(Im)material World

Mai Ryuno in front of a blank white wall that she painted over during the pandemic. She’s shifted her focus from material art to helping others be creative in their own ways.

The last time Mai Ryuno, artist and owner of the studio Play Full Ground on Lighthouse Avenue, held a performance piece, she was donning what seemed like a plain white peasant top at the Monterey Museum of Art. It was days before the county enforced shelter-in-place orders so everybody was “a little bit scared of touching,” Ryuno says. But touch – and generally the act of being playful with one another – is essential to Ryuno’s work, be it material or performative. So the show went on that day in March.

When people approached her, shook her hand, or hugged her, the plain white top would light up. She had threaded LED lights of different colors through it.

Color, and lots of it, is also a key element to Ryuno’s work. So is audience participation. Last year, when she celebrated her two-year anniversary at Play Full Ground, she wore an oversized white T-shirt, outlined the words Playfullground with painters tape, and invited people to shoot her with water guns full of paint.

That shirt now hangs like a relic in her mostly empty studio. Now, in the middle of the pandemic-era winter, the walls, usually splashed with bright colors by her or her workshop participants, have been painted over in plain white. The group table where people could come to learn and create is now empty. “In my first year, I did 20-plus workshops with groups of six to a dozen people, and we always made some kind of art,” she says. The third anniversary, Dec. 1, happened without an in-person event.

Over the years, Ryuno has shifted away from how-to workshops and leaned into more project-based work. “There is the business side of things, but I didn’t want to just host paint parties all the time,” she says. “My profession has two parts: playful and social entrepreneurship and social practice.”

During SIP, Ryuno has been making more use of social media, since 2020 hasn’t been a time for the playfulness of socializing. The aim of going virtual isn’t necessarily online how-to workshops; Ryuno largely records and posts videos about her current projects.

Take her creative bookmaking posts on Play Full Ground’s Instagram page, for instance: the directions are impossible to follow. But the point was not so the 450 followers could make a book themselves, but rather to stoke inspiration and to remind people they can still create and connect.

Currently, Ryuno is in collaboration through social media with another local artist, Linda Lay, in what they call Relation, Fashion, Creation and Connection, or RFCC – a way of communicating to a single person, in this case Lay, by making a unique garment. “Every year I change how I do things,” says Ryuno. “[Documenting RFCC] is not for popularity, but to keep the authentic relationship between me and someone else, to encourage and support being productive and creative.”

Marielle Argueza is a staff writer and calendar editor for the Weekly. She covers education, immigration and culture. Additionally, she covers the areas of Marina and South County. She occasionally writes about food and runs the internship program.

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