Everybody has a turning point in his or her own life
Interview with Aiko Tezuka by Christina Eberhart.
I first noticed Aiko’s work in December 2010 at the Royal College show, after which she very kindly invited me to her studio in Dalston where she has been busy preparing work for three forthcoming exhibitions to take place in her homeland Japan.
It is Aiko’s first one year Fellowship in Europe funded by GOTO Foundation finds her that living and working in London has made her see her own country, Japan in a different light.
Aiko London is very different, and I am learning about how people in the East End are living. The society is very diverse and people live in cultural groups, preserving their culture whilst living together in the same city. In Tokyo we can leave our phone on a chair to reserve it while we go to the toilet, not so here! So in that respect London does have it’s down sides on the other hand I have also experienced extreme openness and kindness from people compared to Japan and deep consideration for others unlike anywhere else I have been. So being here it is a valuable experience.
C Aiko’s studio space is amass with colourful fabric and delicate threads arranged in orderly fashion. I notice that her recent work has a pronounced femininity about it. So my first question is if feminist issues are part of her work.
Aiko I have recently started to think about the feminist elements in my art and it is the first time that I am deliberately using the feminine figure and a particular form relating to the body in my art. Above all I would like for the viewer to interpret the art for him or herself.
My practise is based in painting; I graduated from classical painting 12 years ago. At that time I was thinking a lot about the structure of a painting. How it is build up of layers, upon layer. Just like time and the many great masters that make up the history of art. An other concern in my work is the power game that goes on in the arts. I am Japanese and Japan has a most complicated political and artistic history. Around 1868 Japan opened its doors to the West and new ideas for art were imported from the West into Japan and the western way of painting was then adopted very quickly.
Our traditional way of painting differs. For example we did not use stretchers or canvas in our ways of painting. Bearing in mind that Van Gogh and Matisse were also greatly influenced by the Japanese Arts, the Western influence in Japan changed everything completely, from clothing to eating and painting. At the time this was a big turning point in the history of the Asian People. We cannot ignore this change in history and every good artist cannot avoid thinking about the problems associated with it.
C Aiko shows me a folder with images of her early work and points at work representing a many petaled flower in blood red colour pointing out that she was planning to paint on this canvas but chose to embroider into it.
Embroidery is mostly woman’s work and why did you make the switch from painting with oil to using textiles?
Aiko Well, nowadays men also knit; we now have male knitting teachers on Japanese TV. But yes I did research a lot into what historically is woman’s work, for my PHD paper back then. I am not particularly educated in craftwork but I was good at knitting and thread and knew I could do it. Foremost, the reason I chose, this way to make art is that it affords a way where I can show ‘Time’. We cannot see time, every second and minute that passes, we cannot see it. I think by choosing thread I can make time visible, and I can make time visible by reversing processes. In life, we cannot choose two way’s, we can only ever choose one way. You cannot be in two places at the same time. So, if you choose one way you throw away other ways of being, other possibilities. I always feel divided and it is scary to think I might be making a mistake by choosing the one way. I wanted to show and investigate if there was another way of looking at this problem. I wanted for people to think of other possibilities and look for choices that include, let’s say, a historical way.
C Are you showing time in reverse with a view to reinventing or reinvigorating history? I notice that by disturbing the weave as you do and undoing it the original components become a different thing. Still bound by its original intent the original fabric has come away from its once fixed boundaries, what are we to make of this new image?
Aiko My thoughts were that, what if, Japan’s history of painting had chosen another way? What would have happened? I think it is possible to think in other ways and my question is, ‘how should we look to the future’?
C Do you mean that to find answers you suggest to be looking backward and imagine a different history in order to look forward?
Aiko By deconstructing existing pieces of fabric, I am also creating something new and I want the viewer to think about deconstructing their own lives. Everybody has a turning point in his or her own life. I want to inspire people to think about their own history and make something new from that, in the present so they may find their own way.
C What are your criteria when choosing the fabrics you work with?
Aiko In my earlier works I chose western fabrics, after the typical western image. I chose them for the novelty value. They also represent history and are still symbols of western culture today.
C Can you explain the what they are a signifier of?
Aiko After that very important turning point in history, Japanese People kind of looked up to western culture and really wanted to imitate everything and while in the process we did away our own culture because we adopted to the changes so very rapidly. We are Japanese but we are no longer certain about our own culture before the turning point. We speak and eat Japanese but our culture is a blend of east and west. Strangely, in Europe it is possible to read all the books right back to the 15th century. We can only imagine our own history but we can’t read ancient text without translation. The Japanese language was completely different then, from the language we use nowadays. Culture and social structure divided on the turning point and we think the present is loosely connected to our history.
C Aiko points at at a work titled: ‘Rewoven’ Using a stretcher canvas and paint is a totally western concept. Japanese materials for making Japanese painting were silk or ink on paper. With this in mind I thought we should start afresh and make our own canvas, even if it is a mixture of the two cultures. ‘So, what is our own canvas’, was my question when I started to deconstruct the texture. I did not mean to look for a primary original Japanese concept and I think its ok to be a mixture of the two cultures because it is impossible to avoid fact and reality.
With ‘Rewoven’ I intended to show the loosening of the weave of a western fabric in order to reinvent a new canvas and by deconstructing it in this way, I could not paint anything on it. This piece was then entered into a painting exhibition. It was challenging both to the jury and the audience at the exhibition. I got a prize!
C For the pieces you are working on at the moment you have chosen Indian fabric.
Aiko I bought this Indian Sari fabric here in Dalston at a Primary School Sale and I am working with the hem of the Sari it is the thing nearest to the ground, it is second hand and a bit dirty. I am planning to set these very small pieces of work into very big frames. It is called ‘The Hem Series’
C Why what are you trying to say, are you trying to say with this work?
Aiko The big imposing frames are generally used to display important work in historical museums; I want to draw attention to the life of normal people the everyday, the normal routine of work, nothing famous. All these pieces of hem have the shape of a pear which for me signifies the shape of the womb.
There is a disparity between ordinary life and who decides as to who is remembered in history. We can find a huge amount of good work in museums but it is people in power who choose what and who is going to be in the museum. I have my solo show coming up so I decide and I want to show the hem of life, it can be dirty, and come from the everyday and it is what is important to me.
C Tell me more about the larger work that you add to and attach embroidery to titled: ‘Fallen Fruit’ 2011.
Aiko These works talk about the whole and the part. We could say this embroidery is a new and complete work, or we could say it is the shape of a pear embroidered into the threads pulled from the piece of existing Sari fabric. So which is part of it and which is the whole? When I show this pear shape here people might think it is the whole and complete, but it is part of the whole and therefore partly complete in itself.
C Aiko shows me an earlier work ‘Extracting Warp Thread to create a new Quantity’ 2003. This is a continuous project which I started to explore 8 years ago.
Aiko I pulled out 4 meters, from this fabric and it is part of the whole and amounts to a new pile up of thread at the bottom of this work. So my question is, is it part or is it something complete in itself? Is it both independent and connected? But then what is that quantity that has amassed and grown sits at the bottom here. I am also thinking about the relationship between parent and child. Is it two separate things? We cannot say whether it is part or if the whole is split in two. Here again is a divided situation. So it seems we are always divided but how or what do you name this separateness? For example, my name is Aiko and I am Aiko but sometimes I am not Aiko.
C When you are not Aiko who are you?
Aiko Everybody has a name for the convenience of being recognised but I am separated and divided and constantly moving just like when hair is growing or nails are growing. Yesterday I was different from who I am today. We cannot fix anything but on the other hand we need names, we cannot live without categorizing. I may be a man one day or feel like a woman today. We cannot know the whole.
But there are certain things that are stable and certain is the fact that woman are bearing the children and that is why I choose to work with the shape of the womb.
In history woman’s work was important in society. Woman must have children but must work as well, so weaving and cooking was allocated to woman because it fits with the daily routine of raising children.
Sometimes we find by accident, something has no name and we have to wonder how we are going to call this. It is not only art that finds nameless things, feelings too and certain situations and expressions have no name. What do we call the thing in between the whole and the part? In my work I am always looking for something that has no name because the hidden and yet unknown often is something very important. If and once I have finished it, is called an artwork. It is nameless only for a brief period and then I have to go and look for the next thing that has no name.
C I am pointing at some religious tapestries depicting Italian Master Paintings the kind people buy as souvenirs in Italy. Aiko has worked into these and I want to know what these pieces signifiy for her.
Aiko I went to Florence famous for renaissance painting I saw a huge amount of paintings every day. Everywhere I saw Christian Paintings, and to be honest I cannot understand them. What do people see in these paintings? Although they are beautifully composed works, I was wondering what people might be seeing, so I began to unravel the fabric of the icons, using the shape of the vagina. My own belief is a mixture of the traditional and the personal and in my view, belief is not an icon or sign. Therefore I included the curtain in one of these works. A curtain is an erotic symbol and something to hide behind. Who knows I might be doing something naughty by pulling out the threads and inserting the metaphor of the vagina. We all need a belief, but what is it people are seeking within religious icon paintings?
C Aiko points at another larger work, hours and hours have been spent separating thousands of strands of thread from the weft. It depicts a silhouette. She comments that the figure could be her own image or anyone’s images, it’s about feeling a shadow in the work. We cannot see it but it is behind us like a ghost.
C Returning back to my earlier question ‘How is feminism perceived in Japan’?
Aiko We know the word and what it means, and we used to not be engaging with feminism deeply but now the expression ‘sexual discrimination’ is a much-used buzzword. Recently there have been instances where woman have been touched on their hips in the rush hour on the trains. So now we have separate sex coaches. Traditionally woman do not assert themselves. It is considered impolite and ugly for a woman to be direct.
C Who are the woman of importance in Japan?
Aiko Woman of importance in the history of Japan were mostly writers artists and poets. The political arena is reserved for men all over the world and equally so in the Art World.
C Who are your favoured western artists?
Aiko Mona Hatoum, Orozco, and Louise Bourgeois. I like Louise’s drawings best, I think they are like God!