Akira Ikezoe is a Japanese artist who lives in Brooklyn, New York. He has had solo exhibitions in several locations in New York, as well as Tokyo and Guatemala City. I stumbled upon his work whilst researching up and coming artists in New York to look out for; his name kept appearing. In particular his installation of works at the Proyectos Ultravioleta’s booth at NADA New York in 2016 was drawing attention. One article discusses Akira Ikezoe’s ‘playful taxonomies of like objects functioning as explorations of man’s relationship to nature’. His work didn’t last long, with all of it being sold within the first two hours of opening day. I was excited to hear which books Akira identified as being the game changers for him and his flourishing art career. So, here is my interview with the extremely talented Akira Ikezoe…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I’m an artist. Somehow I’m living by selling what I make.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Legends of Guatemala by Miguel Angel Asturias.
The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé. I read the Japanese version when I was a child and I bought the English version when studying English. Now I remember all of the stories.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I didn’t have anything specific that I really want to be. I was playing soccer passionately from 9 to 15 but I never thought of becoming a professional soccer player. At my age of 17, I started drawing and painting. It was something that I could engage myself in and I’m still doing somehow.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
First of all, when I was a student, I didn’t take English classes seriously and would have never thought of myself communicating in English in the future. That’s something that made a big change to my life. Besides that, basically and fortunately, I’m still doing what I liked back then even though it’s more complicated than I expected at that time.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
This question reminds me of Back to the Future II; so my answer would be to give myself a book that contains the results of all sporting events.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I commute between my apartment and my studio almost every day. I always read books or news on the iPad, in the train.
The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and her Soulless Grandmother by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I read this when I was 23 or 24 and for me this was the first meeting with Latin American literature. Since I didn’t have any preliminary knowledge about this genre, I was amazed and fascinated by these strange characters, the way of using words and the way of grasping this world even though I read in Japanese. After that, I learned that it’s called Magical Realism, but the impact on me while reading was enormous and I’m still reading this genre every once in a while.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
When I read stories about the second World War, I always associate them with my grandfather. He went to the battlefield in China during the war and I try and imagine how he survived there. After coming back to Japan, he engaged himself in farming and hardly ever went out of his hometown of Kochi, a local city in Japan where I also grew up. One of the most unforgettable books about the war I read is Junkoku by Akira Yoshimura. It’s based on the real story about the battlefield in Okinawa, Japan, where many young Japanese solders carried out suicide attacks by throwing themselves with bombs under the US tanks. It’s hard to imagine for my generation in Japan that’s never experienced any wars but if I think of my grandfather, it becomes closer. I don’t think this one has an English version though.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I strongly recommend a book titled Do It: The Compendium by Hans Ulrich Obrist. This is an art book but it’s completely different from other writings about art like biographies or critics. It contains more than 250 instructions for creating artworks. The instructions are written by artists from all over the world and curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, one of the most influential curators in the contemporary art world today, and the Independent Curators International. The reason I love this book is that it provides us with a different way of approaching art. When we go to museums or art galleries, we usually see whatever is called “art” that’s already done but sometimes we end up having no idea about it when we leave the venue. However, with these instructions, we can see the artists’ idea as if we became an assistant of the artists and actually make artworks. The artists in this book include John Baldessari, Felix Gonzalez Torres, Allan Kaprow, Ai Wei Wei, etc… It’s very entertaining to read.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I like both of them and am interested in crossing points of fiction and non-fiction.
Do you think reading is important?
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Toi Taiko by Haruki Murakami. This is his essay from 1986 to 1989 while he stayed in Europe (mainly Greece and Rome) to write Norwegian Wood and Dance Dance Dance. His relaxing way of adapting himself to the foreign cultures and his perspective from Europe onto the thriving Japanese culture in the 80s are still very interesting to read today. I read some of his novels but I prefer his essays like one about Jazz players that he loves, titled “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing”. Unfortunately this essay seems not to be translated into English.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
To read, I prefer digital books because of the convenience to carry with me. But I still love real books as an object and their smells make me feel a bit nostalgic.
The Castle by Franz Kafka. I read this in my early twenties. This story is a continuance of frustrating moments of the protagonist, K, who needs to get access to the castle in the village, doing ineffective effort against the inhuman authority that keeps giving him casual and contradicting answers. The reason of the castle’s existence is unknown and he is never accepted to enter the castle. I think it’s a typical relationship between the tendency of big organizations or bureaucracies and ordinary people who are less informed, don’t have any ideas of what’s happening on the other end and tend to end up letting the matter drop. It’s up to the readers to accept it as just an inevitable matter in the nature of human society or to be motivated to fight against the absurdity and unfairness.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
Kamui-den by Sanpei Shirato. In this manga from the 60’s, the main character “Kamui”, a boy from the lowest stratum in the early Edo period (the early 17th century), becomes a Ninja and gets a confidential paper that reveals the Shogun (Japan’s governor at that time) is also from the lowest stratum. While the story is depicting many characters from the different strata of the society, Kamui is involved in the Ninja battle between the Establishment and anti-establishment.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Drawing a Tree by Bruno Munari. The illustrations and texts in this book, written and drawn by an Italian artist, Bruno Munari, are very simple and clear yet aesthetic with a universal subject and good for all ages.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I don’t know next year but what I want to read now is books about nuclear plants. It’s not only about Japanese nuclear plants but I’m also eager to learn how people all over the world are thinking about this issue regardless of anti and pro nuclear plants. I’m researching what to read now.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
No idea… I think I’m still too young to answer this question.