The first floor of the Mayor Gallery is an art battlefield. Testimonies of war and memories, and the expression of human presence are embodied in sculptures; they are materialised in intertwined forms occupying the entire space. These art pieces are the work of Shinkichi Tajiri on his remembrance of his personal story and the one of his compatriots on American soil. Parts of weapons and bodies blend together, forming sharp and erotic metal creatures.
The stern and crude appearance of the sculptures hides the true feelings experienced by the artist in the 1940’s. The child of a first-generation of immigrants to the USA from Japan, Tajiri grew up in Los Angeles and San Diego. Following the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbour, his family was sent to a US internment camp. With the combination of patriotism and desire to leave the camp, Tajiri enlisted in the all-Japanese American regiment of the American Army. He studied art in Chicago and worked with Isamu Noguchi in New York before he moved to Paris in 1949, where he studied with Fernand Léger and Karel Appel.
The influences he drew from these encounters certainly took form in the development of his pieces. It is also the trauma and the fascination for what he experienced in the army that led him to construct the pieces on display. In the 10-minute film retracing the story of Tajiri and showing himself in his studio, we get to understand the relationship between these sculptures and the artist better. He expects a dialogue to arise between himself and the sculpture, discovering in this manner a way to learn about himself. He defines his dedication to the process of making his sculptures as an “Act of faith, a religion where every day is Sunday and the biggest sin is stagnation”.
In the never-ending process of creating, Tajiri uses different methods. Some of the pieces were made using negative casting, hence the brick allure due to the porous texture. Other sculptures are the result of a multitude of different scrap metal pieces assembled and welded in a collage style. Remnant of mutant creatures, these welded works seem like they are trying to express Tajiri’s deconstructed life . By reconstructing different parts, elements, feelings, memories, fascination, aberration, and repulsions, the artist seems to follow his will and desire to find himself through the creation of these sculptures. The porous types of sculptures are geometrical, often square, and often include phalli coming out from the shapes. The inclusion of male body parts into the army missiles are the conscious imprints of war, soldiers and a certain atmosphere in which Tajiri had to endure while in service in the army.
In a cleaner, polished version, the knots also act as a commemoration of the artist’s life and work. The intertwined ribbons express with grace and pride the human essence trapped in harsh bodies and violent scenarios.
Perhaps it all appeared disparate in Tajiri’s soul and in front of his eyes, but now it stands before us, reassembled in a puzzle of memories, feelings, and traces from the past.
Shinkichi Tajiri at The Mayor Gallery (15 February – 30 March 2017)