Mayumi Lake


Driven by my childhood fantasy, phobia, and desire, my artwork interacts with the ideas of time, memory, and floating between the real and imaginary.

I use photography to weave my autobiographical narrative - From the mimicry of prepubescent flesh surrounded by soft pastel clothing, emotionally-charged landscapes with a solitary girl soldier standing, and darkly illuminated and saturated stereotyped females; to bright and sparkly photo-sculptural mythical flowers. I also incorporate sculpture, sound, moving images, and installation to expand my narrative into more complex layers.

As a Japanese immigrant who has been living in the U.S for over 20 years, my work is continually floating/shifting between states: East and West, longing and hope, memories and oblivion, and past and future. I am interested in archiving things that could be forgotten or become obsolete over time - otherwise, I will forget where I came from. The awareness of impermanence of things, or "Mono-No-Aware" in Japanese, has turned into an obsession and obligation to preserve the past as knowledge for the future. The idea of photography works very well to freeze and package the floating moments to archive them.

Although my obsession is rooted in very personal narrative, I believe that the most personal is the most universal. In this way, I evoke emotional reactions from my viewers.


In Ancient Japan, when political chaos and a series of natural disasters occurred, the people believed the last days of this world were near. To calm their fear and despair, they filled sacred prayer sites with bright and bold mythical flowers, believed to bloom throughout the afterlife. Those flowers were called Housouge (pronounced Housou-gae). The bigger the fear and despair, the more colorful and immense the flowers.

Unison, a series of sculptural photographic work, features my interpretation of the mythic heavenly flowers or Housouge. The blossoms are constructed from motifs scanned directly from girls’ vintage kimonos. They are both cut and then reassembled by hand, and include toy parts, plastic flowers, imitation gold, sequins, and various other objects that recall my own childhood in Japan. The use of the kimono goes beyond being just a reference to my cultural heritage, it signifies a dying cultural tradition as the use of this traditional garb has all but disappeared and is relegated to a symbolic gesture reserved for special and rare occasions. Choice of objects and toys are also direct references to my own childhood, which was saturated with objects that directly referenced American pop culture. Elements of the two opposing cultures are intertwined creating a strained and unique harmony that is illuminated through the constructed blossoms.

The ominous mood and the idea of Mono-no-Aware (the awareness of impermanence) has been cast onto my recent works, always hinting at reincarnation and it’s association with death. As a natural progression, my focus has shifted to expand and decipher the life after death. The blossoms that are threaded throughout Unison represent a vision of Bardo, where the soul floats between life and death, a state similar to the Western idea of purgatory. This in-between state echoes my own existence - a cultural hybrid somewhere between East and West.



Video:Alone with Material -Mayumi Lake / Unison



I get intrigued by things that are consigned to the dustbin of history. I collect and adore the forgotten or obsolete, especially anachronistic, antiquated, or simple out of style clothing. The impermanence of things, or what the Japanese label as “Mono No Aware”, has turned into an obsession, an obligation to preserve the past as knowledge for the future.

A few years ago, I salvaged a discarded chemist’s jacket from the art school where I work shortly after the school shuttered the analog color darkroom and its associated color processor for good. As a photographer who used to spend countless hours in the color darkroom, I was saddened to see this photographic technology becoming obsolete. I sealed all the jackets in plastic bags and stored them in my studio where they sat for several years before I unearthed my memento of a time passed. Each of the lab jackets were covered with unique and distinguished chemical stains. Now that chromogenic prints are all but relegated to the preservationists who are attempting to conserve the processes of the photographic past, the unique and toxic stains associated with a residual reaction act as a mapping of the memories I associate with the analog photographic process. I reached out and contacted the former student chemists who had possessed the jackets. Some of them able to recognize the stains and help me identity who wore which jacket. The stains were beginning to fade and I photographed them as an act of preservation. The images stand as an analogy. For me they stand in for my own memories of the chromogenic photographic printing process, and for my current students who have no knowledge of color photography before the advent of digital photography they act as proof of a mythical time, place and process that is quickly relegated to the memories of photographers from the past.

On the last day of its operation in my school, I stood alone in the color darkroom and turned all the enlargers on simultaneously one last time. The colors projected from the enlargers looked like a mystic rainbow floating in darkness.


is a series of images, which reflect upon my anxiety regarding “the end of all things.” The series began with the horrifying earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Followed by a heightened awareness that I was simultaneously experiencing several personal losses – including a mysterious illness of a family member, and the sudden and unexpected death of a close friend. These horrific events, unfolding through the media daily in my birthplace, and the uneasiness and apprehension associated with loss and grieving began to merge together, to synchronize. I was the vortex, the meeting space of several disconnected events that formed a personal sense of tragic ending; a belief akin to the fated sense of despair associated with end date of the Mayan calendar. I began to think, and even truly believe in a single fated day for the end of all things.


the series of portraits of women floating in quiet darkness, was conceived when I became intrigued by the legacy of the Countess Mitsuko Coudenhove-Kalergi (nee Aoyama, 1874-1941), a pioneering Japanese woman who emigrated and married into a prominent European family in the late 19th Century. Upon visiting the countess' grave while on AIR Artist-in-Residence Krems in Austria, I was struck by an inexplicable, overwhelmingly emotional unease which inspired me to find compelling female archetypes that could be admired and feared at the same time. The series features portraits of young women and pubescent girls posed in austere Victorian dress covering their feminine curves while others play schoolgirls wearing ubiquitous Japanese uniforms. The subject's shapes and facial expressions are mostly obscured in strategic shadow. These unconventional portraits are based on historical or culturally specific stereotypes, and all of them have one thing in common: these women and girls posses the power to inspire a sense of awe. I invite these women out of the darkness much as a medium calls forth spirits.

Ex Post Facto

is a photographic narrative that traces my family history back over sixty years and revisits my childhood fantasy of bringing back my grandfathers who were killed during WWII. As a soldier in the Japanese army, my maternal grandfather died in combat in Papua New Guinea in 1944. My paternal grandfather was killed as a civilian in a B-29 bombing attack on Osaka around the same time. The images in Ex Post Facto portray a parallel narrative and visualize and hold true to my childhood fantasy. Rural landscapes, as portrayed through panoramic images of open space and vacant woods, evoke memories of destruction and sacrifice on the battlefield. Female portraits pay tribute to all who suffered from the loss of a loved one. In several images, girl solders dressed in vintage Girl Scout uniforms from the WWII era, run through empty battlefields, never fully engaged with an enemy but constantly searching for their invisible grandfathers. In the dimly lit formal portraits that accompany the landscape images, I reference the women in my family from different timelines affected by the loss of my grandfathers. In one image I portray my grandmother, holding an old rusted helmet, which could belong to my grandfather. In another image, my mother is portrayed as a teenager, she holds tight to a postcard she wrote to her father long after his death. The last image in the series portrays myself as a young girl building an imaginary grave for my maternal grandfather --his body was never recovered.

Knowing the futility and the impossibility of changing history and the ironic “grandfather’s paradox” that would erase my own existence from history if my fantasies were ever realized, I am interested in creating a version of family history which focuses on my grandmother and mother’s strength rather than simply lamenting and perpetually memorializing their loss. Ex Post Facto reinvents the relationship between retention and loss, and explores the possibility of altering a past family history by re-visualizing family dynamics and creating an alternative course of history where the women --often invisible in tales of war and battles-- are front and center through my re-imagined past.


Similar to Ex Post Facto, My Idol is a series in which I also revisit childhood fantasies but from an adult’s perspective, expressing the disappointment of broken promises, and clings to the hope of finding an “Ideal” state of life that once dominated my dreams. My photographs stand in for the action I could not fulfill in my life, they represent desire unbound from the repression of practicalities. Using toys, dolls, and props from fantastic or romantic stories, My Idol hysterically fantasizes the concept of the ideal scenarios by overlapping childish desires with those of adulthood. These funny, ironic, and psychologically complex images also suggest my desperation to regain the lost innocence of childhood.