It was October, 1999. I was at a gallery in Rome, close by the Piazza di Spagna square which was bustling with tourists. The gallery was a well-known modern art studio named Studio Soligo, which boasted a network not only in Italy, but throughout Europe. Ms. Raffaella Soligo, the studio’s owner, was saying something energetically to me, but I had absolutely no idea what it was. Still feeling a sense of frustration, I returned to my hotel. The next day, I visited the studio again – this time with an interpreter. I was astonished to hear that the following year there would be an exhibition of my work at that gallery. I felt as if I were in heaven.
Allow me to provide some background. Early the previous year, I had visited Studio Soligo together with Ms. Yuko Sakurada of Galleria Artesse. Ms. Sakurada had previously attended one of my Tokyo exhibitions, and praised my work when she stated, “Nakajima’s Sho* is a type of contemporary art”. She kindly introduced me at the Rome gallery. When I showed my work to Mr. Franco Soligo, the gallery’s founder and owner at the time, he stated, “I’d like to see the actual creation of a piece.” So then and there I drew up one piece, and Mr. Soligo showed a great deal of interest. He suggested, “At the opening of your exhibition, let’s include a performance by you.” As I had long-held hopes of being able to show my work abroad, I returned to Japan full of anticipation. Sadly, however, half a year later Mr. Soligo suddenly passed away. When I heard the news, I felt I had to give up on our plans, believing that his death would result in the project being cancelled. The following year, partly in order to express my condolences to his wife, I visited Rome again. I then learned that Franco’s hopes concerning this matter were also strongly held by his wife Raffaella. Therefore, in April 2000, the exhibition in Rome was indeed realized. Both my works and the performances were very well-received, so such activities took place in various locales throughout Europe.
Regarding the Rome exhibition, Mr. Atsushi Suwa, a movie director and former president of Iwanami Movies Co., Ltd., once stated, “Nakajima is still overly focused on the intellectual side of his work. When he escapes that, the power of beauty which only Sho* can express will be even more evident.” Whether because of my temperament or because I was formerly an architectural consultant, I tend to first analyze art rather ‘coldly’ and logically. I was constantly thinking, ”If I don’t have passion enough so as to forget myself in my work…”
In 2001, when I met the famous Japanese journalist Mr. Chikushi Tetsuya, I learned of the expression “Shu-kou-Soku-shi” (“The hands consider, and the feet think.”) by the potter Kanjiro Kawai. I have heard that this saying describes how Mr. Kawai carried out his work. I then had an inspiration – “Oh, so it’s not the head, but rather the body!” Later that year, I was invited to perform at the national theater, La Scène Nationale d’Orléans in France. I spread out an especially large blank sheet on the floor, stomped on it barefoot, and then wrote the single Chinese character for “wind” ( 風 ) on the sheet. When the character had been inserted into the totally white surface, before I knew it, for some reason my mind became empty and my body began to perform Tai Chi. Rather than me writing the character, it felt as if the traces of my body’s movements as I wrote were ‘dwelling’ on the paper. At that moment, a new “me” emerged. This may have been a turning point for me.
Three years later, in 2004, I was suddenly contacted by Mr. Josef Nadj, a choreographer representative of French choreography. He had seen my performance in Orléans, and with just my name to go by, had found me, coming all the way to my studio in Chiba. Hearing his talk, I learned that he had become the art director for a theater festival which was to be held in Avignon, France two years later. He wanted to invite me to be one of the participating artists. At first, such a festival in Avignon did not mean very much to me – I had no idea which festival he was referring to. Nevertheless, despite my having some trepidation, I decided to accept Mr. Nadj’s invitation. Later on, I was surprised to learn that the Avignon Festival, a theater festival held annually, is one of the three major theater festivals of the world! Up until then, those invited from Japan were eminent artists of great renown, such as Hideo Kanze, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and others.
In 2006, the 60th Avignon Festival was held. As many vacationers thronged to southern France for summer holidays, in the ancient Christianity capital of Avignon, I carried out performances for two weeks, in front of a total of 1000 people. At a local church, each evening I drew one “moon” ( 月 ) character on a sheet of paper. The actual moon that evening was projected onto a wall, with the sheets having “moon” characters written on them being hung one after another from the ceiling. After a fortnight, the installation of 14 sheets of “moons” was complete, and that scene became the subject of a one-hour documentary filmed on location. During the shooting, the TBS show’s producer, Mr. Norio Tokumitsu, stated, “Nakajima’s origin is Sho*.” What with me feeling so far away from Japan, his words resonated in my heart. When a person is outside their everyday life, they learn who they really are.
I also saw something out of the ordinary when I shaved my hair. As soon as I did so, I started getting asked by everyone, “Are you a member of a Buddhist temple?” This caused me to become more interested in Zen. Wind, the moon, water, flowers, air… I realized that these Chinese characters are symbols of Zen. Thanks to this experience, though I’d originally started writing these characters because I liked them, now I began to actually love them.
Since the Rome exhibit in the year 2000, I have been holding exhibitions and performances in Japan and in various locations in Europe. That number easily surpasses 60 times. At these events, there have been many new encounters, each of which has helped guide me to today. Blessed by these numerous new meetings and by good fortune, I have been able to reach this point. I wish to express my sincere thanks to all those who have warmly watched over and helped me, in whatever manner.
* “Sho” is an art form based on Japanese calligraphy.