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- <em>Taro Shinoda: Lunar Reflections</em> (gallery view), Taro Shinoda, 2009. Photo: Clements/Howcroft Photography.
- <em>Taro Shinoda: Lunar Reflections</em> (gallery view), Taro Shinoda, 2009. Photo: Clements/Howcroft Photography.
- <em>Taro Shinoda: Lunar Reflections</em> (gallery view), Taro Shinoda, 2009. Photo: Clements/Howcroft Photography.
- Taro Shinoda, <em>Drawing for Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique (#1)</em>, 2007.
- Taro Shinoda, <em>Drawing for Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique (#2)</em>, 2007.
- Taro Shinoda, <em>Drawing for Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique (#3)</em>, 2007.
Taro Shinoda: Lunar Reflections
NOVEMBER 5, 2009 - JANUARY 1, 2010
The art of Taro Shinoda engages themes of science, philosophy, desire, and investigates our place in the universe. During his month-long residency in Boston in the spring of 2007, Shinoda was inspired by the moonlight in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum courtyard to develop the new body of work, Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique. For this piece, Shinoda constructed an astronomical telescope out of corrugated cardboard and attached a video camera to it; with this instrument he films the moon and cityscapes from different parts of the world. Shinoda described his endeavor as: "the first step toward having a sense of us all sharing this planet together. I look at the moon and, a few hours later, you look at it in some different country. Observing the way the moon travels allows me to make an image of the whole world."
The exhibition included film shot from Tokyo, Istanbul, Limerick, and Boston, a sound installation – a live feed from the running fountain in the courtyard to the gallery - and an engawa - a Japanese viewing platform that traditionally separates the domestic space from the garden. From this vantage point, visitors sat and could meditate on their place in the universe as they watched Shinoda's extraordinary films of the moon and mysterious night landscapes. The entire gallery, which was lined with silver paper, reflected the twinkling city lights and glow of the moon as it navigated across the floating screen.
Taro Shinoda was an Artist-in-Residence in 2007. He was born in Tokyo, where he continues to live and work.
In the summer of 2007 Emma Steinkraus, a Steamboat Foundation intern from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, interviewed Taro Shinoda about his residency and exhibition at the Gardner Museum. Following is a transcript of their conversation that has been edited for this publication.
ES: You began your work studying traditional Japanese gardens. How did you make the transition to become an artist? Or, why did you make this switch?
TS: For me, the basic concept is the same, I just changed the materials. The late 1980s in Japan was a bubble economy. Land was very expensive and there was little chance to design a garden, especially for a young person. So, I became an ordinary gardener, just cutting the trees. I really wanted to design and make my own garden, so I just started thinking about it in a different way. Once I made something, it became my artwork; but, for me, that first idea really was a garden, not art.
ES: What was that first piece?
TS: It was called Milk. I made some kind of pool, like 7 meters by 7 meters (that's approximately 30 by 30 feet) and then added 12 tons of milk. In this work there are fluorescent lights, there's like a monorail, and each machine carries fluorescent light by moving around back and forth, back and forth, bumping each other, really slowly, so you see the reflection from the fluorescent light. It was just really beautiful. It's moving around and it's steel, and there's low tech engineering, but still, for me, it was like a garden.
ES: It seems like you're really interested in science or engineering.
TS: I'm interested in nature, but I don't make a border between nature and human, science and art. I don't have any border.
ES: When you were young did you imagine that you would become a gardener or an artist?
TS: I decided to become a gardener when I was a teenager, that's why I went to the garden high school. I decided to become a gardener when I was 15 years old, but when I was a really little kid my dream was to become inventor, so when I was like four or five years old my notebook was always filled with something for inventions.
ES: What sort of things were you inventing?
TS: At that moment, I didn't know, but later my ideas became reality. For example, I designed a sailboat. And this sailboat, at the nighttime, it stays in the middle of the ocean. And the waves are always waving and inside the boat there's some sort of weight and it's moving around because of the waves and this is going to be the energy for the motors, to collect electricity for the battery. So the next day you can run the boat with this electricity.
ES: Do you know where you want to take the boat? Are you going to go on a trip?
TS: At that moment I just saw this energy-less boat, so you can travel forever. But that kind of thing I was always thinking about when I was a child.
ES: You built your own telescope for the moon piece. How did you learn to build something like that?
TS: Well, that is something I always have to do. If I want to do something, first of all I have to learn it. Like with my first pieces, there's lots of welding and cutting of metal, so I went to the factory and after that I made something with fiberglass, but I didn't know how to take care of this material, so then I went to a boat company and worked for free and they taught me how to do this.
ES: So, you just sort of apprentice yourself.
TS: With this telescope, first I went to the bookstore to buy some books about telescopes, then after I figured out the mechanism and started to build. So always, first an idea comes up, then after I have to learn, to study something. When I'm done with the studying, I start to build. It's always something like that.
ES: I read somewhere that you're interested in telepathic communication.
TS: Yeah, yeah. It's related a little bit to this moon project. I was thinking about maybe we have already lost some kinds of abilities. For example, now we always use computers – even for really simple math, like adding or subtracting -- you don't have to use your brain. Using this kind of technology or machine or tools can make you weak. So, maybe it's the same with telepathy: we used to have it, but we just lost it. There is also a kind of synchronicity that I'm interested in.
ES: Do you see the moon as being an icon for that sort of connection?
TS: No, no, this story is from my own experience. Now I'm speaking in English because I spent two years in the United States when I was a child. And that time my parents divorced and I came here with my father and my mother stayed in Japan. Back then, an international telephone call was really expensive, so my father did not allow me to call my mother, I only had permission to call my mother on my birthday. The rest of the time I just talked to the moon and I realized this moon was spinning around the earth, so at nighttime I told my message to the moon and the moon would come to Japan and bring my message to my mother. I really believed this system; so maybe this is some type of telepathy. Also, for this moon project the title I gave it is Lunar Reflection Transmission Technique, which means it's that technique,telling my message to the moon.
ES: When you were filming the moon in various locations, were you giving it messages?
TS: No, I just took the video of the moon while I was there. I live in Tokyo, so first I shot the moon in Tokyo. Then I got an offer from the Istanbul Biennial, so I went to Istanbul with my telescope and shoot the moon in Istanbul. Next I got an invitation from Ireland, so I went there with my telescope and shot the moon. Then I returned to the Isabella Gardner Museum in Boston and I came with my telescope.
ES:I was reading in your travel logs for the Engawa Site Project piece that you frequently mentioned eating or laughing, or wrote about all these small rituals, like drinking coffee or telling stories. There seems to be a real focus on the poetics of the mundane and I wondered how that relates to the work you make, or if you feel as if that's something that is just entrenched in Japanese tradition…
TS: I really don't understand what you're saying. Are you asking what does engawa mean? The Japanese traditional garden, especially the Zen garden, always has a platform, what we call engawa. In English it's the word for balcony or veranda, but the meaning and concept is totally different, so I don't want to call this work "balcony." And, if it's a Zen garden, you never can go into the garden; you have to stay on this engawa.
ES: So, you can only view it.
TS: Yeah, you can only view it because it's like a God place. In some ways this engawa is related with the house, it is like a border between the human world and God's world. So, when I take it outside (it was driven to a desert), and then when we sit down on the engawa with a 360-degree total view, it is really in the God place. I started thinking about how we can relate this to the environment in the 21st century and I wanted to make some sort of platform for thinking. It is a place for thinking about the future, how we can relate to everything, how we think about ourselves, think about others, think about how we're going to live. I wanted to create some kind of thinking ground.
Always we divide humans and nature. If you go to Manhattan in New York no one's going to say, "Oh, this is great nature!" But even a machine gun is apart of nature, so why don't you say,"This is really good nature"? I really want to think that way. Everything we do, even the pollution, is a part of nature. And if you're standing on that point of view, maybe you can think about another relationship, using that starting point. I just wanted to build a platform to think about it, and that was my idea for the trip.
I went out in the desert with Native Americans, and, this is nothing mean about the politics, but when I first talked about this idea with the curator, the curator say, "Oh, Taro, you are foreign people, and doing this is really going to touch with sensitive issues in the States…"
ES: What sensitive issues would you be touching?
TS: Issues with Native Americans…
ES: Like their rights?
TS: Yeah yeah, and that really wasn't the point. I really want to go with somebody related with this land for a long time and I know this is Native Americans, so that was the only point. And then we talked a lot about this, and finally the curator said okay. I got a company of people together. It was a really beautiful trip, and I learned a lot from the Native American people. We just shared, maybe it is too much to say we shared ideas, but we shared a sense, an attitude. It was great.
ES: Sounds great. Was that also while you were visiting utopias out West?
TS: We just threw a branch from a tree, and the branch told us the direction we should go. It was something like that.
ES: Is that a Native American ritual?
TS: No, just sometimes we hit the road and say, "Which way do you want to go? I want to go right, I want to go left (rock, paper scissor)… alright, I win, let's go right." There's no destination. It doesn't mean we need to find a utopia because everywhere is utopia.
One day after the trip I went under the Hollywood sign with the curator, and we're just sitting down and looking at the Hollywood sign, and it was really beautiful. And if you see it that way, it looks different than a normal Hollywood sign. So, for me, that kind of experience is really important. If you drive in the desert on the highway you see lots of things passing, but when you're sitting down and looking really carefully at a small rock or small plants, then you feel much more like a part of the earth, like you're alive. And then you can figure out somehow, like how you should relate with others. That was my idea.
ES: How do you feel about the collection at the Gardner Museum? Do you relate to what Isabella Gardner was trying to do?
TS: That's a difficult question. First of all, I didn't have any art education at all, so I don't know which painting is valuable and which painting is not. Also, I don't know which painting is really important to history, so for me everything looks equal. But this atmosphere is really interesting, especially because the first time I arrived it was at night.
ES: Did you do a flash light tour?
TS: After a couple of weeks I did the flashlight tour and it was really fantastic. The first night when I was here, though, I didn't know that I needed permission to walk around, so at midnight I just walked around myself. It felt really spooky, like a spooky movie, but then I felt like some type of Holy Ghost was everywhere. I walked around with my music, my music was Rachmaninoff, and it really fit with this museum; it was really beautiful. I almost cried. And that day I came up with my idea for the moon project. This museum gives me lots of good emotions. I don't know how to say it in English.
ES: It makes you happy?
TS: Not happy, but I can really focus carefully, and just feel very calm, not angry or rushed. I can really concentrate. In this museum, it's like looking for the mirror or something. I'm looking at the museum and paintings, but I'm looking for myself.
ES: You do seem very calm. I can hardly imagine you getting angry. Do you get angry?
TS: Yes, of course.
ES: Are there certain things you get really angry about.
TS: Of course, if I'm driving… but normally I'm really calm, I think. I hope.
ES: Do you meditate? Is that something you consciously cultivate or are you just a calm person?
TS: Not in daily life, but sometimes. I really like to see the waterfall. I love waterfalls.
ES: Is this the waterfall you can bike to from your house?
TS: Yeah. I don't go very often, but sometimes I just go there to see the waterfall. I really love to go somewhere to see water and to look at the stars. For me, that's something like meditation. I'm living in Tokyo now, but even in Tokyo there's a big outside, there's countryside, so it's really easy to get to a nice place.
ES: I think when I first met you were talking about how you felt people in Japan had a really different relationship with the environment than people in the United States. Could explain what you meant?
TS:Yeah, I'm researching for that. Right now, we're living in the same kind of culture. There are thousands of bottles in Tokyo, and we use computers, everything is nearly the same. Of course, we are different tribes, so the cultures are slightly different, but from the point of view of aliens, they would think we're all the same. So I was talking about hundreds of years ago, two hundred or three hundred years ago. For example, starting with the Edo period until one hundred years ago. At that time Tokyo was a really packed city. Tokyo is the new name, the old name is Edo, and in that period everything, almost everything, was one hundred percent recycled. Nothing was wasted. There were lots of jobs that existed, too. There was no electricity, no gas, no running water, not like today. So, if you wanted to cook something, you needed to burn wood, and after that, the wood turned to ashes. Some people came to you to collect the ashes, and you could sell ashes to them. They collected the ashes for different uses, such as helping to make something or to grow vegetables.
ES: Like compost.
TS: Yeah, and this ash can also be used for silver.
ES: To polish?
TS: Yes. That kind of example existed in everything; it was a totally recycled system. Everything became some kind of job, so there were lots of jobs. This Edo period continued for 300 years and was the most peaceful period in the history. There was no war, everybody was educated, everybody could read and write. I'm really proud of this period. And I think we have to learn a little more from this period.
ES: Are there other artists, or not necessarily other artists, but thinkers whose work you think is inspiring or interesting?
TS: Of course, like David Wilson, lots of scientists, artists, composers.
ES: Do you listen to a lot of music?
ES: Do you play music?
TS: No, I wish I could, but I'm really bad.
ES: Maybe that's what you're going to have to learn how to do next?
TS: Well, that takes longer than to learn welding or something, much longer. It's too late for me.
ES: Are there particular artist or scientists whose names come to mind?
TS: Well, one: Mirei Shigemori. He's a gardener who was born around the 1920s or so. I read a lot of books from him and watched a documentary movie. I went to his garden. He's like my teacher.
ES: What was it about his work that inspired you?
TS: The garden? Well, like he said, the Japanese garden is not a copy of nature. It is also not a model of nature. It is totally abstract from nature, he said, and I really think that way too. It's not a fake nature, and it's also not a model of the universe, world, or nature. It's abstract. The human mind can create something abstract and this part, for me, is very interesting and important. All of my work is some kind of abstraction from something, so even when it doesn't look abstract, I'm picking out one essence from something.
ES: Do you have a piece you enjoyed working on the most?
TS: For the work, it begins with an idea that comes in probably one second and then I have to study for a few months, then work for a few months as a slave [laughs]. So, one second takes me into this yearlong process. I don't know if it's going to be enjoyable or not, but I really like to work this way. Many people say, "Why, Taro, don't you just order it, fabricate it?" And, yeah, sometimes I'm thinking about that, but when an idea comes up I know, for me, it's an interesting idea. I don't know what it is, I don't know what it means to me, and I don't know what it's going to mean to the others. If I order it for fabrication maybe I never will get the meaning. But to build it up it takes 3 or 4 months, sometimes half a year, and everyday I'm working and working and working and also the hand is moving and thinking in a different way. In some part of the brain I always ask, "What am I doing? What does this mean? What is this for?" And three months later everything fits together like a puzzle, and then I figure out what this was for. So, for me, it's really important to work by myself.
ES: Just as a way of clarifying.
TS: Yeah, you can say that, and I'm enjoying this process.
ES: Do you just go up to these companies and knock on the door? How do you get access to different facilities? How do you get these companies to let you come work for them?
TS: Well, of course I don't just knock on the door, I phone first and say, "Maybe I can work here for three months or something, you don't have to pay for it." Of course they want to have me.
ES: Okay, free labor, pretty desirable.
TS: It's a give-and-take: they give me technology and I give them my labor. It's like free school.
ES: Do you have a project you're thinking about or working on now?
TS: Yeah. It's maybe a little bit related with this moon video. I'm shooting a video and I'm already done with part one and I'm going to continue until part three. Part one is about my neighborhood. I'm shooting around the neighborhood as beautifully as I can. In the part one video, I want to know what kind of environment we're living in. I photograph things that you might think are a mess, but if I shoot it at the right angle, maybe a bunch of wires becomes beautiful. So, I'm shooting very carefully and deciding about the light, for example. Is a rainy day best or a sunny day? I'm choosing really carefully how I shoot. Each shot looks like a picture.
The second video I'll start to shoot when I go back. It is going to be about how we change the natural environment by adding lots of artificial things. In Tokyo, for example, we have a river. Before it was a natural river, but now it is concrete with lots of color and on top there is a freeway. I am going to shoot this from a boat in Tokyo and other small towns.
The third video is also going to be about how we change nature. One hundred years ago we had a gold mine, maybe it was more like 300 or 400 years ago. There were lots of people picking out the gold. They cut a lot of trees and when it rains, the sand comes down. Normally, the sand is held by the trees, but they chop off the trees, so lots of sand comes down.
ES: Like erosion.
TS: Yeah, and this becomes like a beach, and now there's lots of pine trees growing up, so people believe this is really beautiful nature and we can buy lots of postcards from this area. But in truth, it's not really nature; it's a kind of artificial thing. I want to shoot this, what we believe is nature and what is artificial nature. I want to try to shoot a video about these kinds of places. Secondly, in the desert, on the Native American trip, I found a really beautiful salt flat, and it looks like snow, but it's salt, so I want to go there again with Native Americans. They will make a camp and collect the salt, boil it and purify it, making a giant crystal from the salt.
ES: I didn't realize that was something one can do. How do you do that?
TS: Uh… you can research it for me[laughs]. It's difficult to explain in English. First of all, I have to purify the salt. Sometimes I boil it, there are lots of different processes to do, and after, if I get pure CO2, then I put long strings with the small sands. This sand becomes a crystal and starts to grow.
ES: Similar to the way you can put sand in a clam and it will produce a pearl.
TS: Yeah, yeah, exactly like that. If I wait one month, then gradually, slowly, it begins to grow. When it reaches a certain size (it grows really slowly) then I start to polish it and I make a lens. Afterwards, I make a camera and then I shoot the moon. After I shoot the moon, I give back my lens to the soil and come back with the one picture from the moon. That was important, and I really want to do that in the future. It's also about some sort of relationship. For me, going back to look at the moon is equal to going to the moon.
Saturday, November 7, 2009 @ 1:30 pm
Taro Shinoda and Curator of Contemporary Art Pieranna Cavalchini discuss Lunar Reflections and the artist's work.
Room Views: The Courtyard
Thursday, November 12, 2009 @ 6:30 pm
In the first of a new series of conversations about the Gardner Museum, artist Taro Shinoda, Museum Director Anne Hawley, and Curator of the Collection Alan Chong consider the special magic of the courtyard.
Gallery Talks at Gardner After Hours
Gallery talks at 7pm in the Special Exhibition Gallery during Gardner After Hours events from November 2009 through January 1010. Guest speakers included Eungie Joo, the Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs at The New Museum in New York City.
Lunar Reflections: A New Year's Eve Event
Thursday, December 31, 2009
In celebration of New Year's Eve and the full moon, Artist-in-Residence Taro Shinoda presented a new projection project in the Courtyard. The evening included a special performance of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, featuring Paula Robison, Sooyun Kim, Alexis Lanz, David Fulmer, Eric Jacobsen, and Steven Beck in the Tapestry Room.