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Issue 214

Tetsuya Takizawa Invokes the Memory of the Yuzawa Mountains

For the inaugural exhibition at I.L.A. Gallery, the artist used the Japanese paper-making technique of washi to connect with rural histories

BY Yosihiro Yabe in Reviews , Reviews Across Asia | 16 SEP 20

With the current pandemic prompting many of us to reflect on the fragility of the relationship between nature and humanity, a show of work by Tetsuya Takizawa – whose practice is undergirded by such concerns – feels especially timely.

After completing his painting studies, Takizawa mastered the craft of washi (Japanese paper-making) – fundamental to almost all traditional Japanese art forms –, later incorporating the process into his practice. In the resulting body of organic artworks, the artist interweaves layers of meaning by employing natural materials and utilizing water as a means of ‘drawing’ images onto canvas, enabling nature to express itself. Takizawa believes that, by visualizing nature’s attempts to communicate with us, we can discover new perspectives for achieving a sustainable co-existence between humans and the environment.

Tetsuya Takizawa
Tetsuya Takizawa, GANGAPAPER, 2013. Courtesy: the artist

Established 150 years ago in the Iwasaki region, in the small provincial town of Yuzawa, the Yamamo Miso and Soy Sauce Brewing Company recently found itself at an historical juncture. Japan’s nationwide rural depopulation has heavily impacted family-run local businesses and many of them have had to look to tap into new markets. Yamamo’s seventh-generation owner, Yasushi Takahashi, has been exploring new avenues by re-envisaging the brand’s rustic image and promoting its products under the rubric of hakko culture – fermented foods that have recently been recognized as superfoods. Alongside revamped, internationally appealing packaging, one of the major elements of this rebrand has been the launch of I.L.A. Gallery (Industry Loves Art), with Tahakashi selecting Takizawa to be the company’s first artist-in-residence and to produce work for the space’s inaugural exhibition.

Tetsuya Takizawa
Tetsuya Takizawa at Narayama Planetary Village, 2019. Courtesy: the artist

In earlier projects, such GANGAPAPER (2013), Takizawa waded chest-deep into rivers to collect the water required to make washi paper because he wanted to connect physically with the natural environment in order to understand the spirit of the place in which he was working. Likewise, for his I.L.A. Gallery project, Takizawa set out to identify the specific ‘DNA’ of Yuzawa. Using water drawn from the local well, the artist cultured koji-kin mould (yellow aspergillus), photographing it under a microscope. For the final installation, Fermented Painting (2018), he made washi to cover the floor of the gallery using a combination of water from the nearby Minasegawa River and found paper left over from the gallery space’s former incarnation as a school for Japanese calligraphy. Takizawa spread the washi over the gallery floor, on top of a layer of rice and soybeans (the ingredients for miso and soy sauce) mixed with soil wall from the building, as if to invoke the room’s strata of memory.

To create the wall-mounted works, Takizawa silkscreen-printed onto canvas the photographs he had taken of the koji-kin mould, as well as historical maps and landscapes of the Iwasaki region. Having primed the canvas several times with a milky, rice-powder wash, he then applied a layer of ink made from koji-kin mould. Acting as a living paint, the mould turned a dense ochre over time; Takizawa coated the surface with a final layer of transparent acrylic and gel to prevent the mould from developing further when he felt the work was complete.

Many who know Takizawa call him yamabushi – mountain priest – for the way in which he explores the meaning of life through his daily activities: planting, harvesting, washi-making. He follows the traditional Japanese path of living in harmony with nature, allowing his intuition to guide him to discover new moments of beauty and awe.

Main Image: Tetsuya Takizawa, Fermented Painting, 2018, installation view, I.L.A. Gallery, Yuzawa, Japan. Courtesy: the artist and I.L.A. Gallery, Yuzawa, Japan