Kami by Elli Chung

Issue 87

The East-Asian philosophy of aesthetics, specifically from Buddhist tradition, is embedded in my cultural identity. At the core of traditional Japanese culture is the value of harmony in all things, engagement with the present moment, and grace in allusiveness. My project Kami seeks to locate the feelings aroused by the sensing of presence, or the “spirit” in visual experience. Kami is a Japanese word for god or essence derived from the Shinto/Buddhist belief in the afterlife that all humans at death become spirits inhabiting both the heavens and the earth -- the worlds of the visible and invisible intertwine in life, from the mountains, waterways and plants, to animals and the changing seasons. Deities and demons are close at hand to hear petitions or cause terror. Kami is a series of photographic images of domestic and nature scenes and objects that allude to legendary creatures and spirits in Japanese folktales. I title the images with the names of these characters to suggest narratives and their presence in the settings.  

In this project, the interplay between fantasy and reality depends on how words interact with images to settle or unsettle the terms of engagement. Text serves as a starting point from which ordinary spaces are recontextualized as sites of subtle dramas. The allegorical potential and plausibility of the text and image pairing are spurred by psychological thought giving rise to subjective fiction and for desires to play out.

My Korean and Japanese heritage has played a key role in the way certain types of images have influenced my sensorial experiences of them. Kami is a contemplation on imagination and our intimate relationship to the way we see, read and experience images. Connected to and drawn from our own consciousness or search for meaning, images can serve as a holding ground for own personal mythologies.

Elli Chung lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
To view more of Elli's work, please visit her website.

 AME ONNA:  A Female Rain Spirit

AME ONNA:  A Female Rain Spirit

 TENJONAME: The Ceiling Licking Spirit

TENJONAME: The Ceiling Licking Spirit

 UMI NYOBO: A Female Sea Monster Who Steals Fish

UMI NYOBO: A Female Sea Monster Who Steals Fish

 SORAKI-GAESHI: The Sound of Trees Being Cut Down, When Later None Seems to Have Been Cut

SORAKI-GAESHI: The Sound of Trees Being Cut Down, When Later None Seems to Have Been Cut

 ASHINAGA TENAGA: A Pair of Characters, One With Long Legs and the Other With Long Arms

ASHINAGA TENAGA: A Pair of Characters, One With Long Legs and the Other With Long Arms

 ROKUROKUBI: A Spirit Who Can Stretch Its Neck and Spy into Spaces

ROKUROKUBI: A Spirit Who Can Stretch Its Neck and Spy into Spaces

 MAIKUBI: The Quarreling Heads of Three Dead Miscreants

MAIKUBI: The Quarreling Heads of Three Dead Miscreants

 UBUME: The Spirit of a Woman Who Died in Childbirth

UBUME: The Spirit of a Woman Who Died in Childbirth

 AMANOJAKU: A Small Demon Who Instigates People Into Wickedness

AMANOJAKU: A Small Demon Who Instigates People Into Wickedness

 ASHI MAGARI: A Spook Who Entangles the Legs of Travelers

ASHI MAGARI: A Spook Who Entangles the Legs of Travelers

 YAMA UBA: The Mountain Hag

YAMA UBA: The Mountain Hag

 BAKENEKO:  A Shape-Shifting Cat

BAKENEKO:  A Shape-Shifting Cat

 KEUKEGEN: A Creature Made of Hair

KEUKEGEN: A Creature Made of Hair

 RAIJU: A Beast Who Falls to Earth in a Lightning Bolt

RAIJU: A Beast Who Falls to Earth in a Lightning Bolt

 KAPPA: A Lake Monster With a Water-Filled Head and a Love of Cucumbers

KAPPA: A Lake Monster With a Water-Filled Head and a Love of Cucumbers