sk*p Culture: A Q&A with Yuko Nishikawa

Sk*p Culture

  • by Grace Connery
  • 3 min read

At sk*p, we’re continuing our mission to bring attention to eco-artists who are raising awareness around the importance of helping our planet. We’re very excited to share this unique collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist, Yuko Nishikawa. Yuko’s work focuses on creating lighting and sculptural installations out of ceramics, recycled paper mache, and—more recently—our BeautyCartons!

How and when did you first become interested in creating art?

Creating with my hands has been part of everyday life since I was little. However, it took many years to decide that I would make artwork for a living. I was born and raised in Japan. When I turned eighteen, I left home to live in the U.S. and studied Interior Design in NYC. I worked as an architectural surveyor, an assistant designer for interior design studios, and later as a designer for a furniture company. During this time, I also worked on personal projects; experimenting and learning about materials and techniques—glass blowing, wood cabinet making, and metal welding—that were new to me at the time. As a furniture designer, I encountered clay—a material that opened up wider expressions and experiments for me. Soon I was producing tableware and developing collections for retailers like Calvin Klein Home and Anthropologie. My work has gradually developed into sculptures, lighting, and installation projects. 


What is your favorite medium to work with and why?

I like working with clay; both ceramics and non-firing clay, such as paper clay, for its malleable quality that allows me to form directly with my hands. However, I don’t like to limit myself to certain mediums or methods and enjoy working with a variety of materials and techniques.

Why did you decide to move away from ceramics?

I’ve been incorporating paper into my recent projects more and more, but I still work with ceramics. Each material is unique. For example, paper clay—which I formulate by recycling paper—makes durable, light-weight work which does not require firing. It also has unique colors and textures?

What kind of message are you hoping to convey by using recycled materials and repurposing materials for your projects? 

Materials that are typically considered waste can turn into artwork and offer an opportunity to be playful. Repurposed materials often come with limitations in form, color, and texture, and in the way they can be bent and cut. These limitations offer an opportunity to come up with unexpected solutions.

What is your normal process like when creating a sculpture/installation?

I assign deadlines to myself and schedule the time to complete the work. That’s the only thing I want to be consistent when working on projects. Within those time constraints, I’m free. I try not to have a standard making process, as I don’t want to approach projects out of habits. I try to approach each project as a unique opportunity to explore materials, expressions, and the way I build forms. Sometimes I start with numerous sketches. Other times I start by building forms without making any drawings.

Are there any other types of artforms that you would like to explore?

When I finished this sculpture for sk*p, I felt the forms and its modular characteristics would show well in an animated film. My interest in making an animated film has been something in the back of my mind for a while. It was fun making the film and I’d like to explore more of it.

DIY Component: sk*p x Yuko Nishikawa

Can you walk us through the steps you went through in creating this sculpture out of the BeautyCarton? How can our community create something similar? (What is the best approach to working with paper? Are any supplies needed?) What were any challenges in working with paperboard?

You’d need only two tools: A box cutter to cut the cartons and a pen to mark the size of the cutout holes.

This modular sculpture uses the plastic screw caps to assemble and disassemble any number of cartons. They can be just two cartons, or 40 cartons. For this sculpture I used 11 cartons.

I started by cutting the cartons crosswise to access the interior and then removed the plastic screw caps by cutting around them with a box cutter. The screw caps have two components: the threaded bases are the bolts and the caps are the nuts. I made multiple round holes at random locations on the carton bodies to insert these plastic bolts. I marked the diameter by tracing the size of the caps so that the holes are larger than the diameter of the bolts and smaller than the diameter of the nuts.

I connected the cartons one by one until I connected all 11 cartons. I painted some of them with white paint, leaving four cartons unpainted to emphasize the assembled forms with pops of color.