Artistic Work / Tsukumogami Interpretation

artistic work and personal statement by Robin Decary-Kostiw

edited by Tiffany Dai

The Japanese term “Yokai” encompasses a range of spiritual beings, from demons to benevolent ghosts and other supernatural creatures. This collection of illustrations, however, focuses on a specific category: Tsukumogami. Tsukumogami are the spirits of objects which have come to be unused or unwanted, and who in turn come back to possess the items, taking forms which range from demonic to cute. In the case of this collection, I considered my own personal items which have fallen out of use, and how they might appear if they were possessed, chastising me for my lack of respect for them. Each Yokai thus says something which reflects my relationship to its item. Because I’ve studied Mandarin Chinese for the past three years, I decided to write their dialogue in Chinese in order to centre them closely around my field of interests, namely Chinese martial arts and the Chinese language.

This giant Yokai has grown through the uniform that I once wore nearly every day, a relic from the Wing Chun Kung Fu school I attended through high school and Cégep. He says “Aren’t you cold?”
This Yokai was created with my mother’s old flute in mind. Although it has fallen out of use, the flute remains in pristine condition, locked away inside of an old case. The flute Yokai says (roughly translated)
“Beautiful to see, beautiful to hear…” 
This cute Yokai is a blob of ink, based on an old ceramic ink tray I used to practice ink washes with, now gathering dust in a corner of my room. He says “I want to paint…”
This Yokai was made as a practice for the watercolour backgrounds in other illustrations, but in the end I liked its eerie allure and decided to keep it in the collection. It is the only mute Yokai, as it has no object from which it receives its personality.
This Yokai was drawn with the Kwan Dao in mind, one of the five basic weapons from my kung fu school. Since beginning my studies at McGill, it has fallen out of use and has been lying by my desk. With that in mind, the Yokai says “You ought to practice…”
This Yokai is based on an old tea set sitting in my family’s kitchen cupboard, a relic from a time before we all grew up and moved our interests out of our local community. The hand, reaching out from its cup, says “Please drink slowly…”

Robin Decary-Kostiw is a third year East Asian Studies major with a minor in East Asian Language and Literature. He is interested in Chinese language and culture, and hopes to enter the field of translation after his BA at McGill. He has been drawing since the age of six and most recently working exclusively with ink and watercolour.

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