Video Produced by Oliver I. Shipley
1980 marks the year of Rika Ohara’s arrival in the U.S. from her native Japan. At eighteen, she left the place that had been her home to pursue what would become a prolific career in the arts, unfolding and taking shape in all kinds of graceful, messy, and unexpected ways.
Recalling our February interview, the parts of our conversation that pop out in my memory are Ohara’s reflections on place, home, art, and identity. I had read that Rika’s mother and grandmother had lost their homes to air raids three times during WWII. I grappled with comprehending a loss of that magnitude, much in the way I grapple, and identify, with the content of Rika’s work. I couldn’t help but hear Rika’s life stories through the framework of her family history outside of Tokyo, even as our project has tended to focus more on how artists struggle and succeed in Los Angeles.
Certainly Rika talked about her life as an artist in Los Angeles, but those questions we sometimes ask about the “L.A. art scene” seemed half-way irrelevant, partially because Rika doesn’t proscribe to any kind of L.A. art scene. Rika Ohara stands alone. She is funny, politically astute, skeptical of “multiculturalism,” and unconcerned with celebrity.
Rika is a dozen artists in one, at home in the digital landscape, low budget high tech films, political performance, dance, painting, writing, music: you name it. And because of this, I wondered if she could talk to us about finding her art in-between categories. We ended our conversation talking about the idea of home, where Rika’s experiences in Japan, Europe, and the U.S. have surely informed her art. “You know, how we define home, it’s always a question. Where you are, and what you do here…but then after all it’s kind of incidental, isn’t it, home.” She tells us that the feeling of homelessness is something she has always carried inside of her, and that the in-between space is where she often creates her art. She shared that ideas for her work have come to her in-between sleep and consciousness, curled up in the backseat of a driving car, or on an airplane mid-flight.
“Maybe I’ve never really tried to define home,” she laughs, “I kind of like this idea of being in-between, in-between countries and cultures, and not just in a sense of cultures, borders, nationalities, but I’ve always felt the in-between space being a painter, dancer, performance artist, video artist….it’s kind of like what am I? But hey, that’s the only way I can be.”
We filmed and interviewed Rika in her garden at her “home” in Silverlake. Rika will unabashedly confess that she often has no idea what city she lives in and that she often thinks of leaving. “As long as I’m here in my garden, I can pretend it’s not L.A., it’s not California, it’s not the U.S.” Ohara in part represents the ambivalence of place that a lot of Angelenos experience, and also what a lot of immigrants experience, with the heart suspended in-between cultures, landscapes, and countries. But there is nothing tragic about this kind of in-between. On the contrary, Rika Ohara exemplifies the possibilities that emerge from the in-between.
It is with great pleasure that we release LA-Artist Episode 3 on Rika Ohara, whose 2009 film The Heart of No Place recently won Best Film (International) at this year’s London Independent Film Festival, and whose bountiful body of work is a great personal inspiration.
Article by Sofia Rose Smith, sofiarosesmith.com