery alongside Hashimoto at SOFA CHICAGO 2007, the 14th annual international exposition of Sculpture Objects & Functional Art, at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall. Steve Traxler, president of Jam Theatricals which celebrates over a dozen Tony Award® nominations and several wins for Broadway productions such as Spamalot and The History Boys, was eyeing 141 Pages Concerning Understanding, 2005, whereby Hashimoto tore pages from a paperback edition of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding. The pages were then lined with clay and fired to 2,000 degrees. Filed in an open-ended maple box, the pages reveal the chard text – simply eye-catching.

Art critic Victor Cassidy with spouse sculptor Donna Hapac and Chuck Thurow, Executive Director of the Hyde Park Art Center were experiencing Hashimoto’s past installations neatly tucked into every nook and cranny of her studio. Open a door near an industrial elevator once used for transporting cars to reveal a dusty wooden stairway leading to the roof where an array of vintage typewriters line the steps, A single video monitor loops the artist’s hand typing a single phrase over and over to an almost trance-like effect. It’s noted that Hashimoto actually played on these typewriters as a child: this is a peek into the mind of an artist, passionate and determined by the call for self-expression, boldly placing her vulnerability in the spotlight – persuasively beautiful.

Walk across the room to another installation entitled Hone, Tatemae, and, 1990, whereby several gray colored fired books are buried and bound in linen and wool as if to signifying geishas wrapped tightly in their kimonos. Her overseas influences are reflected everywhere; after all Hashimoto lived in Japan for seven years, where she was apprentice to ceramic artist, Junko Yamada in Saitama, artist-in-residence under designated "Cultural Asset" Minoru Fijimori at the Japanese Hall of Papermaking on Shikoku Island, while studying Butoh dance with Iwani Masaki in Tokyo. She later established a studio in Tokyo, exhibiting her work in museums and galleries throughout country.

In 1996 Hashimoto relocated to Los Angeles where she was recognized for her multimedia installation/performances as well as her small-scale sculptural work. Best known for her ceramic work in which she fires clay with books, modifying the ensuing pieces with drawing, painting and collage, her process alternatively destroys and enhances the original intention of the book and furthers the artist’s concerns with censorship, neo-narrative and the objectification of knowledge. Though the role of materiality is significant, Hashimoto’s work is researched-based and conceptually driven.

Reverse Trash Streams: The Junk Mail Projec
t premieres November 9, 2007 at LA Contemporary, 2634 South La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles. I asked her if we’ll see a repeat of the grand piano performance, to which she replied, "Oh no, that’s been done, but it was recorded by videographer Eric Hoffhines and is included in a hard cover book available at the LA event." Then she smiled and said, "Nancy Spiller and I have something planned to fit the space. That’s the best way – in creating "a happening," to be original to the environment." I agreed with her.

As Barbara Hashimoto began to greet the long line of friends and supporters, I realized that I had truly experienced art in the flash, and although it was recorded, no one would ever experience what I had in real time, and for that, she is, as she wanted her performances and art to be – original.