Artist Statement

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)

The Certainty / Entropy Series

The Certainty/Entropy series was produced specifically for my solo exhibition held at Hermes Singapore in 2014. I designed these four kinds of textiles, which were hand-woven by professional craftworkers in the textile museum called ‘Textile Laboratory’ in Tilburg, a southern region of the Netherlands. After then, I manually unravelled the fabrics thread by thread.

I had long dreamt about designing pieces of fabric myself. The reason for this is that it would highlight the paired notions of ‘disassembly and rebuilding,’ which are the conceptual pillars of my work.

These four types of fabrics have references to various cultures in different times, such as the 20th century Peranakan (the local culture of Singapore), 16th century Britain, Japan in the 8th century, and India in the 18th century. Parallel to that, I have also incorporated symbols found in our modern time, for example, the at-mark (@), copyright mark (©), biohazard mark (representing biological danger), organic food mark, radiation-warning symbol, and peace mark. These modern symbols are woven into the layer in which the past and modern signs are intertwined to weave a piece of fabric, and in the end, it was unravelled.

In January 2014, when I first visited Singapore in order to conduct a research for this project, I came across the local culture. Peranakan, as it is called, is an umbrella term for various aspects of the local culture in Singapore, which seem to refer to highly mixed culture born out of values and influences brought by wealthy Chinese immigrants, indigenous Malays and Indian dwellers. While Peranakan is known particularly for its fine beadwork, it seems that the term refers also to wider aspects of the local lifestyle including its distinctive colour schemes and architectural styles.

Singapore is a country where the influence of the 120-year British colonial history yet remains visible. For example, Peranakan beadwork and textiles exhibit a strong influence of British and Irish cultures. What is interesting is that while the compositions of the major textile patterns are noticeably Western, if one takes a close look, some surprising elements can be found in the patterns, such as pineapples, dragonflies and butterflies. Whilst such flying insects do not generally appear in the typical patterns of Western textiles, the tropical motifs are also incorporated in the design of Peranakan textiles. Therefore, when I saw the original piece of Peranakan fabric for the first time, it gave me a surprising reminder that its history is truly woven into the fabric.

Certainly, in regards to the fusion of cultures, indications of such hybridisation can be seen in various architectural designs around the world. However, Peranakan seems to be cheerfully adopting the culture of the coloniser despite being the colonised. The fact is that their rather gloomy history has been reflected well upon the design of local fabric in such light-hearted and delightful ways that it appeared to me quite refreshing. It may have been related to the rather relaxed and unrestrictive ways in which the British ruled the island before the Japanese invaded during the Second World War. After the encounter with the local textiles that embody its long history, I decided to incorporate Peranakan textile patterns into my new work. Simultaneously, I also began adopting other elements of traditional textile patterns with reference to the UK, India, and Japan, which all have been deeply involved in the history of Singapore.

Perhaps, modern symbols that I incorporated into the design of the fabric need more explanation. While we live in modern times being surrounded with various kinds of symbols, these symbols seem to carry multiple layers of meanings, and, in my view, they encompass even contradictions in some respect. For instance, the peace mark is supposed to be the symbol of peace, yet it has been subsumed under the logic of popular culture and even consumerism that entails exploitation. The copyright mark indicates that a particular intellectual property is copyrighted, creating a monopoly on the idea as a source of economic gains instead of democratising it. The biohazard mark warns environmental risks, often caused by humans themselves. And the bio mark (like JAS mark) shows that the product is organically grown, promoting organic farming, yet simultaneously functioning covertly as another marketing scheme. These varying symbols with subtle internal contradictions are probably derived from the survival instinct common to all humans, which seem to be related to our deep-seated desires for growth and even accumulation of wealth and power.

This realisation brought me to the question about underlying meanings of symbols and decorations in the ancient and pre-modern worlds. As we often see and read in books about textiles and decorative art, the meanings of decorations and embellishments in the ancient world were apparently fairly simple, and their explanation can usually fall into one of the three categories, such as prolific, fertility, and safety. Yet, I often wonder if their lives and desires were so simple as these three categories. Like us living in this modern age, I suppose they also had conflicting and contradictory desires that life often entails. As if illustrating this notion, for example, kings and rulers of the past made luxurious fabrics to display their wealth and power so ostentatiously. Their impulse and necessity to parade opulence were perhaps motivated, rather conversely, by the constant fear of losing their authority and status. It seems as if the more luxurious and elaborate their textiles and decorations became, the bigger the anxiety of kings was. In other words, what prompted such monumental projects may have been the very opposite of the opulence and luxuriousness so vividly visible to us today.

Another point to be mentioned is that while the degree of perfection of pre-modern ornaments is impressive, craftsmen and labour involved in those enterprises were easily killed if they refused to obey the orders of authorities, therefore there were serious tension and a sense of urgency, not comparable to the more mitigated degree of urgency that can be experienced in modern times. It is, therefore, possible to discern such degrees of urgency reflected on the perfection of the buildings and ornaments. Indeed, for them, it was a matter of life and death. Given the contradictory situation, it is difficult to say whether or not those ornaments and buildings were merely the reflections of the rulers’ simple desires to exhibit their wealth and power.

I have been examining the ancient, pre-modern and contemporary worlds through the media of textiles and their patterns. However, the issues of conflicting desires and the often-untold labour of slaves are universal and timeless for the humanity as a whole. Even though all craftsmen that designed and wove the fabrics I used in this project are long gone, I would like to continue thinking about them and perhaps even empathising with them. From the experience of conducting this research, I decided to interweave the threads of old fabrics and contemporary symbols in order to weave my own fabric.

And as the fabric was unravelled yet again by the hands of the author, such as myself, cultures of the past and the present started melting into one another. The end result eventually became the fabric of my own and perhaps even our time. And one day, someone finds it long after I am dead and may imagine the time that I have lived in. I like old tapestries and figurines displayed in museums and books, as they invite me into the worlds in which their authors lived and breathed.

 

What to reweave?

De-construction and re-construction could always lie in the center of my works. I have been considering what to de-construct and re-construct.

 

Since the very beginning of my artistic career, I have been interested in the surface of objects. For a painting student, to think about how to make a good composition or a beautiful surface is an expected task, but it was not mine. My essential interest has been what makes up the surface of the object; through which processes was the surface produced; how could I peel off the surface; what things could I see behind the surface; And how could I embody these things behind the surface into my work. Although we are completely surrounded by surfaces, we cannot physically enter things in even one millimeter under the surface. Every time we peel a surface, a new surface will appear immediately, like an infinite loop. That means, behind the surface is unreachable and always invisible. Then my next question appears, how to perceive these infinite surfaces, or how to loosen the surfaces that seem to be firmly interwoven?

 

“Time” could also be one of the things existing a little behind these firm surfaces. Time itself is normally invisible although almost all things around us have their own time, i.e., their history and story. Their actual outlook may be different from what they used to be before or while they were produced. Looking back my past art works, I have always tried to capture those invisible things on my works realistically. Thanks to their primal structure, fabrics and embroideries allow me to unravel textiles into hundreds of threads. In other words, they could figuratively reverse time while making the invisible time visible, and as an effect of this, loosen the surface.

 

I am still asking myself what to unravel and what to reweave in our time.

 

Aiko Tezuka

Berlin, October 25, 2017

 

*This statement is written for the exhibition “re:construction” at PLADS artspace, Aarhus, Denmark, from 29 October – 25 November 2017

A Braille Letter (2015, Exhibition “Stardust Letters”, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art)

Earlier, I left Manila in the Philippines and switched the aeroplane in the city in the Arab country called Abu Dhabi, and now I am writing this on the plane to Berlin. I assume those who read this letter or those who listen to the audio recording are either the ones that can read Braille, are blind, or perhaps even both.

Since I was asked, on this occasion, to make an art piece at this venue, which can be enjoyed by blind people, I have been thinking about writing a letter that can be read in Braille, but I’ve been unsure as to where to begin. To tell the truth, this is probably the first time that I have been given an opportunity to make an art piece for blind people, even though I’ve been making artwork for many years and exhibited at various museums. I’ve made this piece, thinking about how our paths can cross in this museum on this special occasion, the paths that led us to this curious chance meeting amongst visitors who can and cannot see and the artist.

You’ve just come through the room where you saw a forest of threads hung from above your head. The threads are hung down from a big net stretched across the room overhead, and at the points where threads are attached to the net, a Braille letter is formed, which can be read only when they are seen from above. For those who are blind, the braille letter rendered across the net cannot be seen, but even for those who can see but cannot read Braille, it looks merely like a constellation of stars.

The content of this letter is only known to me, the people that worked on this project, and those who can read Braille. Just as I cannot see the world that blind people usually perceive, there are things that only blind people can see and yet are imperceptible to those who are not blind. By creating this slightly unusual situation in the museum, I thought that I would be able to present a kind of a shared experience amongst us, creating the intersection of different paths that have led us to this exhibition. (Having said that, if there are many people who want to know about the content of the letter, I would consider providing a way in which they can find out about it but only outside the museum.)

Although I currently live in the capital city of Germany, Berlin, I often fly to various places for work-related reasons, particularly for setting up exhibitions. Two months ago, I went to the small town called Tilburg in a southern region of the Netherlands for making pieces of fabric, and last month I went to Munich and Norway. Soon after that, I travelled to Manila, the Philippines, and now I’m on the way back to Berlin. And after a week or so, I have to go to Norway once again, and next month I will fly to Japan for the opening of my exhibition in Hyogo. After Hyogo, I will go to Tokyo for another exhibition of mine, and in autumn I am scheduled to go to Seoul, South Korea.

I will be 39 years old this summer, but as I am leading such a hectic life, which is inevitable since I am an artist, I often ask myself: “Am I ever going to get married?” “Do I really have to have a child?” Since I am an artist, I do not have a salary as such every month, and if I don’t get paid regularly I cannot pay the rent. So often as I think about those things that even while I am travelling those thoughts appear in my dreams.

In the midst of the hectic time, I meet people of various ethnicities with different cultural backgrounds, and I speak to them in my non-native language, English. So, even though I do not perfectly understand what they say, I work with them for the common goal of setting up an exhibition at exhibition venues. At an opening party, I would wear a dress and heels that I rarely wear in my daily life, but after the event, I come back to my studio and bury myself in work. That is my life at the moment.

Of course, when I go to a foreign country, I come across unfamiliar customs and particularities of the region. Even amongst Europeans, whether Germans, the Dutch or Norwegians, there are differences. Singaporeans and Filipinos are also very different in terms of how they act and behave despite their geographic proximity.

In the same way that I identify people according to where they are from, whether German, Dutch or Filipino, for them I am probably the representative of Japan, even though no one has said so. They all try to know more about Japan through me. In such an instance, I am torn between opposing feelings. On one hand, I feel that I want to say nice things about my own culture as much as I can, yet, on the other hand, there are many things about my country that I want to criticise as well.

However, no matter what I say, because of its complexity, I cannot communicate to them what I really want to say. But perhaps, I merely want to remind myself, albeit in vain, the reason why I am where I am in my life and experience what I experience, which is more personal than solely related to my cultural background. In the same way, no matter how closely I observe and analyse people of different ethnicities, I would not be able to understand the depth and complexity of their feelings towards their motherlands.

By the way, today, I took a cab to the airport, and on the way, I saw slums in the inner city of Manila. Litter was scattered around and everywhere to be seen on the streets. The laundry that looked still dirty was hung at the windows covering the frames entirely. In dusty narrow alleys, a lot of children were playing almost naked but with full of joy and a beaming smile on their face. It was in the daytime on a weekday.

I asked the museum staff that drove me to the airport why children were not in school. He told me that their parents are so poor that they cannot afford textbooks nor to send them to school. Those children that do not go to school will eventually become street-sellers in slums, thus their future prospect is severely limited.

I told him that in Japan education till the age of 15 is compulsory and the privilege is provided to all children. In reply, he said to me sincerely that he wishes the Philippines to be soon like Japan.

The current Japanese government is not so organised as it should be, and I feel ashamed when I come across news reports in Germany about poor decisions that the Japanese government is making on various issues. Despite that, when I look outside I quickly come to realise how precious what we have is in Japan, even though we always take them for granted. Having realised that, I grew frustrated with the government in the Philippines to the extent that I wanted to rebuke them, saying “what are you doing!”

Nonetheless, I have read somewhere that people often forget the journey that has taken to get to where they are now, and thus they cannot forgive others who cannot do what they can do at once. I hope the Philippines will soon find a way, and their own unique way, to get to the point where those children can go to school. Hoping for the coming of such a day and feeling somewhat ambivalent, I finally arrived at the airport.

This is yet another story. Last year, I stayed in Singapore for about a month, as I was offered to have an exhibition there. It felt much hotter in Singapore than Manila where I was staying earlier. I remember it was very sultry and I was constantly wiping off sweat trickling down my cheeks.

Singapore was colonised by the British, and the Philippines was under the Spanish rule for hundreds of years. During the Second World War, however, both countries were invaded by the Japanese military forces, and they suffered from atrocious destruction.

The other day, I saw an oil painting at the National Museum of Manila, depicting a horrific scene where a Japanese soldier is decapitating one of the local prisoners of war. Last year at History Museum in Singapore, I saw many photographs and thereby learned the fact that the Japanese invasion caused severe poverty and starvation in the country. When I travelled around Asia, I inevitably came to know more about what my country did in the past, and facing those facts put me in excruciating pain.

Yet at the same time, I empathise with Japanese soldiers who had to obey the command of chief military officers and the country and thus remained in muggy, boiling and humid jungle infested with snakes, poisonous insects and mosquitoes. Without adequately washing both themselves and their clothes and barely eating, they were also the victims of the horrific war. The jungles that I saw in Singapore seemed as if stained with their blood and suffering, therefore whenever I passed by jungles there I could not help but feeling intense grief and sorrow.

I‘m sure that the soldiers wanted to see their lovers and mothers waiting back home and definitely did not want to do such terrible things that the local people held a grudge against. At night, as I looked up at the moon, I imagined the forced patriots who were also looking at the same moon 70 years ago in this humid country. Much to my surprise, however, I never met any locals that had strong anti-Japanese feelings while I was staying there.

When I visited Hong Kong and was having a drink in a local bar on my own last year two boys with clean-shaven heads started speaking to me. They said, “we are from Mainland China and we’ve heard that Japan is such an amazing country and we really want to visit.” “But,” the boy stuttered, “…I heard that Japanese people don’t like Chinese people. Is that right?” As soon as I heard that, I thought that both sides are thinking the same. I started wondering who is behind all this, manipulating and stirring up the situation. I intuitively thought that we should never believe in what the governments and the media are saying on both sides.

On another occasion, I started chatting with a boy, the driver of a large van, who was working as a carrier that specialises artworks. On the way to the airport, we spoke about Japan. He said to me excitedly, “I’m driving a Toyota car too! I love Toyota vehicles! I think Toyota cars are the best in the world!” “Japan is incredible.” He continued. “Japanese companies have developed many advanced technologies. I think the country is really amazing.” I asked him how many days he works per week. He replied, “uh, how many days a week… well, my baby will be born soon, so lately, I’ve been working seven days a week.”

Hong Kong is developing rapidly and indeed an exciting city. People there know how to sell things and I was quite impressed by their ingenious and yet sometimes shrewd business acumen. Singapore also looked thriving, probably because its economy is booming, which reminded me of the 1980s in Japan when its economy was at its peak. Now, however, Japan will never and does not need to return to such a stage of economic growth. Everyone in Japan already has TVs, radios, personal computers, and air conditioners. Taking these into account, even to an amateur like myself who is neither an economist nor pundit, it seems obvious that it is not possible for Japan to further prosper by selling and buying more things. I think that Japan should at once leave the spectre of the economic legacy behind. Instead of trying to satisfy endless materialistic need, Japanese people should seek their spiritual fulfilment. Therefore, I don’t think it is right to see China as a competitor.

I think that the reason why I like living in Germany is because German people know how to live happily. To tell the truth, Berlin is not particularly a wealthy city. Without many growing industries, the job scarcity is actually quite acute. It may not be the hyperbole to say that in the city, there are not many things to see other than the remains of Berlin Wall, the parliament, and the European headquarters of Sony. I can say with certainty that it is not an affluent city.

However, for example, even when I go to a local library near the closing time and I want to borrow books in a hurry, no one rushes me because probably German people respect the act of learning. When I say that I am an artist people are usually complementary, saying to me that it is great and admirable. That is because they feel deep respect to art. When companies cooperate with art museums and galleries their reputation in the society rises, therefore many companies try to provide financial support and their own products as a form of sponsorship.

As I’m writing the following line, “all stores are closed in Berlin except Turkish shops on Sundays,” the plane has arrived in Abu Dhabi, and suddenly I found myself in the Arab world. Here, I’m switching to a plane back to Berlin.

Needless to say, the plane to Berlin is filled with many German passengers. I see a young German girl nibbling at a carrot and an apple. Many people in Europe often snack raw vegetables and fruits or even have them for lunch. I frequently witness people taking bites off them on the streets in the city. It may perhaps be better than eating sweets with lots of chemicals and additives.

I’ve been thinking about food a lot for several years, and I used to think that Japanese food was very safe, and in comparison with the standard in Europe, it is much safer in terms of additives, pesticides and fertilisers. Now, however, I think completely the opposite.

It is said that much food produced in Japan may have been exposed to radiation that has spread across the country since the accident that took place at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. More importantly, though, even before then, chemical substances added to food were absurd.

In addition to that, many companies seem careless about poor students and children that consume their inexpensive products, which contain lots of chemicals and additives. Furthermore, when it comes to the importance of having a healthy diet, children seem uninterested.

Here is another reason why I like Germany. Of course, there are lots of cheap and unhealthy products in Germany too, however, when we are well informed of the issues around food production we can make better decisions. In Germany, there isn’t so much difference in terms of prices as in Japan where you have to be rich so that you can afford to buy organic food, which is usually expensive. I think that German people are better informed in terms of what to eat and what not to eat.

After I wrote the above, I returned to Berlin safely, and shortly after then I flew to Norway to set up another exhibition and I came back to Berlin yesterday.

Norway is a Scandinavian country and it is so cold during the night that people have to wear a down jacket, even in the summer. While installing the exhibition at the venue an old man called Shell helped me. He works there for its maintenance and fixes things at various premises in the region. He had all the tools necessary to do that and he did everything that I asked for.

But he looked very sad, and I assumed that he lives by himself. When I looked him in his eyes I wondered what Shell has experienced in the past. Although Shell is not someone working in the field of art, he loves art. While I was setting up my work, he was gazing at me intently at all times. Every time a new piece was installed, he was full of praises for me and said that my work was amazing and beautiful. When we had to say our good-byes, he said to me kindly that it was a pleasure working with me.

While I was staying in Norway, I learned a bit about Norway’s history. The reason why we as Japanese don’t know much about Norway and the country’s current affairs is that we often pigeonhole all Scandinavian countries as “Northern Europe” and apparently Northern European history has been omitted from the comprehensive secondary education in Japan.

Within Northern Europe, there are intricately woven histories that are not easy to unravel particularly amongst their neighbouring countries, and they are usually not quite known to outsiders. I think it is similar to the situation that we often face in Asia. From Europe’s perspective, more often than not, Asian countries are simply referred to as Asia as a collective entity without knowing, for example, the complex relationships latent between Japan and South Korea, and Japan and China.

My next trip is to my own country, Japan. I will travel to Hyogo to set up my exhibition, which is based on this letter that is going to be translated into Braille. It has been over 5 years since I left Japan to live abroad, so I feel a bit nervous every time I go back to Japan for a short visit.

Particularly because Japanese people are very good at making up new words by shortening them, which do not usually make sense. For example, “morning-first” as in “in the early morning,” “fami-res” as in a “family-friendly restaurant,” or “perso-con” as in a “personal computer.” Even within the past five years, I’ve come across new words that I did not quite understand.

Also, since Japanese people are very polite and gentle to others, sometimes I am concerned if my behaviour and the way I speak are considered to be impolite or too direct, as my time in Europe has toughened me up to the point where I may sometimes come across too strong.

In Europe, oftentimes people do not understand unless I explicitly say my opinions and what I want. On the contrary, Japanese culture favours subtlety and sensitivity to read the other person’s intention without explicitly articulating. Therefore, when I am in Japan I have to be extra careful as to what I do and say, paying attention to those hidden messages.

And since 2011, everything seems to have changed in Japan because of the earthquake, the devastating tsunami and the ensuing nuclear incident. Yet, at such a drastic turn of the history, I was given opportunities to travel to many countries. Reflecting back on the curious itinerary that I have taken, I started pondering over what I am supposed to do right now.

Every country has its own history and problems, and yet love and warm feelings of people towards their own country are universal across the globe. My job is to make art, and through my work, I have seen many places and thought about things. If they will remain as the signs of the world that we live in, even to a modest extent, I believe that my unique experiences are meaningful.

I’ve written this long letter without having a clear direction. I wrote this as if I’m sending a letter to my mother or lover, and it was my intention to write without having a particular theme or clear structure. I don’t know if this exhibition at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art will succeed, but it seems to me that trying things without thinking too much has always been helpful to me and saved me many times, even though it may appear disorganised to others. Well, I do not have any conclusion as such, so I will end this letter here as it is.

 

Aiko Tezuka
30 June 2015 in Berlin

Artist statement for the solo exhibition Certainty / Entropy at Third Floor Hermès Singapore

In 2014, April

I endeavor to weave the fabric of our time into my fabric with both a sense of timelessness and temporariness. Therefore, though it may seem transient and ephemeral, I hope the presence of my piece to be felt far beyond our time.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, April 2014

Ghosts Speaking to Me Under Electric Lights

This text was written on the occasion of publishing the catalogue “Rewoven - Overflow” in January 2013.

Over the years I have become increasingly fixated on fabrics, especially those preceding the 17th century and the ancient eras. When visiting fabric museums, I often wonder how the early textile artists made such exquisite pieces without electricity. It is apparently now impossible to remake 8th century Japanese fabrics, even if we were to use the latest technology, because the techniques have since been lost.

When I am in the museums, I feel ghosts speaking to me. They are the ghosts behind the fabric: royalty and rulers, workshop managers, designers, thread dyers and weavers. They speak of hierarchies and processes, of wealth and strict working conditions. In these times, rulers aimed to display their power with the best techniques and the newest patterns. The greater the display of wealth, however, the more we could feel the rulers’ fear of losing power and control of their workers.

I am interested in loosening up these invisible narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules that I have developed over time: untying and unwinding fabric, revealing its structure, juxtaposing time and place, to name but a few. I do not cut or paste, or add or subtract matter. By unravelling and recomposing the structures and stories hidden within the material, I try to capture overflowing time and the continuous process of metamorphosis.

When I hear the ghosts of the fabric whispering within me, I feel like I could disappear and be consumed by the great whirl. It is an ambivalent feeling that consists of both fear and the pleasure of my ego melting away. Inevitably, I must return to the present day in my studio and continue to think about what to create with my hands under electric lights.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, January 2013

Artist Statement in 2012, June

This text was written to introduce myself on the occasion of entering Künstlarhaus Bethanien, the international residency program in Berlin.

Deconstruction of everyday material in the context of the history of painting underpins my work, often realised as objects and installations. The ways in which the world is constructed usually remain invisible or mysterious. Much time, process and material are woven into an object, whether natural or man-made, that embodies a function or story. I am interested in loosening up such readymade narratives to unravel forgotten histories or discover new plotlines. Pervading my creative processes are techniques and rules I have developed over the years: untying and unwinding the fabric; revealing the material structure; juxtaposing time and place; transforming opacity into transparency, and no cutting or pasting, addition or removal of material to maintain continuity, to name a few. By unravelling and recomposing the layers, structures and stories hidden in the material frameworks, I aim to facilitate the reexamination of the subjective nature of time and the process of metamorphosis.

Aiko Tezuka
Berlin, June 2012

What the exhibition title “Prism and Lag” implies – interpreting what it means to unravel a piece of fabric

I learned that the key word for this exhibition is the word “rainbow.” To tell the truth, I had never thought about the relevance of rainbow to my work until I was offered to have this exhibition. Nevertheless, this exhibition prompted me to ponder it, therefore I will present in the following what I thought about when I was drawing up the exhibition title.

A rainbow appears when a spectrum of light becomes visible as a result of the refraction, reflection and dispersion of light in water droplets. Positing on this, the title of the exhibition, “Prism and Lag” refers to the mechanism of how a rainbow emerges. In other words, this exhibition intends to visualise the invisible mechanism latent in ways in which rainbows emerge. Moreover, it acts like an apparatus that allows the mystery of rainbows to be unveiled.

Also, the word “lag” refers to deviation occurring between things, as it pertains to “time lag” and “jet lag.” Indeed, the inspiration behind the use of the word “lag” comes from the fact that a rainbow appears due to the refraction and dispersion of light, which encompasses a kind of “deviation.” And the reason why I added the word “lag” to the word “prism” as a part of the exhibition title is because the idea of “deviation” or “not quite fitting in” plays a crucial role in my art practice.

The reason why I attempt to show the process of unravelling and reconstructing the fabric in my work is because I intend to propose an alternative possibility or to cause a kind of “deviation” or “disruption” as to the predefined notion of how the history should be read and understood.

Because time is irreversible, one cannot choose two options at the same time. Feeling as if cutting up ourselves into pieces, we can only select one choice at a time. To choose one option means that many unselected possibilities are discarded during the process of decision-making. Moreover, if fabric that we see today is the product of prolonging time passage, we can also say that it is built upon the accumulation of numerous discarded decisions and their unrealised potentials.

And what it means to unravel a piece of fabric as the accumulation of unselected decisions and discarded possibilities is akin to examining their potentials while having the glimpses of the invisible that fills up the micro space between firmly woven threads. Also, it is to be aware that we tend to live only inside prejudices underpinned by what is visible to us. By staring at these invisible possibilities in an attempt to quantify their potentials, we can attain a kind of momentary freedom, which gives us power and courage to choose new possibilities.

There is a 100-year gap between myself, the Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painters, such as Monet and Signac that share the same space in this exhibition. There is also a gap between their eras when they tried to emancipate themselves from the geometric theory of perspective in an attempt to acquire more subjective visual perception and our current situation unfolding in the context of contemporary art. Despite the situational and circumstantial differences to be found between us, in the sense that both of us pursued ways of making the invisible visible, which the word “prism” constitutes, all of us are closely connected as if two ends of a thread are tying a knot.

 

Aiko Tezuka,
2011 in London

In-between The Surfaces And Layers (2011)

Artist Statement in 2011

I have been making my artwork by unravelling ready-made fabrics to reveal what is underneath the layers of the materials. Also, I have been making embroidery work showing the reverse side of the embroidery. How the world is constructed, through time and history, does not often appear so clearly on the surface. I am interested in both the surface that we can see and the layers that are normally invisible to us.

My interest lies in the notion of structure and how a surface and appearance emerge in relation to their structures. Time is woven into a piece of fabric as history. This metaphor suggests that various layers and stories are hidden in the framework, which we cannot see from the surface. By untying and deconstructing the fabric, we can revert this process, in order to reveal the layers of its structure and its past. This process of unravelling the fabric aims to rediscover and reveal what is lost and aspects that we could not see before. As a consequence, we have the opportunity to imagine and see time and the process, which we do not usually register when we inspect only a surface. This act of untying or deconstructing the fabric reverts the surface to its original raw material and reveals its history.

My background is in painting wherefrom I developed my interest in the concept of layers. For me, everything has layers, which enfold two meanings. One is the material structure. For example, a painting on a canvas will usually consist of multiple layers to give an image despite the fact that we can only see the surface – the last layer. The second meaning is that ‘art’ itself is a combination of history and time. Our predecessors always influence us, therefore our work is an evolution of previous knowledge and layers. A painter cannot make a painting without the knowledge of the painters prior to him.

From this perspective, the painting structure can be seen as weaving. Furthermore, everything I see is akin to a fabric and the act of weaving. History, politics, books, people, speech, food, the entire world has the structure of fabric. These ideas inspired me to choose the structure of fabric and embroidery as my main theme, in order to loosen and peel off its layers.

In 2007-08, my ideas evolved from untying and deconstructing the fabric materials, to reconstructing and transforming the work into something different. This process of deconstructing and reconstructing is about going back in order to rethink and create something new within the same structure.

I often feel that the world is becoming more regimented and suffocating in that we are losing aspects of our humanity, such as slowness and ways of thinking about our lives. One might say that it is because of capitalism and globalization. I would like to investigate what we should loosen and undo what or how we ought to rebuild. I question from what point in our history we should re-start and which direction we should go. This continuous act of questioning is not only relevant in the world of art, but the same analogy can be made in religion, economy and science.

I am not entirely certain about the answer to the question, therefore I will continue to endeavour finding my own perspective through my work.

Aiko Tezuka
London, September 2011

“Falling Painting”

When I introduce myself I would say, I graduated from an art college in Japan with a PhD in oil painting and now am working as a practicing artist. Yet, sometimes I do not feel entirely comfortable with connotations of the sentences, as I feel that they are, somewhat, not representing what I really am.

To be more specific, I am even troubled with the word “art” in Japanese (美術), as it connotes restrictive implications, more so than what the word “art” implies in English. That said, for the time being, I accept this term in Japanese as a given, otherwise, I cannot even begin to form my argument since I do think and speak about art primarily in Japanese.

In Japan, oil painting, Japanese painting, sculpture, craft, design, and calligraphy, they are often treated separately as independent disciplines. Despite that, when one looks at what has been produced by contemporary artists these partitions and categorisations seem quite obsolete and no longer relevant.

As I live in the highly organized modern society where we have to identify ourselves in some way, I often find myself in a situation where I am forced to speak about my field of expertise as a way of introducing myself. While I do accept the customary practice, I often feel confused and bewildered, being unable to find appropriate words to describe what I do.

So far I have been in similar situations on more than a few occasions. People have asked me: “What kind of art are you making?” “Why are you making embroideries, even though you graduated from the oil painting course?” “So are you working in the field of textile design?” When I have to introduce myself by referring to a predefined field of discipline, I cannot find the right word to describe my work, which is not painting, sculpture, or craft.

Indeed, this is quite troubling. Even if I manage to explain myself to people, it is always, a kind of, a temporal statement and not a definitive answer. Furthermore, it is, at times, even humiliating to me.

Over the centuries, various artefacts have been produced in many parts of the world and they came in varying forms and shapes. Such objects are, for example, tools to produce more things, a gift for someone, and decorations to brighten up the mood of people. Of course, they include works of art, and they also carry immense multiplicity in terms of times, religions, climates, and rulers that were involved in the production of those art pieces.

I would say that I have read the fairly large number of books about patterns, decorations, tools, and art. Based on my observation, it can be said that they usually explain when the objects were made, what purposes those artefacts were created for, and their functions, in addition to their backgrounds and even hypotheses as to uncovered mystery about them. However, more often than not, they do not explain the fundamental reasons why they were born at the very beginning and the enigma of why people started making things, the unexplainable birth of culture.

Nonetheless, I cannot stop thinking about the bittersweet question as to the reasons why humans started making things. Things that stir up my imagination are perhaps merely pertinent to one fleeting moment. Any explanation as to that special yet ephemeral moment is actually often redundant, and it rather undermines the mystique around the magical moment of the creative tension once existed when an object was created.

The work that has been exhibited at Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto on this occasion has the embroideries with reference to various objects of the past. As it can be seen in the plan sketch shown in the catalogue, the embroideries have a wide variety of designs, which have been inspired by many sources, such as pleats of clothes found in a masterpiece, ancient fabric patterns, illustrations found in knitting books, figures showing cat’s cradle, ancient embroideries, statues of an indigenous God in a small provincial village, folds of a God’s clothes that many people worshiped in the past, decorations of ceramics, ancient Chinese paintings of landscapes, a king’s treasure, and clay figurines. As mentioned earlier, they have been chosen based on my imagination about that single moment of haphazard creativity. Though it may sound contradictory, I have chosen this method precisely because of the reliability latent in the arbitrariness of the method.

A thread of the embroidery extends over to the backside of the cloth without a break, forming another cluster on the reverse side. What I suggest is not such a simple thing as the idea that everything has the same root. However, what is important to me is to create an apparatus of some sort that shows another aspect of creativity that involves the transformation of things through the imagination about that fleeting moment when a thing emerges, regardless of whether they are noble or not, with a name or without, historic or otherwise.

The next work that I am planning on making is a piece that has a relationship in terms of its content, in which, metaphorically speaking, ends of a thread melt into each other.

 

Aiko Tezuka
in Kyoto in 2010,
“Textiles for Festivals and Prayers,” Contemporary Art Museum Kumamoto

A Bag With / Without Function

(Artist statement for the work Bags that was made for the exhibition Tangent, with Artist in residence, Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori, Japan, 2008.)
A bag can be seen as a metaphor for an extension of our body because it holds things in it as if a body carries various organs. The function of a bag is to keep a number of things together and label them. In this way, they can be carried around easily, making them less difficult to manage.
While they are supposed to be useful items to organise things, if the bag bottom breaks and their contents spill out, it causes a disruption and thereby betrays our expectation. Such incidents mercilessly disturb the order of things no matter how neatly they are organised.
During the residency program at Aomori Contemporary Art Centre, Aomori (ACAC), I had an opportunity to see old fabric bags, “Futon” and “Koginzashi” (a local embroidery) that were used in this region before industrialisation. They were used not for commercial purposes but to use for themselves.
At that time, clothes and fabrics were precious items as daily essentials were scarce, starkly contrasting today’s world where we can frequently buy brand new products. Seeing the bags with a number of patches, it made me wonder what was carried in those bags.
The traces of repairs also reminded me of the afore-mentioned image of torn bags with their contents spilling out one after another.
If there is an imaginary bag in an ideal world, it has to be the one that can carry many possibilities that cannot be realised at a time. Even formless and nameless things, as they are placed inside a bag, can become visible as the bag gives them a form and a discernible identity.
And yet, at the same time, such a bag is perhaps only imaginary and thus unattainable. In actuality, it remains merely a broken bag with its contents overflowing. In other words, the bag that entails the absolute imposition of the categorising and labelling is of mere impossibility. It is a transient entity and it disappears immediately after it appears. The ideal bag is indeed merely an ideal and thus not functional or practical, just like a utopian ideology.

Aiko Tezuka
Aomori, Japan, June 2008

The Embroidery Qualities in Paintings and the Painterly Qualities in Embroideries

According to some folklore tale in Japan, the reason why cuffs and necklines of kimonos were often embroidered was because the stitched adornments were thought to prevent evil spirits from entering into the wearers from those entry points. In other words, people believed that the shamanic embellishments were the charms that warded off evils.

A complete embroidery consists of long threads that are stitched onto the surface of a fabric, forming a certain image or a pattern. If the knots at its ends are unknotted and the thread is pulled out, the image can break apart at once, disappearing like a mirage.

Thus, this modus operandi constitutes a kind of fragility whereby the finished work can easily revert back to the original state of its mere materials. And perhaps it was because of its fragility too that the sewer had to lay a spell on the needlework during its long process, praying for reaching its completion without being interrupted. Therefore, embroideries often convey certain impressions that allow us to imagine the feelings and thoughts of the charmers vested in them. I find this aspect of embroidery particularly imaginative and somewhat painterly.

One day, I came across a photograph of stitched Sanskrit letters and was instantaneously held spellbound. It revealed to me that every single thread on one side corresponded to the image rendered on the other. While the reflective association was intact, the patterns of the Sanskrit stitched on the front and back consisted of surprisingly different arrangements. The two sides of the embroidery appearing in the picture showed me the painterly qualities of reflexivity, the kind found in Monet’s Water Lilies, or pointillism, the technique adopted by Neo-Impressionists like Seurat, of using tiny dots of various intense colours that become blended in the viewer’s eye. The realisation introduced me to the whole edifice of the painterly language itself.

Unfortunately, I did not receive any particular training in the art of embroidery, therefore when I first tried the needlecraft I simply looked at some illustrated book of traditional Japanese embroidery and tried to learn by imitating the examples shown in it. Once I was working on a floral pattern and noticed that petals of a flower were, botanically speaking, supposed to be six. But according to the pattern in the book, there were only five of them. On another occasion, I found a stitched flower in the book but without a stamen, which was supposed to be in it. With a big grin on my face, I thought that the sewer took a shortcut. I felt the creator of the embroidered flower somehow intimately close to me, transcending all the time that separated the sewer and me.

The reason why I have been fascinated with embroidery is because its technique encompasses a kind of instability, suggesting that the whole process of building up the final image is actually entangled, at all times, in the risk of regressing to the very beginning, had a single thread been pulled out. Also, stitches unveil every step of the way to its completion, making the intricate process of construction visible to the viewers.

In painting, the surface layer often shows the imposing singularity of the front side where, for example, once blue is painted over red, the layer underneath is glossed over for good. This line of thinking has made me contemplate over ways of preserving layers concealed underneath the surface that are often opaque to viewers while keeping the correlation between the front and the back somehow intact.

Although embroidery is a form of painting to me, such a view is not consistent with conventional wisdom. This, however, does not bother me, to tell the truth. When painting, painters are often wrapped up in the thought of visualising things that are not quite possible within the framework of painting, whereas in making things other than paintings, artists are curiously preoccupied with painting. Within this entangled relationship, this oscillation of contrasting forces, a work of art with the dualistic quality can be produced. Such is the painting with the embroidery quality and the painterly quality of embroidery that I strive to create.

I like paintings made by sculptors. Sculptors work towards something that has not yet been materialised, whereas paintings often obligatorily emerge out a kind of necessity. To paint out of necessity seems as if painting is self-righteously harping on about its self-referential nature that postulates its exclusivity, so much so that painting is becoming an end in itself as opposed to a means to an end of creating wonderful images. While painting succumbs to self-indulgence, it undermines its creative potential. In the age when ways of expression proliferate, some people may believe that the exclusivity of painting as a discipline should be protected at all cost. However, from the artist’s point of view, setting oneself a limitation on creative energy can be rather a hindrance than an advantage. When outcomes become fairly predictable, the work often grows stale. Coming from this perspective, I have long divorced from the exclusive side of painting, and instead, been exploring wider possibilities.

 

Aiko Tezuka, 2007, Kyoto, for the exhibition “Painting as” Forest “: Thinking in” Pictures ” at Okazaki City Art Museum (Mindscape Museum)