Such a co-existence with vegetal beings – I could almost say: this vegetal existence – keeps me alive and secretly goes with my words. In other words: can I still return among humans, and through what path?

Luce Irigaray

Presented as the 8th collaboration between SAVVY Contemporary and MaerzMusik Festival, REFUGE IN THE VEGETAL WORLD is a solo exhibition and activation series featuring composer, sound artist, musician Miya Masaoka.

The project takes cues from the seminal work Through Vegetal Being. Two Philosophical Perspectives, co-authored by Luce Irigaray, and highlights Miya Masaoka’s lifelong body of work, dissecting the significance of vegetal lives, and exploring the myriad possibilities of collaboration between humans and more-than-human entities. Be it an installation, live performance or composition, the context in which each work exists and is presented is central to the artist’s exploration. Thinking beyond the anthropocentric viewpoint that rigidly distinguishes between humans and the so called “non”-humans, the works presented in this exhibition are continual endeavors to re-contextualize the perceived passivity and objectification of plants, animals and instruments as well.

The exhibition delves into Masaoka's multifaceted approach to sound and her profound connection to natural beings. Thus, Masaoka manifests as a shape-shifter, seamlessly transitioning between roles such as composer, performer, sound maker, and facilitator. Her identity undergoes a continuous metamorphosis from one piece to the next. Her body transforms into a living canvas where bees congregate and rest, where hands serve as vessels for translating sounds derived from the energies released by plants. Masaoka taps into the direct energy of plants, aligning with the lineage of deity spirits like the Kamui or Inau from Ainu mythology. These plants hold a vital significance, a crucial role on the stage during performances in Japanese tradition. In her sonic pieces more-than-human beings are active collaborators and essential components of a rich sonic tapestry. Masaoka invokes her alter persona, Hiko Hiko, echoing the lineage of female shamans, acting as a conduit that connects with the divine. She follows the path of water through human-made constructions such as fountains and pipes, reverberating its sonic footprint in a variety of ways. 

The exhibition at SAVVY Contemporary will be accompanied by performative and sonic activations throughout and after the festival both within our physical space and on radio. The exhibition will open with a performance by Miya Masaoka, embodying her pseudo persona, Hiko Hiko. In the following weeks, “Cubistics”, a three-dimensional score, will be performed by string players. Additionally, we are expanding our reach to the waves of SAVVY Contemporary’s radio platform, SAVVYZΛΛR, where Masaoka's composition, “For Birds, Planes, and Cello,” will be featured

Miya Masaoka is associate Professor at Columbia University and Director of the Sound Art MFA Program. The composer, sound artist and musician creates works for orchestra, acoustic phenomena, video, electronics and installation. Whether recording inside physical objects, plants or the human body or within architecturally resonant spaces or outdoor resonant canyons, Masaoka creates incongruencies that feed the paradox of the contemporary condition.

She is the recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright, and commissions from the Fromm Foundation, the Library of Congress, EMPAC and the Studio Residency at Park Avenue Armory. Her works have been presented at the Venice Biennale, MoMA/PS1, Governors Island (NY), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, and Kunstmuseum Bonn, and Darmstadt. Her compositions have been performed by the BBC Scottish Orchestra, Jack Quartet, MIVOS, Dal Niente, the S.E.M. Ensemble, Volti, Bang On a Can All-Stars, Either/Or Ensemble, Del Sol Quartet, Volti, Ensemble Mosaik, and Joan Jeanrenaud, formerly of Kronos.

As an improviser, Masaoka has performed and recorded with artists such as Pauline Oliveros, Cecil Taylor, Pharoah Sanders, Henry Brandt, Christian Wolfe, Andrew Cyrille, Reggie Workman, Gerry Hemingway, Zeena Parkins, Myra Melford and a Duo CD with Anthony Braxton on RogueArt Records. Her teachers include Alvin Curran, David Tudor, Maryanne Amacher and Togi Suenobu.

Her writings, such as “The Vagina is the Third Ear”” or “Vaginated Chairs”, have been published by The Theater Review (NYU) and Peripheries (Harvard Divinity School's Center for the Study of World Religions).