Text by Sachiko Shoji
(This text was contributed on the occasion of the exhibition In Search of Critical Imagination, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan, 5 January - 23 February 2014.)
Having developed an interest in pictorial structure as a university student majoring in oil painting, Tezuka Aiko began to withdraw the normally invisible interior and time woven into preexisting textiles by removing their threads. Or at least, this is the cliché that is often told about the artist’s work. It is important to stress that Tezuka’s interests do not end with structure. Using dangerously ephemeral embroidery in which an entire image might disappear when the threads are removed, and weaving meaning into her works, Tezuka’s recent efforts seem to embody a fertile new world.
Until about 2007, Tezuka made use of iconographic embroidery that incorporated ancient Japanese and Celtic patterns, and her choice of images during the period suggests a sense of interest and at the same time discomfort with the history of painting, the origins of icons, and the division between painting and crafts. Works like Loom of Layers (2008) and Fragile Surface (2009), in which Tezuka incorporated detached images from famous paintings, pleats from clothing, knit patterns and designs, suggest that she retained a healthy interest in painting. But in 2008, Tezuka’s work made a sudden return to reality with embroidered depictions of body parts. In a work called skim, for example, red thread in the shape of a hand scooping up liquid, hangs down to the floor, and the white fabric stretched over the embroidery frame recalls a supernatant, alluding perhaps to the human tendency to look no further than the surface of things.
Several years ago after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the structure of Tezuka’s works, made up of an embroidered image, extracted thread, and as a result, a violated interior, became linked to an invisible sense of wonder / menace and complexly intertwined with a tinge of social meaning. Since 2011 (the year of the disaster) in particular, we can detect her sense of discomfort and doubt in regard to the society in her remote hometown. For example, in the 2012 work Lessons for Restoration (sewing up), Tezuka used various techniques to apply needlework to a piece of sheer fabric, but all of the embroidery threads hang down in front of the work, suggesting that it is ultimately impossible to hide the scars and that things that have we have tried to repair will always be revealed.
For this exhibition, Tesuka’s largest in Japan for some time, she has imbued her works with frank thoughts. Installed on the upper part of a red wall, which recalls blood, are bamboo and PVC pipes that discharge an invisible liquid. The type of liquid is better left unsaid, but beneath this straightforward message is a group of altered fabric items that were originally used in Germany between 1900 and the 1930s. Tezuka has added embroidery and removed threads from these textiles, which retain the actions and signs of people from that era through the presence of stains and yellowing. The inner pain that we assume historically and the risks that are concealed in daily life are suggested by images such as a deformed heart and a person eating while wearing an eye mask, and brought back into the present with every stitch. The works urge us to consider what has happened to a society in which the present should not have been detached from the past, but at some point various mistakes were made and things went wrong. This is also true of two other works in which the definition of the word “bruise” is printed in many different languages. On one side, there is an old German tablecloth in the center of a red wall, and on the other, six different Gobelin tapestries with the weft thread removed, and words printed on a thin fabric in the center of Suspended Organs (bruise), from which bright red threads have been extracted. As this form is based on a bruise that actually appeared on Tezuka’s body, it represents the point at which her personal pain intersects with the pain of society. The thin fabric causes the various different kinds of red thread in the background rise to the surface, resembling a bruise (or internal bleeding). In a counterpart work, called digital and analog, the warp has been removed from a Gobelin tapestry, and only the loosened weft has been used to embroider the form of an anus on the mesh ground. Though the exact meaning of the title and image remains unclear, the emergence of this form, in which an organic entity seems to be overflowing from a minute, inorganic textile, perhaps indicates a proliferation of something incomprehensibly vivid. Finally, there is a work titled re-imagine, an installation housed in a showcase that was made expressly for this exhibition. By combining antique works from the museum collection with cheap, mass-produced objects, Tezuka has created a space in which we are urged to reconsider a variety of problems. These not only include questions related to contemporary society but also extend to our respect for objects and people who persevere until the end, the original human motivation for making things, and the museum system.
The dialogue between Tezuka and the huge amount of time she put into this exhibition is sure to resurface in in the future in her works.