Takeshi Kanemura

Southern California-based Performance/Installation artist Takeshi Kanemura was born in Okinawa, Japan, and lives and works in Los Angeles. Kanemura has exhibited internationally in Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S. He received a BA from University of California, Riverside, an MA from California State University, San Bernardino, and an MFA from Claremont Graduate University. Kanemura has transcended traditional Japanese art and absorbed those practices into his current art form of mixed media performance art. With the influences of Japanese performance dancing called Butoh, traditional large scale Japanese brush stroke painting, and traditional music, Kanemura’s current pieces incorporate all these elements with Americanized flair, to humbly represent the new present-day American status: the amalgamation of one’s identity. Kanemura proudly displays the identity of the Japanese-American. His goals with his art are to promote cultural awareness and the embracing of all cultural heritages.

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TAKESHI KANEMURA By Peter Frank


Performance art as we know it today began in painting. Whether practiced by Gutai in Osaka, Yves Klein in Paris, or Allan Kaprow and others in New York, performance by artists (as opposed to theater people) was regarded as an extension into time and space of the painterly gesture. This activity sixty years ago extended the concept of “action painting” into real, live action. Takeshi Kanemura returns to that way of thinking in his own performances; they depend not only on the materials, but on the activities and gestures, of a painter.


Kanemura might collaborate with a musician, theater person, or even writer; but his art is at basis painterly, and can result in the realization of paintings that stand on their own. Not all such performance leaves behind stand-alone artworks, much less stand- alone paintings. Kaprow’s Happenings, for instance, left almost nothing behind. The Aktions of Joseph Beuys in Düsseldorf were the performances of a sculptor; they left behind souvenirs of action, objects made fascinating because of their association with an almost mystical experience. Kanemura, by contrast, remains in the realm of painting. His performances specifically and very deliberately depend on paint, delineate the given space in a painterly way, and engage other performers – usually volunteers from his audience – as painters or even as “canvases.” Kanemura even shapes his actions and interventions to the architectural formation of the performance site, as if the room were his canvas and its dimensions the formal limitations of his activities.

 

In this, Kanemura adds an architectural element to two Japanese traditions, one ancient and one modern. The ancient one, of course, is calligraphy. Kanemura’s work re-explores the painterly quality that has long distinguished Japanese calligraphy from its Chinese and Korean counterparts. He has turned the private process of calligraphic rendering into a public spectacle, without losing its contemplative aspect. Now, “calligrapher” and “reader” share time and space as well as image, and the “reader” – that is, the audience – not only beholds the act of calligraphy, but can become physically part of it. Certainly, Kanemura himself does. And in this, his performance knowingly refers back to Japan’s prime moment of avant-garde innovation, the Gutai movement. Gutai artists such as Kazuo Shiraga and Saburo Murakami produced artworks, especially paintings, both in public displays and studio actions that involved their whole bodies – as if the production of art were a physical sport, not just a mental exercise. This, in a modified way, is what Kanemura does. He involves audience members in a way Gutai did not; and he involves the specific dimensions of the site, something Gutai artists rarely did. But in many ways, from the painterliness of the activity itself to the fact that the activity often produces self-sufficient paintings, Kanemura is neo-Gutai.
 

Kanemura’s study in the United States may have provided his art distinctive international factors, such as his responsivity to architectural space and his use of audience members – factors found in Euro-American performance practice rather than in Japanese. But in other ways, Kanemura now regards himself as that much more a Japanese artist, a realization gained from going back and forth between Los Angeles and Japan. Indeed, in the playfulness he manifests in his performance – the bright colors, the sometimes absurd situations in which he involves himself and his volunteers – Kanemura reflects the genial spirit of his native Okinawa, a spirit that the comfortable climate and experimental mindset of southern California reinforces. Takeshi Kanemura is a pan-Pacific performance artist, and his spirit is as wide as the ocean that defines his art and his life.

- Peter Frank
 

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"My work is a metaphor for his viewers: it is impossible to avoid the invisible and nonverbal conflicts and hardships that exist today. I want to reveal those subconscious conflicts through my work because the ambiguous state of how it is presented (“What is Takeshi doing? Why is he doing this? Does he want me to think/feel a certain way?”) will allow for a more natural response from his audience. Ultimately, my goal is to activate my viewers’ perceptions by giving them the freedom to be engaged physically or emotionally. I want to transform the consciousness of being a passive viewer into a willing participant. With my art, it is the interaction that makes it a performance. Despite a different response every time, an action, reaction, and commentary will provoke thought and reflections. My purpose as an artist is to be the catalyst for drawing out these organic reactions of our human condition." 

- Takeshi Kanemura 

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