MFZA: Mr. Tajiri - you'll soon leave the 'Hochschule der Künste Berlin', what do you think about academism?
Shinkichi Tajiri: Think a certain academic approach to art is good for a kind of basic course, it is necessary, but afterwards the teaching of too much lifedrawing and lifemodelling is a kind of craft for artisans. Today it is important that the student, the artist, has to discover some sort of individual expression. I always have this idea that the artist or the student has to be a kind of an archaelogist and he has to pick as if to reign himself, and out of himself he has to produce these artifacts which tells me and tells themselves who they are. It's all a process of selfrealization, and i think that's something you can't teach but you have to sort of encourage and guide.
MFZA: Has it always been your opinion or did you change your mind while you were teaching?
S. Tajiri: No it's always been my opinion that it should be like this. In some schools where the academic approach is very intense it's not good. Today that's also a question of new technology we have to introduce in schools. We have to bring in all the possible means because for example computers are part of our life and it's going to be a part of our life for the future. And any kind of school that prevents that students have an access to these new materials is wrong. It should be possible because there are a lot of new possibilities for expression and it's a medium. Any kind of new technology which is accesable or comes up has to be investigated by the students, like - in some schools they don't have video, computers and things - today video is already 20 years old in America. I mean it's almost passee, and computers the last sort of technological tool - if you don't get into it now and if you don't let the students get into it they are going to be behind. The students in other countries are working with these things very intensive at the moment and that's going to be the future in kind of expression, it won't be totally that but it's part of the artscene and i think any school today in 1988 has to consider that.
MFZA: What's about your belief in failure?
S. Tajiri: Believe that art is an adventure it's a constant ongoing adventure - you always have to discover or be in the process of discovering. And in that process you often spend some months and some years on some ideas on new technics and you find that it comes a nothing. I think that part is very important; it's nothing that's lost. It adds to your capacity of thinking and future development. I'm not against failure at all.
MFZA: How did you come to your idea of knots?
S. Tajiri: My knots. In about 64-65, to about 68 i made a series of very complicated kind of space machines which were based on the technology of formula 1 racing cars, spaceships, jets and so forth. That was all new technology which also insisted on a certain way of working so; you had to change your tools you had to change your thinking and i made a whole series which were a sort of entire war statements, which were also misunderstood by a lot of young people. The machines were very beautiful and i think it looked like a glorification of killing machines. That bothered me very much. Also in the sixties we had conceptual art which came in, which allowed a lot of people that can't do anything with their hands but have academic backgrounds on philosophy or whatever psychology and so forth to suddenly became an artist. And they could write very complicated texts about something and show you ten empty cans of paint and so forth, and the art became an illustration of a text, which i think is wrong. I think the art object has to speak for itself. It's interesting in a way that these formal changes happened in the arts. It's important, but it added a lot of confusion to the arts, and also divorced the public very much from the arts, the public has to read and read and read before they understand, and that bothered me very much. The knots in a sense came out of some of the exhaust-systems of racing cars. If you look at a 1600 BRM it looks like spaghetti all wound up, but it has a certain logical function - that exhaust which near the cylinder and is further away from the outlet does a straight curve and the one that is closer to the outlet has to do very complicated curve, so that when they're streched out they have the same distance. And from that it led a little bit into the knots, and at the same time with this conceptual thing, which was bothered me, i want to do something which was instantly communicative, something that you can recognize right away. So i did these knots i could put in a jungle of brazil and some indian would pass by and he would just see a gigantic knot but he would understand it was a knot because the knot has been here for probably some hundredthousend years. When some man wanted to extend his reach and he couldn't reach for something so he put two sticks together somehow, he found out that with a simple kind of a knot you can reach further, that basicly is the idea of instant communication.
MFZA: Aren't your knots in a certain way erotic, like the silkprints you did that time?
S. Tajiri: No, those came after i made the knots. But that was a period were i was very much into the pornographic scene in Denmark, because i had a friend and i made some films with him and out of somebodies magazines and out of some of my own photographs. I began to work with details of these things, and repeating them, so that they gave a certain kind of pattern, but at the same time there was a book written by a woman Nancy Friday called 'The secret garden' which was collection of letters from women who have sexual phantasies, and i used that thing for my series of prints.
MFZA: Mr. Tajiri what are your next projects?
S. Tajiri: Don't know. I have several things going on parallel. I'm still working with photography, stereocopic photography, i did a lot of daguerrotypes since 74-75, it's a very difficult medium and it's also dangerous because you have to develop the plates with mercury and i got poisoned, i went into 3 Dimensional photography, and i think there are still possibilities in stereoscopic photography, which haven't been explored yet, so that's going parallel to a lot of paperwork that i'm doing - handmade paperwork -, and at the same time also we're doing very big architectual sculptures for buildings and so, and now i got involved a bit with computers and i don't know where it's going to lead me. I always have to change when i know i can handle the technic or material, i have to stop it i get boared very quickly, it's like a lack of
concentration-span, i can't spend too long on one thing, and any kind of new possibility is always inviting for me.
MFZA: Mr. Tajiri, good luck for your future projects, and thank you very much.
Dieses Interview machte das Museum für zeitgemässe Aesthetik mit Herrn Professor Shinkichi Tajiri in seinem Atelier in der Hochschule der Künste Berlin.
In: MFZA, Materialien. Berlin, 2/88
(* 7. Dezember 1923 in Los Angeles; 15. März 2009 in Baarlo)
Tajiri was born in Watts, Los Angeles.
He was the fifth of seven children born to Ryukichi Tajiri and Fuyo Kikuta, first generation emigrants (issei), who moved from Japan to the United States in 1906 and 1913.
In 1936, the family relocated to San Diego. His father died when he was fifteen. In 1940, Tajiri received his first lessons in sculpture from Donal Hord (1902-1966).
In 1942, Tajiri's family was evacuated to Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona. He was a soldier, with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, like his brother Vincent. They fought in Europe, from 1943 on and he was wounded in Italy. Shinkichi went back to Chicago to study at the Art Institute from 1946 to 1948. In 1949 he went to Paris to study with Ossip Zadkine (1890-1967) and then Fernand Leger. He met Karel Appel (1921-2006) and Corneille in Paris and shows at the 1949 Cobra exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.
In 1951 he went to Germany and taught at the Werkkunstschule Wuppertal. In 1955 he won a Golden Palm at Cannes, for his first short film, The Vipers, because of his experimental use of the language of film.
From 1956 he lived in the Netherlands, since 1962 in Baarlo. He worked as a sculptor and painter. He exhibted at the famous Kassel Documenta II, 1959; III, 1964 and IV, 1968. From 1969 Tajiri Shinkichi taught at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste at Berlin. 1969 and 1970 Shinkichi took pictures of every part of the Berlin Wall. In 1975 and 1976 he recreated the Daguerreotype: surreal portraits, nudes and daguerreotypes of the Wall.