Motoko Fukuyama

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What is my work about?

My practice is founded on a direct engagement with people and their life stories. In making videos, I search out stories across the American landscape that might otherwise go overlooked – stories that are waiting to be told, if only somebody would listen. I am interested in how events and environments shape people’s lives and how, in turn, people shape their own lives through self-narrative. It is an inherently collaborative approach, one that forefronts both the subjects themselves, and the conditions of surrounding my filming of our interactions and conversations.

Artist Statement

Much like the spaghetti western films dramatized the America’s western frontier through foreign eyes, my work explores American culture from an outside perspective. Growing up in Japan during the economic bubble of 1980’s and 90’s, the United States’ cultural exports were of huge importance to me. The desire to experience the source of this culture rather than just its products brought me to study here as a teenager and has inspired my investigations and artistic practice ever since.

I have an incredible respect for and fascination with the art of storytelling and personal narrative. There are so many incredible life stories, characters and landscapes out in the world that are so often and easily overlooked. I live to discover them. In my work, I question how place can shape the lived experiences and interior lives of my subjects. I try to create an open and sympathetic space for exploring the socioeconomic realities and psychology of everyday life.

Next Exit (video 1), Untitled (Summer in AL, Winter in KY) (video 2 & image 01) are outgrowths of my on-going documentary journey through the landscape of American society. Structured as a series of interwoven portraits, they are a collection of chance encounters with individuals who agree to open themselves up to my camera. There is no narration. Instead, the film uses commonalities between various characters’ life stories to move between subjects and locations. The structure of the film mirrors that of the interstate highway system: a patchwork quilt of roadways for a patchwork quilt of narratives. I search out examples of everyday struggles and perseverance in contemporary American culture. Milky Way (video 3) reflects on the immigrant life and making one’s way in America. In a nail salon, adornment and luxury are commodities, with the relationship ending at the fingertips. Milky Way explores the space between the patron and practitioner and highlights simultaneous intimacy and detachment of their encounter.

The trials of everyday lived experience also serve at the foundation of my fictional filmmaking. PAN (video 4 & 5), my mid-length suspense film, is loosely based on the famous shadow-chasing scene in J. M. Barrie’s play Peter and Wendy and its reiteration in subsequent Peter Pan adaptations. The film employs versions of those famous characters to explore a fraught mother-daughter relationship in the midst of the daughter’s teenage sexual awakening. The story’s content and title are also echoed in its visual design: panning as a camera action, in the circular motion of the mother’s cassette player, in the family’s panoramic photos – a motion that always comes full circle, inscribing the family unit firmly within the domestic sphere of the film.

One film is frequently the outgrowth of another. Taking the same cinéma vérité approach as Next Exit and the familial concerns of PAN, La bohème (video 6) is both an experimental film and a community building social project. Using my own family dynamic as the backdrop, the film is a quasi-documentary, fictional mystery film hybrid that utilizes the writings of Japanese avant-garde dramatist Shuji Terayama as a structure that allows me to re-familiarize myself with both the country I left and my family. It is an investigation of lost time, an exploration into what took place in the past 16 years while I was away from Japan: from my mother’s loss of her spouse to my sister’s obsession with Adrian Vandenberg, a Dutch guitar player from the famous 80’s rock & roll band Whitesnake, to the declining national birthrate and the problems of a largely aging Japanese society. Moreover, the work seeks to challenge the lack of support for those in need of psychiatric support within the community and the healthcare system for those suffering from chronic illness, loss, grief and depression. A central part of La bohème’s mission is to assist my mother in her efforts to create a community and space to openly talk and share such experiences with others in Japanese culture.

My work seeks to make connections between the observers and observed. I am as interested in the relations among people behind the lens as in front, and my lens often turns to reveal interactions between my collaborators and myself. Storyteller (video 7 & image 02) documents the transformation of raw material into sculpture and the thoughts on art and life of a lumber mill operator in Murfreesboro, TN.  Originally simply documentation of Virginia Overton’s process of making a large-scale installation, the footage became a collaborative work between Overton, the lumber mill operator and myself in which our conversations were woven into a sculptural video installation. Ground Up (video 8 and image 03 & 04), made in collaboration with Aaron Suggs, is a work of video, photographs, and sculpture that explores how the landscape of Memphis, TN, a city crisscrossed by train tracks and highways and dense with freight train and tractor trailer traffic, echoes structural conditions of film — for example, how the rectangle of a passing freight train car across a truck’s windshield is like the passage of a filmstrip across the light of a projector. It is a reflection of the mechanics of film and image making, geography, and time.


Born 1981, Chiba, Japan
Lives & works in Brooklyn, New York


2004 BA, Memphis College of Art, Memphis, Tennessee

2003 AICAD: New York Studio Program, New York, New York

2002 School of The Museum of The Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts

Selected Group Exhibitions

Collaboration with Silver Process, curated by Chuck Bettis, The Stone, New York, New York, Forthcoming December 2015

Infinitude (In collaboration with Virginia Overton), Roberts & Tilton, Los Angels, California

Virginia Overton at Kunsthalla Bern (Storyteller, a collaborative work with Overton was shown as a part of her solo exhibition)
Street Trash, organized by Motoko Fukuyama, Aaron Suggs, and Virginia Overton, Memphis, Tennessee

Creature from the Blue Lagoon, curated by Robert Nickas, Martos Gallery, Bridgehampton, New York
Bred and Fed, curated by Mary Grace Wright, BS Gallery, Iowa City, Iowa

Street Trash, Greenpoint, organized by James Campbell, Sadie Laska, and Virginia Overton, Brooklyn, New York
Guns ‘N Fucking Roses, curated by Jan Van Woensel, Monty ABN, Antwerp, Belgium

Film Festivals / Premieres

Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Yubari, Japan
Bare Bones International Film & Music Festival, Muskogee, Oklahoma
Art of Brooklyn Film Festival, Brooklyn, New York
Japan Film Festival, Hamburg, Germany

Premiere of PAN, Anthology Film Archives, New York, New York


The Best Horror Short Award, Barebones International Film & Music Festival