Existencial Taxonomies

Akira Ikezoe, Eda (Branches) from the series Milky Way, 2016, 36 x 30 inch, oil on canvas

The conflict between soul and our transient form has haunted Western idiosyncratics and divided our bodies and minds into separate realms. The partition of these supposedly opposite forces resulted in a binary configuration, a hierarchy dictating core concepts such as gender, nation, nature, which in turn deepened differences and created segregated environments. Akira Ikezoe’s work seeks to blur the lines between the inside and the outside, between us and them, and celebrates what lies in between such boundaries.

For example, in his series Outside In, hybrid beings engage in odd and absurd activities, they seem entrapped in contradictory situations preventing them to proceed with their lives. The characters evoke Medieval bestiaries in which animals were thoroughly described while preaching christian values; like in such books, these representations are permeated with symbolic meanings but in Ikezoe’s case, the message is less pious. Inspired by the earthquake and tsunami that shook Japan and provoked a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Ikezoe sought for an alternative to capitalist interests in Japanese folklore. “Like many Japanese people, I started doubting the rationale behind nuclear plants and also capitalism as the ground on which nuclear energy was blindly justified. I started focusing on the strange world of myth and folklore in search of “irrational” and “illogical” thinking, the kind that wouldn’t fit in today’s society.”

The Coconut Head series was a direct reaction towards the prevailing narrative commanding profit over well being, it challenges scientific and rational discourses by showing scenes devoid of any type of logic. His coconut heads or cabezas de coco, work collectively to accomplish meaningless missions that soon remind us of Sisyphus and his everlasting task and consequently to our own existence. The artist seems to ask: what is the meaning behind our daily missions and where are we heading to? 

Akira Ikezoe, Outside In-1, 2019, 11 x 15 inch, watercolor on paper

Ikezoe uses his characters and their bodies as a meeting place to converge culture and nature. In his series Future Primitive, he paints imaginary items that are a mixture of plants and inanimate objects. These mutant artefacts have their origin in the artist’s adolescence, when Japan’s economy thrived even in rural areas like Kochi, his hometown. However, the economy’s collapse in the 90’s brought constructions on their making to a sudden halt transforming them into decaying concrete jungles. After some time, it became normal to see objects devoured by nature clouding even further the frontier between “human” territory and nature.

What Ikezoe shows in his paintings are images of a nature that is mixed with objects created by men, nature is not presented as a pristine landscape but a compound of plastic and plants, a new entity finding its true meaning in the Anthropocene with the disruption of nature by capitalist interests. Furthermore, Future Primitive is an attempt to show an imaginative future without humans, and in this scenario objects would chronicle our passage. An eerie feeling is conveyed through the lines that punctuate each composition, the stillness of it all reinforces the gloomy scene. Even if man made objects populate these works, their sepulchral silence foretells our dismay; contrasting with its bright colors these paintings can be looked as epitaphs of our civilizations.

Objects tell their own story in the artist’s universe, they are imprints that will help decipher what happened to us in the worst case scenario. In a sense, Future Primitive is like an archeology of the future, still lifes making us ponder about life’s ephemeral essence and what awaits us if we continue in our current path. 

Akira Ikezoe, Untitled, 2018, 16 x 20 inch, oil on canvas

There is a leitmotiv in Ikezoe’s work which manifests in series like Milky Way and it consists of classifying objects. When the artist arrived in New York in 2011, he struggled with the barrier of language, so he communicated through objects and the visual images that he painted. Classification became thus the artist’s strategy to apprehend the world and by categorizing objects depending on their shapes and visual characteristics, Ikezoe created an atlas akin to Aby Warburg’s project Atlas Mnémosyne. Form instructs the painting’s structure, every object regardless of its triteness is material to be indexed and corresponds to a specific typology, to a specific system of knowledge conveying perhaps a hidden meaning, a hidden order.

According to the artist, his classification system has more than 500 categories, for example his human folder has 29 subcategories showing the diversity of shapes and the detailed methodology of the artist. Ikezoe’s process highlights the hidden connexions between objects and lately also between artworks, as he started to classify the MoMA’s collection in his latest project Institute of Taxonomy. Iconography guides Ikezoe’s work so the timeline within his paintings seems constructed not linearly but making jumps between epochs, cyclically like in his series Coconut Heads.

A succession of events unfolds in each painting but there’s no linear temporality recalling to mind Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights with the difference that Ikezoe’s cabezas de coco act in a flat and monochrome surface, positioning his characters in a bidimensional pictorial space where time is suspended. Chaos reigns but in an orderly fashion making us reflect about our own organization and again about the true meaning of life. 

Akira Ikezoe, Coconut Heads on the Diagram of Coal Fired Power Plant, 2018, 48 x 60 inch, oil on canvas

Akira Ikezoe’s body of work ponders on borders separating everything into distinct entities. To the artist, categorizing can be both a process to digest information or a mechanism to heighten differences and build boundaries. He chooses to explore both but intends to show the latter as a space to discover new organizations and incarnate new realities where temporalities overlap between one another. Ikezoe’s existential canvases are an invitation to review our actions and find meaning in an absurd world. 

Akira, Ikezoe, Dog 10, 2013, 14 x 11 inch, graphite on paper

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