Taiji Terasaki is a Japanese-American artist based in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Growing up in a family of scientists and creatives, with formal art education, Terasaki has spent more than 30 years exploring avant-garde innovations in his craft, working in photography, sculpture, immersive and large-scale installations, and pioneering mediums like mist projections as the canvas.
His cutting-edge presentations are often juxtaposed by the subjects of cultural and environmental conservation, preservation, and restoration. Terasaki made his public debut in 2017 with REBIRTH at Honolulu’s Ward Center and Edible Landscapes for the Trillenium in conjunction with “Contact 3017: Hawaiʻi in 1,000 Years” at Honolulu Museum of Art.
That same year, his first solo exhibition, Feeding the Immortals, premiered at the Ravizza Brownfield Gallery. Stemming from Terasaki’s search for ritual and meaning in death following the passing of his father, the exhibit was comprised of mixed media works with ceramic, photography, vapor projections, video, and ceremonial performance—all honoring and paying tribute to those beloveds who have passed on.
Since then, Terasaki has invested his considerable energy into large-scale and civic art projects. He had shown in Hawaiʻi, throughout the continental US, and internationally–most notably at the Curitiba Biennial in 2017. Terasaki’s most recent project, TRANSCENDIENTS: Immigrant Stories of Place, poetically holds space for the immigrant populations that comprise America, celebrating their contributions through technology-based storytelling, contemporary portraiture, and immersive experiences.
Terasaki studied in the MFA programs at both Hunter College in New York and Cal State Long Beach and holds a BFA from UC Irvine. He currently resides in Honolulu with his wife and two children.
Hi, Taiji! Tell us a bit about yourself. When did you begin doing art and how did you get started?
Taiji: During my high school years, I didn’t take art classes, but in my own time, I was always creating. It wasn’t until my senior year that I finally took a painting class and knew it was a passion that would not go away. At an open house, my painting teacher convinced my parents that they should support my decision to pursue art in college. From there, I went to UC Irvine which was a very progressive school, I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I was introduced to performance and art installations. UC Irvine had the history of artists such as Chris Burden who locked himself in the school lockers. Following that experience, I had attended Hunter College.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Taiji: My father was a true research scientist. My two older brothers pursued science and I felt I needed to follow similarly. Eventually, I found that I was not able to keep up with the curriculum and it was best that I find my own path. This happened very late in my childhood.
What are some of the tools you use to create a distinct style of artwork?
Taiji: I’ve always been attracted to photography, large-scale installations, and ephemeral materials. It has taken me a long time to investigate these types of methods. I found ways to incorporate experimental materials by capturing with the camera.
Recently, I’ve been exploring the physical weaving of photographs in the response to current issues happening on a daily time continuum.
What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Taiji: Recently, because of the COVID pandemic, I’ve been practicing isolation and confining myself to the studio. My only interactions are with my family and studio team.
Strange, but this construct has imposed a very positive studio discipline and practice for me.
Besides, helping my wife raise our children, I spend the majority of my time working with my team to create new work and continue working through projects that are already out in the world. Teamwork is essential to my practice, both for the pragmatic needs and as a continual springboard to discuss content and direction.
Your art is so unique and innovative. What motivates you as an artist? Is it curiosity, the search for beauty, or meaning?
Taiji: The need to innovate has always been a passion of mine. As science and research progress, I believe art movements evolve in similar ways. Contemporary art, at this present time, addresses social issues and the need for change. There are many issues of such consequence, climate change, inequity, injustice, that the current movement of art allows for discourse. I remember a time when it was debated whether “political” art was an appropriate practice for artists!
By attempting to keep up with the fast-moving pace of news culture with digital stories published every second, I ask myself how quickly can an artist respond? It is no mistake that, for “Transcendients: 100 Days of COVID-19”, I chose to use the platform of Instagram to try and keep up with the news reports.
The content of my work continues to involve the community. By lifting up community activism and positive humanitarian action, I am very inspired to take a tremendous commitment to create art. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to create work that explores social and environmental causes.
What’s the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Taiji: As an artist, it is inherently in my practice to take risks and pursue projects that intuitively feel right. “Transcendients: 100 Days of COVID” is an example of this. To create a weaving and react to the events on a daily basis created a challenging construct. I needed to trust my instincts when putting out content with such immediacy.
As mentioned before, I attempt to keep up with the fast-moving pace of news. At times I feel I am similar to a news organization, always working to publish the next day’s significant and thought-provoking stories.
What subject matters interest you? What are some of the stories behind your work?
Taiji: Society and how the world is confronted with issues that need to be addressed. I work to address these subjects that directly create a dialog about inequity, injustices, and environmental crises. But still, I try to focus on the positive and the hope from these stories. I want to focus on stories of heroism, activism, and community.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Taiji: For the past few years, I have been interested in creating exhibition experiences in the realm of education and cultural empowerment. I seek out, not only art venues, but institutions with the mission to educate. My current exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles is an example of this. Currently, my projects have specifically used Instagram as a platform to communicate. In theory, Instagram reaches the masses.
Are there any upcoming shows or workshops we should know about (or canceled due to the Covid-19 situation)?
Taiji: I have a current exhibition called Transcendients: Heroes at Borders at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. The show opened in February and was open for about a month before the state’s Stay-At-Home Order. The museum has been closed since March and is tentatively scheduled to reopen October 2020. In the meantime, we are working with the museum to plan additional exhibitions with the COVID weavings as well as some virtual programming opportunities. In March 2021, I have a show scheduled with the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in my home state of Hawaii.
Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?
Taiji: I strive to bring education in a provocative and artistic manner. I believe in art that can move people to make a change. My goal is also to uplift local communities by giving recognition to those who tirelessly commit themselves to help others and are essential to the future health of our collective global world.
What advice would you give to upcoming artists, how to think out-of-the-box, and grow?
Taiji: Strive to innovate. It is important that artists present personal visions and aesthetics. Contribute something new and hopefully provocative and question how one can be a part of the contemporary art movement. I don’t think many would deny that science advances by movements and research, I believe art follows similar paradigms.
What’s next on the horizon for Taiji?
Taiji: It is too early to talk about publicly, but am very excited about collaborating with a number of institutions and nonprofit organizations on upcoming projects.
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