Shinro Ohtake

Excavation, Compression
and the Call of the Bricoleur

From his morass of collaged scrapbooks to his vast architectural constructions, Japanese artist Shinro Ohtake's compiling and corralling of cultural detritus has
forged a new visual language.

by Cameron Allan McKean NOV 2013

Archaeologists spend their lives resurrecting the buried stories written in the dirt, sunken underwater or stored in clouds of data. Through the information hidden in fragments of materials, relics and things, they attempt to unearth truths about older ways of being and living.

But there are also stories in the things on the street and in the garbage. Shinro Ohtake has spent his life not just finding truths in these things, but simply picking them up, gluing them together, stacking them on top of one another, covering them in wax and plastic, and making quite a big mess while doing it.

Born in Tokyo in 1955, Ohtake is a painter, sculptor, noise musician, sound artist, bookmaker, illustrator, installation artist and architect. Recently, he has become all of these things at once. At 57, wearing his trademark backwards cap, he still produces work at a rate which outpaces almost every other contemporary Japanese artist; his oeuvre includes thousands of paintings and drawings, as many assemblages and tens of thousands of scrapbook pages. Each of these works contains even larger numbers of scraps, detritus, ephemera, objects and things. Put simply, it's a mess – the content of his works is a mess, the form is a mess – from afar, anyway. With proximity, his work reveals careful decisions about layering and placement. But, as he puts it, “There's no particular consistency to my process.”

One thing that is consistent is his compression of time, with the found materials he uses often becoming dated due to fonts and fashion. Even the dates and artworks are part of this compression and, in the case of his scrapbooks, 30 years and 66 books have been compressed into a single arching work.

These scrapbooks — one with up to 700 pages, one as heavy as small person, one covered ... Subscribe to read this article in full

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QAGOMA Metro Bendigo Art Gallery ACCA MelbourneArt Gallery of New South WalesMuseum of Brisbane