Japanese Artist Uses Kitchen Foil to Build Stunning Sculptures

As a child, Japanese artist Toshihiko Mitsuya used aluminium foil he found in his kitchen cupboard to bring the creatures from his imagination to reality. His passion carried through to adulthood, with Toshihiko’s ability to sculpt and manipulate the material into painstakingly detailed sculptures, developing into an exceptional art form. We caught up with him for an insight into his delicate work.

Tell us about your upcoming exhibition “Aluminium Garden”?

The Aluminium Garden is an installation of about 220 structural studies of plants, specifically designed for the space, hand-made out of aluminium foil. Aluminium is a surface material shaped by the forces around it. Far from static, it takes on the feeling of its surroundings, the wind, the light and the hands that touch it.

As a material, aluminium starts in a huge factory and ends in something precious yet transitive: the installation reclaims an industrial material back to nature. The Aluminium Garden tests the boundaries of the material, which can develop immense strength, while appearing fragile and delicate.

Because of its soft properties, each plant, and thus the whole garden, can change its shape, considering the elements and direction of light in its set-up.


What inspired you to work with aluminium foil?

The first part of my current series consists of 300 small sculptures, all made from normal kitchen grade aluminium foil. They are a re-configuration of pieces that I made in my childhood – I began making these sculptures when I was four years old.

As a child at first I used oil clay to make mythical creatures and soldiers, inspired by games and comic books. But I didn’t much like the feeling of clay, and began to use the aluminium foil I found in the kitchen. As I grew older I stopped using foil to make sculptures, only picking it up again in recent years. It feels very natural to me.


What are the challenges that arise with building your foil sculptures?

Aluminum foil itself as a material is light and thin. However it also gets very hard if pressed / compacted. I can give it intricate details because it is so thin and malleable, which I cannot do with clay or stone.

I can create countless folds and gathers by pressing lightly on the foil surface. I can create a new and different space by changing the forms and layouts of each sculpture according to the situation.


How long does it typically take to build one of your sculptures?

As an example, my biggest work “Anonymous Relatives-Archaeologist” is 6 meters x 5 meters x 3 meters tall. It took 3 months to prepare its small parts, and it took 2 months to build it using 2 people.


Do you have a favorite work of yours?

“Structural Studies”, the first collaboration work with June-14 Meyer-Grohbrügge & Chermayeff in Berlin in 2012. We created various structures with 0.2 mm aluminium. The shapes tested the limits of the material. The experimental project was placed somewhere between architecture and sculpture.

For 6 months, we continued to trial and consult, eventually succeeding in setting up three-dimensional works that were minimal but suited to the material. We incrementally increased their strength by simple methods and shapes like folding the edges, or pushing the foil into a giant tube. The works were about 4 meters tall, very fragile and impossible to keep in tact for a long period of time.


Where did you grow up and how is creativity celebrated in your culture, compared to other places that you have lived?

Until I came to Berlin 6 years ago, I lived in Japan. Japanese culture is very unique. The old culture is very traditional and secluded, but modern Japanese culture is very westernized and now mixed with all of the world. Japan’s subcultures are very developed – gaming and comics for example. One part of my work was inspired by such a world. Motifs of each of my small sculptures are based on the mixture of video games, animation, movies, images of Western and Asian art, the various cultures present in this highly-networked information society.


To see more of Toshihiko’s work, visit www.toshihikomitsuya.com

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