– Spring/Summer 2006

Migrant Gardener

Yukie Kamiya

Engawa Site Project (ESP),  2005, images of Californian landscapes taken during the course of the project. Courtesy of the artist

Engawa Site Project (ESP), 2005, images of Californian landscapes taken during the course of the project. Courtesy of the artist

Since the second half of the 1990s the field of activity upon which Japanese artists ply their trade has expanded from the local to the international. Most of the artists from this generation, born during the 1960s and later, were influenced by the various subcultures bred by and against the mass media.

Their expressive strategies reflect these sources and are characterised by a childlike style and a notable visual appeal. Taro Shinoda, who was born in 1964 in Tokyo - the city where he still lives and works - shares with his contemporaries an interest in the vernacular; his work, however, is manifestly different from the style known as Japanese pop, and represents a unique artistic project.

Shinoda was a late-bloomer; he didn't start making art until he turned 30. He studied landscape gardening and worked as a gardener for several years during the 1980s, but became frustrated with the conventional method of Japanese gardening. In those years the city of Tokyo saw land prices soar to incredible heights, and in the midst of that economic boom general interest in gardening - a discipline intimately related to issues of spirituality and time - waned: the only thing that mattered when it came to physical space was its monetary value and what could be built on it to turn a profit. The realisation of that situation made Shinoda give up his gardening job, and translate his investigations on the subject into the field of art - drawing parallels between the constructed space and gardens as artificial sites. Gardens have, therefore, remained a central motif in Shinoda's work.

His first artwork, Milk (1995), was an interpretation of a Zen

  1. In this work Shinoda was trying to recreate the rock garden of Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, Japan.

  2. Basho Matsuo, The Narrow Road to Oku, Donald Keene (trans.), Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1996

  3. The development of the Japanese garden cannot be separated from the influence of Buddhist thought. Beginning with a record in the Nihon Shoki in the year 612, an imaginary mountain at the core of the Buddhist view of the cosmos was created in a garden. The concept of recreating the Pure Land in gardens continued until the 17th century in the Edo Period. See Kinsaku Nakane, Nihon no Niwa: The Influences of the Pure Land Faith, Tokyo: Kawahara Shoten, 1964

  4. 'Fantasia' was held (Nov-Dec 2001) at Space imA in Seoul, Korea and then at the East Modern Art Center in Beijing, China (March 2002), co-curated by Sunjung Kim, Pi Li and Yukie Kamiya. It was a part of the three-year-long'Under Construction' project, in which artists and curators from seven Asian countries participated under the auspices of the Japan Foundation.

  5. From an interview with Mami Kataoka, in Eungie Joo (ed.), Buried Treasure: Taro Shinoda, Los Angeles: California Institute of the Arts, 2005, p.43

  6. 'Buried Treasure: Taro Shinoda' was the exhibition held at REDCAT, Los Angeles, Feb-April 2005, organised by Eungie Joo.

  7. 'But that the dread of something after death,/The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will', William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, lines 78-80