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Shuzo Takiguchi - Life and Works Nobuhiko Tsuchibuchi

Known for his work as a poet and art critic, Shuzo Takiguchi devoted great energy to introducing and promoting the spread of surrealism, with which he had been fascinated in his younger days, in Japan. Through his role in providing support for the avant-garde movement, both through his critical activities and as a mentor figure, he fostered the development of many artists before and after the war. He was responsible for producing not only dozens of experimental poetic works and several collaborative projects with visual artists from both Japan and overseas, but also much artwork of his own. Here, I shall provide a brief overview of his life, and consider the range of artistic work he produced.

Life : Shuzo Takiguchi was born in 1903, in Otsuka in Toyama Prefecture, into a family whose members had served as village chiefs for generations, as the third child to Shiro and Taki Takiguchi. In 1915, his father Shiro passed away. As the only son, he was expected to take over the family medical practice set up by his grandfather, but he was already more at home in the world of tanka, symbolist poetry and art books, in particular, he loved the Shirakaba literary coterie and the work of William Blake. In 1923, the year after his mother died, he entered a preparatory course at Keio University to study aesthetics, but dropped out midway through the year, finding the lectures disappointing, and also losing his school expenses after the Great Kanto Earthquake on 1st September. He moved to Otaru in Hokkaido Prefecture, where his elder sister lived, to get a job as a substitute teacher at elementary school. In 1925, he entered Keio University once again, this time to study literature. It was here that he discovered surrealism, through Junzaburo Nishiwaki, a professor as well as a poet. Takiguchi was profoundly affected by works such as Surrealist Manifesto and The Magnetic Fields, and published a series of experimental poetic texts of his own, which are nowadays considered as the pinnacle of Japanese avant-garde poetry. In 1930, he translated the full text of Andre Breton's Surrealism and Painting (first edition).

After graduating in 1931, he began work as a scriptwriter at the movie production company, PCL (the forerunner to Toho Co. Ltd), also beginning his activity as an art critic on the side. He maintained a correspondence with surrealist artists overseas, translating pieces such as Breton's Communicating Vessels, Mad Love, 'Lecture at the International Congress of Writers for the Defence of Culture' as well as essays by Max Ernst and Salvador Dali. In 1937, together with Chiryu (Tiroux) Yamanaka, he organized an exhibition of surrealist works from overseas, publishing the Album Surrealiste to coincide with the exhibition. Not only publishing many critical works concerned with art and photography, such as 'A Theory of Surrealist Art', 'The Contemporary Significance of Surrealism' and 'Objects and Photographs' (all in Kindai Geijutsu (Modern Art), 1938), but also organizing several theoretical study groups in the fields of art and photography, Takiguchi continued to lead and inspire the avant-garde movement. However, these activities were condemned, ironically enough, as liable to contribute to the spread of communism. He was arrested and detained for a period of seven months from the spring of 1941 onwards, forcing him to give up his voluntary critical work.

After the war, Shuzo Takiguchi contributed a large amount of writing to newspapers and art magazines such as the Yomiuri Shimbun. He was seen as one of the leading art critics of his day, and a spokesperson of the age. In charge of planning shows for the Takemiya Gallery, he organized a grand total of 208 exhibitions for many young artists to display their works. He also served as a mentor figure for the Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) interdisciplinary artistic group established in 1951. These activities, together with his great sense of personal integrity, ensured he had huge influential power on the scene at the time. In 1958, he visited Europe to serve as Commissioner in the Venice Biennale, encountering the work of the Italian sculptor Fontana that he rated most highly and voted for the painting prize. He then went on to travel around Europe where he met Breton, Duchamp, Dali, Michaux and others―he referred to his meeting with Breton as 'the harvest of my lifetime'. After he returned to Japan, he began writing less and less art criticism, though his involvement in his own private writing projects, such as penning the introductions to exhibitions and so on, increased. While generally giving up on his role as public figure, he nonetheless agreed to serve as a special defence pleader championing the freedom of the arts in the 1965-1970 court case where Genpei Akasegawa was indicted for printing fake 1000 yen bills (the artist insisted that the bills were "not fakes but models").

As well as collaborating with visual artists such as Joan Miro, Sam Francis, Antoni Tapies and others in the publication of artists' books, he also produced artwork of his own using a variety of special methods such as drawing, watercolours, decalcomania, works with blotting paper, 'burnt drawings' (drawings burnt with a flame), and 'roto-dessins' (drawings of concentric circles using a revolving motor). Between 1960 and 1971, he had four exhibitions of his own. In 1967 he published Shuzo Takiguchi's Poetic Experiments 1927-1937, a collection of his poetic texts, followed by intermittent prose describing his dreams and short proverb-like phrases.

At the beginning of the 1960s, Takiguchi came up with the idea of opening a conceptual object shop, and was permitted to name it Rrose Selavy from Marcel Duchamp, with whom he kept up a correspondence with after his trip to Europe. As a mark of gratitude to the artist, he published his book To and From Rrose Selavy in 1968, and continued studying the artist. He issued the multiple edition of 100, Oculist Witnesses, an objet made in collaboration with the artist Kazuo Okazaki that transferred into three dimensions a section of Duchamp's Large Glass. He died in 1979 of myocardial infarction.

Artwork: Shuzo Takiguchi's forays into the visual art sphere were mostly executed after his trip to Europe―more accurately, they begun in 1960, and continued into the 1970s, although there are some exceptions produced in the 1950s. The exact total number of works he produced is not known, but it may well be over a thousand. We don't see many works in the late 1960s or the mid-1970s onwards, when he was involved in producing To and From Rrose Selavy, serving as a defence pleader in the 1000-yen bills trial, or pouring his energies into Duchamp- related tasks. The precise number of works and the production method deserve more rigorous research in the future. Takiguchi himself referred to his work and creation process in the essays 'I Also Draw' and 'First-hand Experiences' featured in this volume. Below are some brief additional points to be noted.

1. Takiguchi's experiments began with ink drawings. In the course of a few years, he expanded to using wide range of techniques such as watercolours, decalcomania, blotting paper works, burned drawings, roto-dessins, and so on. It should be noted that his drawings were not preparatory studies for oils.

2. Takiguchi used a wide variety of materials―writing ink, Indian ink, watercolours, enamel and so on―as well as a range of different types of paper: sugar paper, glossed paper, blotting paper and similar. In his roto-dessins, he occasionally used sandpaper. His drawing instruments were similarly assorted: fountain pens, ball pens, disposable chopsticks, sponges etc.

3. Takiguchi's motives for beginning his experiments in drawing would appear to be to investigate the moment when the formation of letters became separate from the image, or, alternatively, when the image imbues itself with meaning, doing his best to put aside all intention and abandoning himself to the spontaneity of the lines. His experiments also came together with his interest in avant-garde calligraphy in Japan and calligraphic paintings, as well as the Art Informel movement. It is also possible to trace it back to a passage in Breton's Surrealism and Painting, that he translated in 1930 and later quoted in some important essays, about the consolidation of the image and the formation of language.

4. The diversity of Takiguchi's works could be said to be the result of his fascination with perpetually varying the work he produced, making the most of the distinctive features of materials, papers and instruments, and incorporating fire and water. This perpetual variation appears to come less out of consideration of the logic of visual arts than that of the logic of language―the system of differences. The fact that his decalcomania eventually took the place of his drawings and watercolours was almost certainly out of the intention to move towards the momentarily appearing and the persisting image.

5. Takiguchi viewed his works as what was left over from the act, or else, the proof of it work. In other words, his work didn't follow traditional conceptions of the creative process and artwork itself that were based on ideas of plans, arrangement and syntax. Yet it was not as though the works he produced were strictly without purpose or intention, as illustrated by the fact that he signed and dated his works, as well as by the fact that he showed his work in exhibitions. The opening line to the introductory text written for his first solo exhibition in September 1960, "The Pueblo Indians draw pictures on the sand," is quite possibly suggestive of the inclination towards making work that doesn't have its roots in the painting traditions of the West. In fact, his decalcomania works in black circa 1970 often remind us of Oriental Indian ink paintings (sumi-e).

6. The fact that Takiguchi mounted his pieces also indicates an intention on his part to make them into works of art. This is frequently seen in the case of his burnt drawings and roto-dessins. Some of his blotting paper works have also been mounted, although fewer of these. Those decalcomania works that were exhibited during his lifetime or given to his friends as presents were stuck to a cardboard mount and framed. Unrestricted by the traditional conception of artistic creation and artwork, his blotting paper works and burnt drawings could be regarded by the artist as objets in virtue of their strong physical sense, despite their being two-dimensional. On his blotting paper works, he jotted this memorandum in English. "Blotting paper is something. / It remains by itself. / It is this now. / I will keep it."

7. The similarity between Takiguchi's works and those of other artists (Michaux, Pollock, Duchamp, Jean Tinguely, Man Ray, Fontana, Yves Klein and so on) could be seen as a kind of citation that stems from his dialogue with them. It seems appropriate to call it the fruit of his wide-ranging critical activity.

From all the above, a picture emerges of Takiguchi as the artist as someone liberated from his role as an art critic―someone enjoying immersion in his creation as a way of reliving the surrealism he had immersed himself in in his younger days. We can see his artwork as the central endeavour of the later half of his life, into which he poured his time and energy, as well as the very essence of his years of critical experience.

Translated by polly Barton
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