The work of David Umemoto could be placed somewhere in between architecture, arts and design. As a graduated in Architecture, his artistic approach is highly influenced by a calculated, normative and codified modus operandi. His structures, with countless possibilities, are like a puzzle that could be transformed, reorganized and deconstructed. He claims that, during his process, the moment when he can be more free and spontaneous is when assembling the mold parts. We talk with him about how all the pieces of his work are joined.
What did motivate you to evolve from architecture to the field of arts?
A few years ago, I was really fed up with boring design projects and office computer work, so I decided to totally quit architecture. I moved to Indonesia for a year and spent a lot of time making artistic tiles and art prints. But slowly, unconsciously, I started thinking in 3D again. I started playing with plaster I was using to create relief mural works, then I tried concrete, then somehow I was doing these architectural sculptures. I guess my actual practice is still really art oriented, but I might be getting back doing "real" architecture.
Your work is very calculated, normative and codified. Tell us about your creative process.
I think, after 15 years in architecture, it has been infused in my DNA and it can't be taken out. Architecture can be abstract and poetic, but at some point, it always gets rational, structured and precise. You build a 1km long airport an you draw it with a precision to the millimeter. When you defend a project, you have to justify every line. I have tried improvising, drawing and sculpting freely, but with very poor results. I always have to go in a very long iteration process. So, "builder" would probably be a more suiting title than "sculptor", and I like to use the word "structures" instead of “sculptures".
The modules that conform your projects are like a puzzle that could be transformed, reorganized, or deconstructed. Do your pieces have a unique shape or there's a possibility to modify them?
I cast my pieces using modular molds, which are like puzzles as well that can be rearranged in different ways. So with the same set of mold parts, I can create different and unique pieces.
Your pieces are highly connected between them. When do your structures acquire more importance: all in all, or separately?
I would definitely say that, for the majority, they make more sense when put together. However, more and more, I really work so every individual piece can live by itself.
The light and the points of view are highly present on your installations. How important is the photography on your projects?
In the beginning of the thought process that brought me to make these sculptures, I was nostalgic of the time when instead of doing 3D computer renderings (which I did a lot!) we were taking pictures of physical models. So many of my pieces were designed to be used in sets for photo shoots, as a way to represent architectural spaces from a human perspective. Lighting and staging views are always in my mind.
You work mainly with concrete, what attributes does this material have that interest to you?
I worked a bit with cast aluminum, plaster and ceramics. I like concrete mainly because of its plastic quality. It really catches light in a unique way and creates great shadow effects. I like its rawness and its imperfections. I like that it's a very modest and humble material. It is also very precise and has negligible shrinkage compared to molten metal and ceramics. This is very important when working with modular pieces in a very precise grid system. It is also durable and can be used outside.
You also use techniques such engraving and moulds, which offer the possibility of reproduction from the cliché. Do you make use of this options or do you only produce unique pieces?
I have been mostly doing what we call "varied series" or "varied editions". The pieces are unique prints or cast, but made from the same mold parts or printing matrix. I am starting to make more standard limited editions.
Which is the most representative issue from architecture that you apply in your artistic work?
I'm really inspired by primitivism. In an esthetic way, as found in all native forms of art around the world, but also technically. I would like to think that anyone anywhere, with simple tools and local basic materials, could build my structures.
Despite it seems that you calculate and think a lot before manipulating with your hands, do you prefer a more visceral and emotional way of creating without planning?
I spend a lot of time and thinking creating the mold parts. But I'm really more free and spontaneous when I assemble them.
And to finish, could you tell us which architect or artist has inspired you the most?
Music composer Philip Glass, Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Peter Zumthor and the series of giant concrete monuments built in the former Yugoslavia countryside.