At that time I was at the well-known art gallery Studio Soligo close to Piazza di Spagna in Rome.
Feeling a sense of frustration, I returned to my hotel.
The next day, I visited Ms. Raffaella Soligo, the gallery's owner again with Ms. Yuko Sakurada,
who introduced me to the gallery.
I was astonished to know the fact that the following year there would be my exhibition at this gallery.
I felt as if I were in heaven.
"Nakajima is still overly focused on the intellectual side of his work."
Whether because of my temperament or because I was formerly an architectural consultant,
I tend to first analyze art rather 'coldly' and logically.
I was constantly thinking, "If I don't have passion enough so as to forget myself in my work..."
When I met the famous Japanese journalist Mr. Chikushi Tetsuya,
I learned of the expression "Shu-kou-Soku-shi".
This is the words by the potter Kanjiro Kawai which mean "the hands consider, and the feet think".
I then had an inspiration - "Oh, so it's not the head, but rather the body!"
I spread out a large paper on the floor, stepped on it barefoot,
and then wrote the single Chinese character.
My mind became empty and my body began to perform Tai Chi.
Rather than me writing the character,
it felt as if the traces of my body's movements as I wrote were 'dwelling' on the paper.
At that moment, a new "me" emerged.
This may have been a turning point for me.
In 2006, Mr. Josef Nadj, the choreographer representative of French choreography
invited me to the Avignon Festival, which is one of the three major theater festivals of the world.
In the ancient Christianity capital of Avignon,
I carried out performances for two weeks, in front of a total of 1000 people.
During the shooting my performance, the TV producer Mr. Norio Tokumitsu stated,
"Nakajima's origin is Sho*."
What with me feeling so far away from Japan, his words resonated in my heart.
I also saw something out of the ordinary when I shaved my hair following Mr. Tokumitsu's suggestion.
As soon as I did so, I started getting asked by everyone, "Are you a member of a Buddhist temple?"
This caused me to become more interested in Zen.
Wind, the moon, water, flowers, air... I realized that these Chinese characters are symbols of Zen.
I'd originally started writing these characters because I liked them, now I began to actually love them.
It was October, 1999. I was at a gallery in Rome, close by the Piazza di Spagna square which was bustling with tourists. The gallery was a well-known modern art studio named Studio Soligo, which boasted a network not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. Ms. Raffaella Soligo, the studio's owner, was saying something energetically to me, but I had absolutely no idea what it was. Still feeling a sense of frustration, I returned to my hotel. The next day, I visited the studio again - this time with Ms. Yuko Sakurada, who introduced me to the studio. I was astonished to hear that the following year there would be an exhibition of my work at that art studio. I felt as if I were in heaven.
Allow me to provide some background. Early the previous year, I had visited Studio Soligo together with Ms. Yuko Sakurada of Galleria Artesse. Ms. Sakurada had previously attended one of my Tokyo exhibitions, and praised my work when she stated, "Nakajima's Sho* is a type of contemporary art". She kindly introduced me at the Rome gallery. When I showed my work to Mr. Franco Soligo, the gallery's founder and owner at the time, he stated, "I'd like to see the actual creation of a piece." So then and there I drew up one piece, and Mr. Soligo showed a great deal of interest. He suggested, "At the opening of your exhibition, let's include a performance by you." As I had long-held hopes of being able to show my work abroad, I returned to Japan full of anticipation. Sadly, however, half a year later Mr. Soligo suddenly passed away. When I heard the news, I felt I had to give up on our plans, believing that his death would result in the project being cancelled. The following year, partly in order to express my condolences to his wife, I visited Rome again. I then learned that Franco's hopes concerning this matter were also strongly held by his wife Raffaella. Therefore, in April 2000, the exhibition in Rome was indeed realized. Both my works and the performances were very well-received, so such activities took place in various locales throughout Europe.
Regarding the Rome exhibition, Mr. Atsushi Suwa, a movie director and former president of Iwanami Movies Co., Ltd., once stated, "Nakajima is still overly focused on the intellectual side of his work. When he escapes that, the power of beauty which only Sho* can express will be even more evident." Whether because of my temperament or because I was formerly an architectural consultant, I tend to first analyze art rather 'coldly' and logically. I was constantly thinking, "If I don't have passion enough so as to forget myself in my work..." In 2001, when I met the famous Japanese journalist Mr. Chikushi Tetsuya, I learned of the expression "Shu-kou-Soku-shi" ("The hands consider, and the feet think.") by the potter Kanjiro Kawai. I have heard that this saying describes how Mr. Kawai carried out his work. I then had an inspiration - "Oh, so it's not the head, but rather the body!" Later that year, I was invited to perform at the national theater, La Scène Nationale d'Orléans in France. I spread out an especially large blank sheet on the floor, stomped on it barefoot, and then wrote the single Chinese character for "wind" ( 風 ) on the sheet. When the character had been inserted into the totally white surface, before I knew it, for some reason my mind became empty and my body began to perform Tai Chi. Rather than me writing the character, it felt as if the traces of my body's movements as I wrote were 'dwelling' on the paper. At that moment, a new "me" emerged. This may have been a turning point for me.
Three years later, in 2004, I was suddenly contacted by Mr. Josef Nadj, a choreographer representative of French choreography. He had seen my performance in Orléans, and with just my name to go by, had found me, coming all the way to my studio in Chiba, Japan. Hearing his talk, I learned that he had become the art director for a theater festival which was to be held in Avignon, France two years later. He wanted to invite me to be one of the participating artists. At first, such a festival in Avignon did not mean very much to me - I had no idea which festival he was referring to. Nevertheless, despite my having some trepidation, I decided to accept Mr. Nadj's invitation. Later on, I was surprised to learn that the Avignon Festival, a theater festival held annually, is one of the three major theater festivals of the world! Up until then, those invited from Japan were eminent artists of great renown, such as Hideo Kanze, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and others.
In 2006, the 60th Avignon Festival was held. As many vacationers thronged to southern France for summer holidays, in the ancient Christianity capital of Avignon, I carried out performances for two weeks, in front of a total of 1000 people. At a local church, each evening I drew one "moon" ( 月 ) character on a sheet of paper. The actual moon that evening was projected onto a wall, with the sheets having "moon" characters written on them being hung one after another from the ceiling. After a fortnight, the installation of 14 sheets of "moons" was complete, and that scene became the subject of a one-hour documentary filmed on location. During the shooting, the TBS show's producer, Mr. Norio Tokumitsu, stated, "Nakajima's origin is Sho*." What with me feeling so far away from Japan, his words resonated in my heart. When a person is outside their everyday life, they learn who they really are.
I also saw something out of the ordinary when I shaved my hair. As soon as I did so, I started getting asked by everyone, "Are you a member of a Buddhist temple?" This caused me to become more interested in Zen. Wind, the moon, water, flowers, air... I realized that these Chinese characters are symbols of Zen. Thanks to this experience, though I'd originally started writing these characters because I liked them, now I began to actually love them.
Since the Rome exhibit in the year 2000, I have been holding exhibitions and performances in various locations in the world. That number easily surpasses 70 times. At these events, there have been many new encounters, each of which has helped guide me to today. Blessed by these numerous new meetings and by good fortune, I have been able to reach this point. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all those who have warmly watched over and helped me, in whatever manner.
* "Sho" is an art form based on Japanese calligraphy.
Evidence of Being "Now, Here"
In Asia, there are three names for calligraphy - 書法 (Shoho), 書藝 (Shogei) and 書道 (Shodo). In China, calligraphy is often called 書法, whereas in Korea it's apparently often designated 書藝. As for Japan, the art is referred to as 書道 - in other words, the established designation in Japan is 'the way of calligraphy', whereby a student receives instruction from a 師 ('master'). Therefore, here in Japan, calligraphy is viewed by many as a form of culture lesson/personal enrichment course. With this as a backdrop, I wished to carry out work as an artist abroad, and was fortunate enough to be able to hold an exhibition at a gallery in Rome in the year 2000.
When a person lives in an environment with different values and viewpoints, they discover things they normally wouldn't notice. While abroad, I got to know many artists, and could learn more about myself and my work. One example is the Chinese ink which I use every day without really thinking about it. Chinese ink is constantly changing, showing a different aspect today than yesterday. The ink spreads in an ever-changing, fickle manner, not reacting as one would expect. However, just because it's uncontrollable doesn't mean I abhor it - to the contrary, I try to positively embrace this aspect of it. My strength/skill goes halfway, while the rest depends on a power outside myself. With this mindset, I continue to create pieces one after another. Finally, from among the hundreds of pieces I've stacked in a pile, I choose just one, and throw away the rest. In this way, I conclude the creation of a single piece.
When considering the materials used, we can note that the color and quality of oil paints doesn't vary depending on the day. Therefore, a painter may work on one piece of canvas for a long time, advancing little by little until (s)he completes the piece. So basically, Chinese ink varies, changing in response to the environment it's in, whereas oil paints are always uniform and stable. "The impermanence of all things" vs. "eternalness" - in a way, this seemingly symbolizes the value systems of the East and West.
Generally speaking, at the root of Western thought, humans are in conflict with the natural world, with "Nature" deemed to be an object to be controlled by "Man". In contrast, in the Orient, the word "Nature" indicates the whole of creation, including human beings. Humans are part of nature - living our lives while respecting and fearing it. I realized this after viewing Western artists' production sites, and came to understand the position I myself should take.
By the way, generally Westerners face a vertical canvas and draw; as for me, I do my work standing barefoot on paper which is spread out on the floor. Rather than facing the screen, I 'enter into' it, using my hands and feet to mark the trajectories of my actions on the paper. By doing so, instead of my head, it is actually my body which serves as a strong intermediary. Therefore, once in a while, something which surpasses my conscious intentions takes place. At certain times, when I look at a piece I just completed, a special sensation hits me. Though the image before me was certainly written by me, there is no actual feeling of my having written it ... yet examining it carefully, the work is done very well! If there is a blueprint drawn up beforehand, no matter how well the work is done, the end result based on the blueprint can only reach 100%. But when the aforementioned (yet unexpected) form of power from outside is involved, an exceptionally fine piece which attains 120% may be born. It's not something created by the brain, but rather something which just happens to be produced by hands and feet. I came to think that this is how a good work comes into being. In one sentence: "Actions constitute the essence of Sho". *
Notably, the actions in Sho always have a starting point and a finishing point. Once a calligrapher sets their brush to the paper, and starts writing in accordance with the correct stroke order, they must carry on through to the end. There is no going back, nor any way to re-do something. Regarding completed works, if a viewer follows the order of a calligraphy piece's brush strokes with their eyes, (s)he can imagine how the calligrapher's brush moved, from the starting point of the writing to its finish. In contrast, many of the abstract paintings I saw abroad did not seem easily retraceable from the start of the paint strokes to their end. In art, some forms relate to time, while others do not. Calligraphy, like music and dance, is an art form linked to time. Based on this experience, I began to feel that I wanted to connect otherwise-invisible time to the forms of beauty.
In Zen Buddhism, there is a teaching which translates as, "Be here now". The past has passed and will never return, whereas the future is yet to be seen. It does no good to regret the unchangeable past, or to feel gloomy about a future which has not yet come. What is important is living "here and now", with all our strength, where we are. With this in mind, as evidence of having lived here and now, I want to express the present moment, the irreplaceable present, in the brush strokes of Sho. While relying on the outside power surpassing my own thoughts, I hope to crystallize the precious 'now' in forms like no other.
In an era in which it seems so many have no room in their hearts, and have become self- centered and materialistic, I hope that my works may provide even small hints of hope.
* "Sho" is an art form based on Japanese calligraphy.
Translation: Ray Hrycko
Though the lines and shapes in front of me were certainly written by me, there are mysterious times when there is no actual feeling of my having written them at all. Also, there are moments when I happen to notice that something good was created unexpectedly. If there is a blueprint drawn up beforehand, no matter how well the work is done, the end result based on the blueprint can only reach 100%. But when this form of power from outside is involved, an unexpectedly fine piece which attains 150% may be born.
Once when I appeared on the satellite broadcast TV program The Principles of Modern Japanology (現代日本学原論), from the famous journalist Chikushi Tetsuya (筑紫哲也), I learned of the expression "Shu-kou-Soku-shi" ("The hands consider, and the feet think.") of the potter Kanjiro Kawai (河井寛次郎). Mr. Kawai did not over-think things, but rather called upon power from outside himself by using his hands and feet. He once stated, "I would like to see the me I have yet to see." Since then, I have always valued these expressions, because I consider the true essence of calligraphy to be in this physical aspect.
By the way, when I do a workshop overseas, the word "koshi" (腰, "lower back") is used quite frequently in explanations - for instance, in expressions such as, "the lower back is dropped" and "using one's lower back". But a term which precisely expresses the Japanese word "koshi" is not easy to come up with in foreign languages. In English, it generally is translated as the word "back"; in Italian, it becomes "schiena". But these words indicate the whole back, including the lower back. A word to specify "lower back" was scarce in Europe, and I learned that this part of the body is not considered as important there as it is in Japan.
Calligraphy and time
By following the flow of a line I have drawn, it is possible for you to visualize the movements of my brush. One can conceptualize how the brush moved through time, as if the viewer was at the production site. A painting expresses colors, shapes and space; on the canvas, I'd like to express time - as evidence of my having lived there then.
In calligraphy, once you set your brush to the paper, there is no going back. It is impossible to erase a line which is written. At that point, the calligrapher must simply continue on with the writing. So long as a person is writing characters, they begin with the first stroke and finish up with the last one. From start to finish, in a fixed period of time, the piece is gradually realized together with the flow of time. This is a reason people point out the similarities between calligraphy and music, dance and other forms of artistic expression.
When looking at an exceptional piece of calligraphy, I often find myself unconsciously following the brush strokes with my eyes, from the starting point of the writing to its finish. Then I can imagine how the calligrapher's brush moved - in one location energetically with a burst of enthusiasm, then in a different location slowly and carefully - as if I had also been at the production site.
When one has this viewpoint, it can also be said that the tracks of the brush are the traces of the time flow at the production site. Stating it in a slightly exaggerated way, can we not say that writing calligraphy is the work of setting on canvas in a visible form the otherwise invisible flow of time at that unique production location?
While overseas, I have seen various abstract drawings directly. There were numerous ones which resembled calligraphy. However, with many of those, I could not follow the drawn lines well from the start of the drawing to the finish. Also, there were few works which attempted to give expression to the lines themselves. More than the quality of the lines themselves, priority was given to the composition of the lines - in other words, the composition of the canvas as it concerned the relationship between the lines drawn. So it was difficult to read the speed or depth of strokes which had been written over several times. It was difficult even if I merely attempted to 'read' the overall flow of time in the work.
When I lay down the brush, the ink slowly begins to spread on the paper. When the pooled ink finishes drying, it leaves a specific pattern. I want to incorporate such effects which are not due to human hands into my works.
The spreading or pooling of ink are phenomena of nature, which a writer cannot totally control. But even if they cannot be controlled, this is no reason to exclude them; rather, I try to positively accept this, and complete my works together with the power of nature.
Below is a blog entry from when I had just established a studio in Milan. I was then producing a work with acrylic paint on canvas.
"The canvas has outstanding chemistry with the acrylic paint. But there's no "play" or "miscellaneous flavor" in acrylic paint, like there is in Chinese ink. As industrial products, acrylics are always uniform and stable; on the other hand, as material, they have no room for chance to enter. So I was really struggling about how to get used to this.
Then the other day, I found a canvas which seems compatible with Chinese ink. The fabric is fine, and agreeable to the touch. I was waiting for a chance to try using this sometime.
This past week, the weather has been like the rainy season; it also rained all day yesterday. I opened wide a window of the studio, and took in lots of humidity. I dropped pale Chinese ink on the canvas quietly. Then immediately the ink began to 'swim' on the canvas - like a creature which has returned to its home after a long time. The spreading and pooling of ink changes every moment. To see what would happen with the ink, I left the window open all night.
The next morning, putting on my clothes was a bit frustrating after I got out of bed, because I wanted to quickly see the result of my work from the previous night. The work had completely dried, and the traces where the ink and water had 'frolicked together' during the night were left behind."
On the other hand, Western painting has a totally different viewpoint. Particularly in the case of oil painting, depending on that day's temperature and humidity, if factors such as the coloring or elasticity of the paint change, the paint may become inappropriate for use. Many Westerners hold strongly to the view that technology is a means of controlling nature. In terms of language, the word "Nature" in the West exists as a concept which is relative to "Man". Therein, the subject "Man" confronts the object "Nature". Nature is deemed to be an object to be controlled by humans. In contrast, in the Orient, the word "Nature" indicates the whole of creation, including human beings. Humans are part of nature - living our lives while respecting and fearing it. Anyway, as I said earlier, I wish to intentionally accept the beauty of the unplanned while working hand in hand with nature.