Chihiro ITO is a Japanese painter and multi-media artist. He was born in Tokyo where he studied painting at Musashino Art University. He then took a continuing education writing course at the School of Visual Arts. Chihiro ITO was an invited artist at European Capital of Culture events in Portugal, Cyprus, and Serbia. In 2018 he received a grant from the Japanese government to come to the US where he began documenting the remaining living artists associated with Fluxus. He encountered the Artist Jonas Mekas during the NYC visit. After these experiences, he began to make experimental films and poetry.
Chihiro ITO is the recipient of the Holbein award (2017), NYFA grant (2021), Robert Rauschenberg Foundation grant (2021), award from Monira Foundation, and Mana Contemporary Art(2022). His active practice has been documented at MoMA PS1, Governors Island, Pioneer Works, Queens Museum, Mizuma & Kips gallery, etc. In his art, he looks for the poetry opportunity in ordinary objects and everyday experiences to connect people across geopolitical boundaries. He immigrated to NYC.
Thank you for joining us Chihiro. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am a Japanese multidisciplinary artist, Curator, who immigrated from Tokyo living in New York City.
At age 0, I started painting with my parents who are not-so-rich sculptors using paper and paints on the dark wooden floor of their tiny house in Tokyo. I graduated from Musashino Art University, and also I took a continuing education writing course at the School of Visual Arts. I was an invited artist at European Capital of Culture events in Portugal, Cyprus, and Serbia. In 2018 I received a grant from the Japanese government to come to the US where I began documenting the remaining living artists associated with Fluxus. I encounter the Artist Jonas Mekas during NYC visit after these experiences, I began to make experimental films and poetry. I am the recipient of a Holbein award (2017), NYFA grant (2021), Robert Rauschenberg Foundation grant (2021), award from Monira Foundation(2022), BronxArtSpace(2022), the Poetry Project scholarship(2022). Since living in New York I have participated in art activities at MoMA PS1, Governors Island, Pioneer Works, Queens Museum, Mizuma & Kips gallery among other places.
What brings you to art? What is your creative process like?
In my art, I look for the poetic opportunity in ordinary objects and everyday experiences to connect people across geopolitical boundaries.
In 2017, I visited Cyprus, invited by the European Capital of Culture where I collaborated with local artists. There I encountered complicated socio-politics that resulted in dangerous situations in the daily lives of my peers. I was moved by them to bring my artwork to the border of the Turkish Autonomous Region and make a positive statement. In 2020, I saw again the socio-politics effect on my friends’ lives. Now I am inspired to create artworks to transcend political and cultural boundaries.
When I encounter not-so-healthy-looking vegetables, like the typical NYC grocery store ones. They give me energy in a strange way. I consume them with my eyes and my body and then recreate them in my paintings and drawings. This process naturally contains both ecology, biology, and poetics. My painting series “Vegetable in isolation” was made during Covid-19 in NYC. After this experience, I was inspired to create a painting I could bring outdoors, and thus began my new project “New Flag for New People”. In it, I imagine a bright future with a flag waving for everyone. Using vegetables as symbols of radical positive energy, or health that benefit all people. It is a meditation on biopolitics.
You have been very active for the past few years. What is the most exciting project that you worked on?
My most exciting project is every new project.
Now is the “New Flag for New People” project, the “Vegetables in Isolation” project, and the “Reversible for the everything” project. I cannot turn time back, but the future is always brilliant and I feel certain I will do more interesting projects in the future.
I am looking forward to a residency in Serbia in October where the European Capital of Culture is held.
How do you define “success” in art?
Success in Art is fluid for me, like water in the river.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?
Community is, for me, very important to live as an artist. When I came to the US in 2018, many people (including artists) helped me. I sometimes help them, and they sometimes help me again. It became a community now. New York is a diverse city. My community became like that. (There were not only Japanese people of course. )
Also, I believe Art can change the world good way. I can’t do it alone, I believe the community can do it. I believe.
For example, if you see the art history of NYC, George Maciunas(founder of Fluxus) used to build a community to build his dream whose participants include Yoko Ono, Nam Jun Paik, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, etc. It has still strongly impressed us.
In 2020, I began my project space “NO WORLD project space” with NYC artist Mica Scalin in NYC. I curated poetry readings and exhibitions; collaborated with Avant-garde musicians (Matt Mottel, Kevin Shea, Takeshi Shimizu, Ceth Ciotti, Kani Kani Club, Hinata Okubo, and more) and artists through this space. I couldn’t tell the location, because the concept of this space is nowhere in the world.
In contrast to the chaos outside of us from 2020 when I made, NO WORLD is a hideaway from political, religious, social, and economic issues that separate people. In a sense, there is no such place in the world like it but through art, we can experience what could be possible.
We published books sometimes through these spaces.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?
Build your community and make poetry.
text & photo courtesy of Chihiro ITO