Hirona Matsuda is ready to go big. The College of Charleston studio art and anthropology alum is known for her smaller, often intricate objet trouvé — or found object — assemblage pieces. If you aren’t familiar, think 3D shadow boxes elevated to another plane: vignettes of a life that are at once both objective and completely immersive.
Matsuda, while no stranger to large-scale installations, has never created a solo site-specific, gallery-filling install. She’s collaborated with other local artists; most recently she and Alan Jackson created Wall Line at Jericho Gallery. Collabs can be tricky says Matsuda, “When you get into that space, it changes. You have this idea, and then you get there and have to change it. It’s a lot of thinking on your feet.” It’s important to have someone with similar artistic practices and an end goal in mind. When you achieve this synchronicity, Matsuda says, you are rewarded with “that lovely feeling when you’re making something and you don’t have to explain it. It’s like a good meal — you don’t want to break it down, you just get to be in it.” The artist says she was lucky to have Jackson as her counterpart, and she even draws on Jackson’s architectural/minimalist approach in her solo installation, 1218.
1218 East Boulevard is the address of Matsuda’s North Carolina childhood home. Matsuda’s father was an acupuncturist and her mother specialized in health food cooking; the family home served as an open area for yoga classes, lectures, and community dinners. It’s an upbringing that would color your perception of the world, and Matsuda wants to capture that nostalgia in a way that is accessible for anyone. “My goal with all of the art I make, it is something of me, but I would never want it to be just for me. When people look at my work they figure something out about themselves,” says Matsuda, “the piece to me is about little things that can pop up when you need them the most that make you lighten, make you appreciate things more when you’re bogged down with what life is handing you. What it means to me and in my life is its own thing, hopefully other people will react in some way.”
The name, 1218, is quite literal, and Matsuda wants there to be a very tangible connection between the large-scale installation and the idea of home. But she also wants those who walk into the gallery to experience a kind of inchoate longing, a lovely feeling that you don’t have to, or maybe cannot even begin, to explain.
The material Matsuda uses, like in all of her work, is found. Landrum Tables, a company that makes furniture out of locally sourced reclaimed wood, donated pieces for the installation. The wood, which Matsuda will install along one white wall of the gallery, is mismatched, and some is from an old tobacco barn in the Upstate. An essential element of a new house, wood, becomes an essential element of a new installation about an old house.
Matsuda’s other dominant material is maple seeds or, “propeller seeds” as she likes to refer to them. The artist solicited the help of the community to gather buckets and buckets of the seeds, which she will string onto delicate thread: “I’ve been playing with the seeds in my work for a long time. Everyone has the most amazing response to them, it just makes them happy. They’ll have weird names for them, or how they used to play with them,” says Matsuda. Whether we call them maple keys or helicopters or whirlybirds, we have all seen maple seeds, which fall from trees growing in most parts of the world. The seeds are nature’s gift of universal whimsy — “Everyone has a version of how these simple things are part of their lives.”
The naturally found elements of the installation will cast shadows in the 400 square foot studio, and there will also be elements of wind and sound to “tap into all of the senses,” says gallerist Neal Rice. Rice hopes that the studio’s sophomore show will be a 180 from Chambers Austelle’s inaugural exhibit, Uncaged. While Austelle’s exhibit was centered around the domestic (her colorful portraits depict beautiful women isolated in the home) Matsuda’s exhibit will be very natural and rustic. For 1218, Rice wants the studio to enourage a quiet rumination, unlike Austelle’s exhibit, which was more conducive to conversation. “I want to show the capability of the gallery as a diverse space,” says Rice. “I want everyone to walk in and just have all preconceived notions thrown out the window.”
To encourage pause, there will be benches placed along the gallery’s row of windows so people can sit and observe the installation while very much being in the installation. Matsuda says that although the work is physically larger than what she’s done in the past, it is very pared down, invoking Jackson’s aesthetic; “I like to do something, then take away 70 percent of it and leave what’s really important.”
Regardless of size or structure, Rice insists that Matsuda’s work spawns “environments,” so that the viewer must look in and outside of themselves, grounding down and gazing up, sitting in that feeling of blissful deja vu. “It becomes part of your work architecurally and thematically,” says Matsuda, referring to her childhood and family home, “when you have an established center like that.”