Aoi Yamaguchi Treats the Art of Calligraphy As Performance

Japanese calligrapher Aoi Yamaguchi takes her art very seriously. Born and raised in Hokkaido, Japan, she has been trained to master the basics of calligraphy by learning under the Master Zuiho Sato since at the age of 6. “In the calligraphy world, there’s a ranking system, and you go through a total of 14 levels throughout the year to see how far you can rise,” she explained in an interview with 99u. “If you achieve the highest rank six years in a row, you will be become a master student or student master.”

According to Yamaguchi she received this title at the mere age of 14. “Calligraphy is like karate,” she notes. “Until you get the black belt, you have so many ranks to move through.” A recipient of numerous awards, Yamaguchi has received the First Place prize from the Minister of Education at the 44th Asahi Calligraphy Nationwide School Exhibit and the Superior First Place at the 33rd National Students Calligraphy Exhibition, amongst other titles.

“Studying calligraphy is really physical,” says Yamaguchi, “and I was a perfectionist. I would look at my master’s work and try to write it exactly the same, following his brushstroke. My work wouldn’t come out the same, so I’d get frustrated. However, I’m really persistent, so I would strain my back over a sheet of paper, practicing for hours until I could write something nearly identical to my master. I found this process very meditative. To this day, I love the smell of the sumi ink.”

Since moving to the US in 2004, she has performed and exhibited her works in many galleries, museums, universities, and festivals around the States and abroad. Her work explores this juxtaposition between her identities: on the one hand, relying on her background in the traditional Eastern classics and on the other, relating to her contemporary artistic expressions.

Her aim? To transform the two-dimensional art of Japanese Calligraphy into the art of physical expression through performances. Take a look for yourself:.