Into the Unknown World of Layers, or Lessons for Restoration Text by Hibino Miyon

Hibino Miyon - Assistant Curator, The National Art Center Tokyo, Japan, July 2015
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition Artist File 2015 Next Doors: Contemporary Art in Japan and Korea at The National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (29 July - 12 October 2015) and Artist File 2015 Next Doors at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, Gwacheon, South Korea(10 November 2015 - 14 February 2016).

A painting is a single plane made up of layers of colored material. Though an accumulation of time and narrative is contained in each layer, we cannot immediately detect this with the eye. Tezuka Aiko’s conception of “painting as weaving” is a means of visualizing and literally dismantling the layers. A piece of fabric is made up of woven threads. By loosening them, it is easy to return the threads to their original form. When you consider that nearly everything around us cannot be reduced to its elemental state, the materials of thread and fabric are, though familiar, extremely unusual.

Prior to adopting this approach, Tezuka, who majored in oil painting in university and focused primarily on the structure of the medium, began an ongoing series of embroidered works. Thus, her artistic practice began with thread rather than paint on canvas. In her early embroidered works, Tezuka exposed the rear of the canvas, so that both the image on the front and the countless threads in back were simultaneously visible. Tezuka evolved a means of production that emphasized pliability – a quality lacking in painting, hardened as it is with glue – and dismantled the embroidery, giving rise to a front, a back, and a neutral layer or “unknown world.”

Tezuka has worked with a diverse range of materials, including antique fabrics from 100 years ago, fast-fashion brand scarfs, and cloths that she designed and wove herself. While textiles are associated with a variety of times, places, and motifs, Tezuka’s work has consistently focused on scooping up drops of irreversible time that have spilled from our hands and unraveling the structure of the world and time.

With a circular section unraveled in the middle, Lessons for Restoration is a work that attempts to blur central perspective and erase the vanishing point. Obscuring the painterly convention of perspective, and trying to teach us how see things again, the series takes on even greater significance through Tezuka’s use of contemporary souvenirs from the city of Florence, where the perspective technique was originally developed. On the other hand, while referencing Peranakan design, shaped by a blend of English, Chinese, Indian, and Malay culture in Singapore during British colonial rule, Tezuka unravels a textile that incorporates contemporary symbols in Certainty / Entropy. In another work in the series, Certainty / Entropy (England 6), she reveals the dazzling reverse side of a textile that contains bio, recycling, and peace marks, a simplified diagram of female ovaries, and a radiation hazard symbol rendered in gold thread. In this way, Tezuka creates a more dramatic expression of the cycle of construction and reconstruction.

In Dear Oblivion 1 (2015), a new work made for this exhibition, Tezuka references The Lady and the Unicorn, housed in the Musee de Cluny, and The Hunt of the Unicorn, housed in the Cloisters, and depicts a fountain emerging from an open canopy with two sets of hands reaching toward the water. Everything – the fertile earth, people washing their hands in water, the dismantling of a structure made out of a spring of gushing water (the root of life) – is a metaphor for “dear oblivion,” something we were forced to address after the earthquake in 2011. A similar sense of danger triggered by a threat to food, the basis for sustaining life, is apparent in Suspended Organs (Kitchen) (2013). The work consists of an unraveled tablecloth with vivid traces of past use that was made in Germany in the 1920s prior to the rise of the Nazis.

By dismantling textiles and motifs of the past, Tezuka presents us with the reality of our times. She sets out to create links not only by unraveling everything that constitutes the world, including social, cultural, political, and economic elements, but also our own psychological structure. Despite exposing the content of a textile, the bundle of gracefully extracted and ordered threads does not give us the slightest pause. In addition to the brilliant and eerie appearance of the works, they contain a sense of hope regarding the real world.