Mingei partnered with Miki Iwasaki to bring to life folk art, craft and design through site-specific “Installations at the Station” for Liberty Station. The result will be three spaces collectively titled "Facetime."

Iwasaki’s artwork can be found across town, from Terminal 1 at San Diego Airport to the iconic facade of Bali Hai. His architectural experience includes work in New York, Los Angeles and San Diego firms, and spans residential, office, restaurant, retail and gallery work. He attended California State Polytechnic University in Pomona California, spent a year at the Kyushu Institute of Design in Fukuoka, Japan and received his Masters in Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Describe your “Installations at the Station” project.

Three separate spaces called Facetime will be built for both interaction and contemplation, hinting at communication via the sightlines created by their placement and perforation, while providing temporary shelter. The Corten Steel will patina over time further allowing for a visible connection to natural forces and site context. Liberty Station has a very formal organization. They’re military barracks, but even the landscape, the urban plan, is formal. So a goal is to break things up to make the spaces more distinct, so visitors can find their way around. There’s no place to gather right now, so there will be pods for small groups in a distinct space. Open-ended geometries are more attuned to the sun and wind direction, and other contexts.

What excites you about creating a new site-specific piece for ARTS DISTRICT Liberty Station?

Liberty Station is a unique space in the city of San Diego, a true melding of various uses in one location. The project is an amazing opportunity to contribute to the growing Arts District at Liberty Station. There is great potential in developing it into a world-class arts destination.

Will there be prototyping workshops?

Yes. It’s a fun thing to reveal the process to the public, fixing small-scale pieces into geometries to see what works. It’s like kids playing with cardboard houses; they understand basic principles: exclusion, inclusion, views and hiding. What we’re doing is not so different but more formalized with different materials. We’re building models and performing tests on the laser cutter (shares the patterns). The more dense the pattern, the more time it spends on the laser cutter.

"I feel that the visceral and physical experiences we have through our body and mind simultaneously can be truly lasting and powerful. "

What's your favorite public art piece in San Diego?

I don’t have one favorite, but I must say San Diego Airport and Port of San Diego have been doing an amazing job curating and developing numerous public art projects for San Diegans, especially in the last decade, and from the looks of it there is more great work to come.

You grew up in Southern California and have been building for a while. You mentioned you developed an interest as a kid. When did you first know you wanted to be an architect or artist?

Well, my parents were first-generation Japanese Americans and were focused on career and school; you needed a professional path. Because of that (education being primary), at a young age, I was already thinking of how making stuff could be focused into a career. My uncle studied architecture and became an urban planner. So it was suggested that I look into it. So I knew at 8 or 9 years old and haven’t deviated much from the path. The work has changed, of course, but the disciplines of building, sculpting and making remain the same.

How do your art and architecture interrelate, if you make a distinction between the two?

Architecture, socially constructed, is specialization-focused, though that’s loosening up now. It used to be associated with making buildings. I couldn’t do just one or the other. There was a broad range of work, not just in studio, and not just at a desk.

Who or what are your influences?

That’s really difficult. I tend to admire artists and designers who are not confined to a medium or visual language, and are willing to experiment and keep learning new things. Picasso, Ray and Charles Eames and Eliasson, to name a few from different eras. And my experience and interest has been heavily influenced by architecture and design, so I tend to gravitate toward work that incorporates space, light and materials in provocative and thoughtful ways. I feel that the visceral and physical experiences we have through our body and mind simultaneously can be truly lasting and powerful.

What appealed to you about the collaboration with Mingei?

It’s a great opportunity to work with the institution. It’s the most visited museum for me, devoted to making and diverse craft. It’s inspiring to see work and collections. Plus, the site for the installation is at Liberty Station, in our backyard. Why wouldn’t I want to do it?

How is your work mingei?

It depends on the project. Some is more than others. I do always love to explore materials and how they’re put together, or the longevity of panels (how they rust). Technology is not necessarily a huge part of the mingei tradition but it’s where we are. My work is more hybrid, where it’s handcrafted, hand-finished, digitally enhanced and managed. A little bit of everything. Ultimately, though, it’s about the materials.

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