Nota Tsekoura: You create atmospheric environments with architectural impressions, free from structural properties, always following though certain tensions. I am referring mainly to your project “Fibre Columns, Romanesque Church”. How much research do you do on structural components and architecture on these types of projects?
Toshiko Horiuchi: I have been researching textile structure, which is my interest, quite a long time ago. Particularly I was a designer of printing textile in NYC. I started searching, instead of putting design on fabric, what is fabric and the meaning of it. This is how I started in 1969 and I just continued my own study about textile structure, which is very similar with the human skin. In 1976, I think, I was invited in France. Most of the people came from different countries of Europe and I was the only one from Japan. It was a four weeks project that we were trying to create something as a group, which was difficult because everyone had different thought and technique, so we spend one-week to reach an agreement. Because I could not understand any Franch I was just seating there. The second week the director told us to work individually and then everybody started working. I was trying to find a space in this room of the church, which was like a symposium and finally I found my self in the corridor. It was an interested space, I had never walked a 30m long and 5 m height corridor. I was just sitting there for two and a half days until the image (idea) come out but I had only two and a half week left. One the other hand, it was in my hand, my technique that I can use to limite the time. I used the sprang technique. I calculated my physical ability and also I calculated the geometry. I started and I was knitting every day continuously. The last day I knitted everything in one piece. I had the image in my mind but I had a different technique in my hands compared to my research.It is important to say that sprang is not normally used in that scale.The sprang technique was found it in Egypt as a hair net. Later they dedicated the lace technique. Normally nobody used this huge scale but due to the time limitation and the heavy yard it was the only way.Also this technique was in my mind and I was sure I could create Romanesque Church as a gothic space with this approach.
NT: Is this how you started flirting with large scale structures?
TK: My pieces were never tiny. I liked to knit in a large scale but I never before knitted such a large scale. Until that moment I have never walked in my life in a 30m-length piece. I thought this was a great challenge and I wanted to try it. I spent three days just sitting and observing the space until everything was clear in my mind and I was able to do my calculations.I was just sitting there in a corner and I was listening the sound of birds and bells as the shadow was coming in from the columns! Then everything was clear and I did the appropriate calculations of the sizes of mesh and knots. When I finished it was almost perfect.
NT: Were you nervous at that moment you were trying to decode the space these three days by observation? Or you were calm trying to understand what was around without feeling the pressure of starting the project?
TK: I was under a big pressure. People were already working everywhere. I speak just English and they were sitting there, talking in other languages quietly and smiling. It was a strange situation, but in my mind it was everything clear and the observation is always very important.
NT: How did you start the art of knitting?
TK: It did not come out of nothing. When I started designing on a textile, my employers were very happy with my work but I was not satisfied. I was not 100% me. Why I am putting all these design? I traveled East in the ‘60s, I show Ibrahim mosque that the entire designs worked beautifully in forms. The geometrical thinking of it was not suited only for a surface design but also for textiles. I thought this was fantastic, everything worked great in a mathematical way. Also, I was always had an interest in Antonio Gaudi whom I learned about in the university, in the architecture class that I attended as a student. I visited Spain after New York. I am not that crazy about what he set up but I am very interested in the upside down forms and shapes but for textiles in my case. I was thinking, all these are connected and I started searching the space and the forms, which are the connections and tension of structure. This is not just about the textile structure for me but it is about space as well which I always feel something about. All come together in one.
NT: Are you inspired also by Frei Otto and his techniques in modeling?
TK: Yes, I do.
I was searching textile itself, what we can do with it, for example we are putting a curtain in a house and this makes a difference in the space, not only as a decoration element. This becomes a new space then and what is it?Can I create a new space using this character and feeling of the fiber and textile structure? That is my interested. On the other hand I could do decorative work and I could sell it but I decided not to use any decoration on my work, just focus on the structure. I do not want people just to like it, I want pure structure to become something beautiful.
NT: Today we are living an era of computation to create these kind of geometrical structure. Do you use computers at all?
TK: I use high school geometry. All the calculations are by hand without calculator.
NT: This is very inspiring and fascinating because most people use computers to develop complex design structures.
TK: I wrote a book “From a Line” which a line becoming 3d dimensional and it is based on textile structure. I did a ten years research and spent five more years to make a book out of it. I was not planning to write a book, it was just part of my curiosity and once a week I spent all day to do this. It was totally free because there was not any sponsor. Everything was by made by myself. I draw the structure, I draw about six thousand drawings and while I was drawing it by hand my mind started moving. Using my hand and my brain I knew something was coming up, something which did not exist yet. It was from 1970 to 1984. I was fascinated and I was enjoying drawing as well as the connection between of these two. People could not believe that I had not use any computer for these drawings. My generation uses more their hands and their brain functions and new ideas just come out. The new generation is different.
NT: You made a great impression with your art in the 70's but your work evolves and makes great impression now as well. Generally we see the 70's reappearing in many countries as results to similar sociopolitical situations. What is your sensation on that possibility, as active in the art environment now as much as then? Do you recognize any similarities at any point?
TK: In 70’s I was known in Japan and the States in fine art. When I exhibited a certain piece and the piece came in I realized I was making something for tourism.
In 70’s I started a research for the children playground in Japan. It was from 1971-1973. With two other students and I was quite active to talk to the society and write an article in a newspaper but Japan was not ready and neither the people were ready and I was quite worried about it. Japan was built in a mad economy and the same time nobody cared about children. They were living in high-rise buildings and the family had only four members. I did not grow up in this kind of situation. I think it is important when the children are growing up to interrupt each other, something that happens in big families. All these made me wonder as a woman and as an artist. I start ed writing and talking with a focus on psychology. Nothing happened during that time. Today societies begin to worry about those things too and suddenly my thoughts are accepted. I just completed this phenomenon. Finally society is kind of ready to accept my 70’s thoughts.
NT: Would you like to give us some more details about your early life? Where and how did you grow up? Do you have any personal hero of that age who inspires you even now? [Would you like to give us some more details about your early life? Is there someone that you could call a personal “hero”?]
TK: I was born during the Second World War and when I was two and a half my father moved from Tokyo to Manjuria. He was a doctor and a pharmacist and he offered to help in a military hospital. My father tried to save any patient without considering nationality, as he used to say: “I am a doctor, I have to take care any patient” and therefore he was in danger. He had his own children, his own family but he was not afraid. A year after, Japan lost the war and we stayed there one more year. Finally, we came back to Tokyo and my parents told us “Everybody can steal material and money but nobody can steal your brain and your heart”. They had lost everything. The only thing that they did not lost was their education. My mother was a pharmacist too, something really unusual for that era. My parents managed to educate six children and for me that was a big gift. They decided to give us everything and they supported us while we were studying. Three of my brothers are doctors, one brother studied Law, one sister studied English and I studied Arts. Also I did a Master Degree.
My grandfather from my mother’ s side, in 19th century realized that society was changing and he believed women had to be educated. He had six daughters and he helped them study. My grandather was also a doctor and he helped a number of people around him. He also had a great interest on the arts. My father also had a great interest on arts but he decided to become a doctor.
During that period I faced many disasters in the human nature. So many deaths and killings. All these had a big impact to me because I still remember everything very clearly. I also realized that many people have a beautiful part but also a very angry part. That is human nature. Of course I do not like that reality and I do not like to put my self in situations that can make me angry. Because of what I passed through I can live anywhere; this is one of my skills.
When I am thinking how I grew up and what values I got from my father is the most important and inspiring thing rather than to have a hero.
NT: In your opinion what is the most important urgent intervention that citizens should do in their cities?
TK: First of all each city and each country has their own traditions. Traditions are important. We have to study our traditions and bring them to the contemporary life. Also, family is important.