June Sekiguchi makes modular, interlocking sculptures that transform with each consecutive installation. Inspired by Islamic, Laotian and Moroccan design, most of her heavily-patterned pieces are made of quarter-inch MDF (medium-density fiberboard) that Sekiguchi hand-carves with a scroll saw. It’s her tool of choice—more controlled than a band saw, made for cutting delicate pieces like children’s puzzles. In fact, Sekiguchi’s final product is not unlike a gigantic (though much more complex) set of Tinker Toys come to life, and a sense of playfulness cuts the intensity of her labor-intensive production process. The resulting structures are imbued to their structural core with a sense fragility and stability, collapse and interconnectivity.
When working on projects, Sekiguchi splits her time between a studio in Issaquah and her home in West Seattle, which has been designed to serve as a second studio when working on detailed, time-consuming construction where power tools aren’t required. In addition to making her own work, Sekiguchi’s breakneck career in the arts includes working as an independent art curator and serving as co-founder of both the artEAST Art Center and METHOD Gallery in Pioneer Square.
“I’ve carved out my little postage stamp here to work in,” Sekiguchi says. She has lived in Seattle since 1994, but was born in Fayetteville, Ark. Occasionally a whisper of drawl comes out. She has lived in her apartment in West Seattle for almost two years. Windows and a patio look out on perfectly gray Puget Sound peppered with ferries shuttling back and forth.
“It’s small, but I’ve built this out as a very multi-functional space,” she says. “A work table transforms into a bed where my son sleeps when he comes to visit. In the summer I work out on the patio, sanding and painting. I also get a lot of use out of the tool library at the Youngstown Cultural Art Center. It’s like lending library for books, only for tools.”
Some of Sekiguchi’s pieces are built from dozens or even hundreds of slotted pieces of wood. Depending on the angle of the slots and joints, the pieces snap into circular shapes or polyhedrons, or they link together to form a flatter, undulating shape that can snake its way like waves around a gallery wall.
Sekiguchi constructed a series of Tetradecagons (14-sided polygons) for her father, who was—not surprisingly—a mathematician. “He favored geometry,” she says. “When he passed I wanted to honor him and made twelve sets of these. They can unhinge and crawl across the wall. A lot of my work is processing loss or changes in life.”
Sekiguchi first began making her iconic pieces fifteen years ago when she was commissioned to make a sculpture for a company that needed its text logo incorporated into the design. It was the first time she encountered the scroll saw. From there she learned to play around with the different patterns she could make with it.
“It’s the combination of material, the tool and my interest in cultural things that make me gravitate to pattern,” she says. “Metaphorically we have patterns of habit. There are universal patterns. And I am so interested in cultural connections. I grew up in Arkansas and we were about the only Japanese family there. I yearned for a more global outlook, something other than this redneck Southern thing happening during that time. I was looking a lot at aesthetic traditions along the Silk Road regions, poring over dictionaries of pattern. Pattern is basically how we as human beings organize things from nature. Patterns are influenced by organic forms from nature, arrived at by a process of boiling these ideas down. Then they overlap from one culture to another, or sometimes they make a turn and become something very specific to that culture. So you can identify a Lao pattern from a Moroccan pattern, but there do tend to be overlaps.”
Since the early 2000s, Sekiguchi has traveled repeatedly to artist residencies Luang Prabang, Laos and Chefchaouen, Morocco, developing an intense appreciation for the respective cultures and relationships with the artistic communities there, and has facilitated artist residencies for Moroccan artists here in Seattle. At home, from kitchen to closet, nearly every nook and surface is strung with souvenirs, tchotchkes and utensils collected along the way.
“I’m really project oriented,” says Sekiguchi, “so when I put stuff out there or apply and get a thumbs up, then I work like mad. I had a piece commissioned for the Bellevue Arts Museum Knock On Wood Biennial. It took forever to prepare and install. I started it while on a residency at the James and Janie Washington Foundation. He had a giant spool of twine there, and I began cutting it and hand-knotting it on itself. As I went I dipped it in wax, which deepened the color. It began to look like pine needles to me, so I ran with the idea of pine cones and envisioned it as a sort of cross-section of a pine cone. I’ve estimated there are 36,000 knots. Took months. It’s a kind of meditative process. I watched two seasons of Orange Is The New Black while doing it. I could do it on the bus. I could do it anywhere—unlike working with the scroll saw, which is so limiting. It’s up at the Bainbridge Museum of Art right now, through February.”
“This is a piece for my son about transition and how life changes. It is fractured and sutured together with jewelry wire. Though it’s made of wood—or rather fake wood material—I wanted to completely change the structure of it, to mirror what happens to the chemicals shifting in your brain. That was the idea behind that. Eventually I want to make a sculpture based entirely on this idea of fractured material that is draped completely around a room.”
These days, Sekiguchi’s day job is curating over twenty exhibits a year across eight venues with Era Living, a chain of premier retirement communities in the Seattle area.
“I really wasn’t looking for curatorial work as a job,” she says, “but I’ve done curation over the years just as a volunteer for artsEast, Method and others. Era Living focuses on creating opportunities for ourselves and others. The job came about as a unique model of marketing money put toward bringing art and artists into the space. Some of the exhibits I put together may include fifty artists, others are solo shows. Sometimes we show residents’ work as well. Sometimes through an extensive interview process, an artist will get to know a resident and make art about him or her. That’s my job at operating at the highest level—making those kinds of connections. I feel very lucky for it, even though it’s sometimes an intensely ridiculous amount of work.”