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The New (Avant) Guard

The New (Avant) Guard

[intro-text size=”25px”]“I guard my image. I have to,” she apologizes. “I’ve been burned so many times—you have to put up a little guard.”[/intro-text]

Kasumi has a right to be concerned. When we talk, the avant garde filmmaker recounts the times local press clumsily portrayed her life’s work as “something akin to coloring books.” She is not the first local artist we’ve covered concerned over misrepresentation, but she is, by far, the most criminally underappreciated. Both a MacDowell and Guggenheim Fellow, Kasumi has pieces hanging in Munich galleries, has had works screened at both Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center, and has performed alongside the New York Philharmonic. She’s garnered awards around the world, from Italy to Japan and South Korea.

As for here?

“People don’t bother looking for my stuff,” she offers, only when pressed, about her presence in Cleveland. While a past winner of the Cleveland Arts award and a Creative Workforce Fellowship recipient, Kasumi is not without local love, but her craft is done an injustice from the dearth of venues willing to present true experimental cinema, a genre often challenging and unconventional by nature. Outside of rare appearances, like her set with DJ Spooky or her captivating performance at Ohio City’s SPACES Gallery earlier this year, Cleveland has been denied performances the likes of Vienna, Buenos Aires, and Stuttgart have enjoyed. “People seem to know, peripherally, who I am. I show more in Europe than I do here. Here, it’s hard to even get paid if you’re local.”

While she bears the torch for avant garde dutifully, you would be remiss to mistake the surreal worlds Kasumi creates for a shortcut on vision or narrative. “I don’t make popcorn movies,” she admits without hesitation. “What I’m trying to do is mimic our perceptions; how we perceive consciously and subconsciously.” Kasumi’s works are best grasped by drawing a through line from the early cinema veritae of Man Ray to the free association prose of James Joyce to the Cut-Up Tape Sessions of William Burroughs and Brion Gyson.

Her short films like Free Speech Zone and Breakdown, the latter of which won a 2010 Vimeo award, maintain a distinct thematic presence. “In Breakdown I used only found footage and it told a contemporary story,” she explains. “By using materials from the past, I was able to show repetition in the present and the repercussions that happen throughout history and that will inevitably happen throughout the future.” Breakdown serves as a compelling treatise on the media’s warped portrayal of America. “Look at all the representations of TVs I have—and screens—and people switching to another channel. We’re constantly barraged with stimuli every second of our lives. I’m trying to tell the story through that stream of consciousness.”

Her website,, provides a fascinating video catalog of her vision over the past several years, including trailers for her most ambitious project to date, Shockwaves. When asked of the feature-length film she refined over the past five years, she swells with well-earned pride, “The theatrical version has 25,000 shots in it, which is about ten times what the standard Hollywood movie has.” Billed as a “window into a man’s mind as he tries to comprehend the transformation of his life from fairy tale to tragedy,” Shockwaves proved not only technically demanding, but challenging to the artist’s own perceptions as well. She reveals filming was like “going through intensive psychoanalysis everyday for five years, eighteen hours a day.”

Clearly someone in love with her craft, Kasumi beams, “I’ll do anything that excites me at that given moment.” That includes a number of innovative framed video gallery pieces, including a permanent installation in Vienna, Austria, which she describes as “kinetic sculptures.” While works like Breakdown and Shockwaves lean heavily on their staggering amount of shots, gallery works like “Infinite Jest” and  “Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?” see Kasumi’s focus tighten, offering a keyhole glimpse into the evolution of her stylized career. Her art also appeared in the online promotions for the latest season of Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show. “They are the coolest. I visited their headquarters,” she recounts of her L.A. meeting with Andre. “He’s actually a delightful person. He looks like a maniac on the show, but he is just the nicest guy.”

Given her prolific career already, it’s no small wonder Kasumi spends what little down time she has perfecting her craft and putting in the hours that go unseen on the screen. “If I have a spare hour, I’m making samples. I have to cut, frame by frame, these moving images and characters out of their backgrounds and it’s super time consuming.” Her meticulous attention to detail may seem at odds with the apparent free-wheeling phantasmagoria captured in some of her best works, but that only speaks to the deft hand at work. Simply put, renowned internationally, Kasumi is an audio visual alchemist. With her films having transcended the expected constraints of cinema time and again, there is one word Cleveland is sleeping on above all others. That word is Kasumi.

To watch her feature film, Shockwaves, go to and the first 75 PressureLife readers to enter the code “pressure” at checkout can get an exclusive 50% discount!

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