School girls - The Aida Makoto interview
When I was 11, attending school back home in England, all of a sudden, I started looking at girls differently. It’s at this onset of puberty, when our minds change, we start kissing, going on dates, holding hands and becoming more and more attracted to the opposite sex.
In Japan, the “school girl” is in many cases, both a power symbol and powerful. In the culture, older men can pay a young girl in products (bags, clothes, cell phones) to simply spend time with them and although this is supposed to be an innocent affair in principle, things can develop quickly. Few artists focus as much on this innocence and desirability of a school girl, than Makoto Aida. With prostitution, happening bars, soaplands and any manner of random sex-related establishment existing, the Japanese art culture is deeply affected by its sex culture, as with any culture.
It’s safe to say Aida is one of the biggest artists in Japan today and one of the most talented artists in the world. The talent, ability, scale and imagination of this man is second to none and should make many artists step back and see just how much they need to learn.
I’ve heard a lot about him, from being disturbed, a parasite on the image of Japan, a pervert, a master artist and so many others. It’s true, many of his works revolve around shocking imagery of naked female amputees, being led around by a collar for sexual purposes and it’s true there is a video of him masturbating for some time, which was filmed at an exhibition in NYC, and it’s true many of his works are based around sex and young girls. With that said, he’s one of the most controversial and talented artists in the world today and I’d recommend going to his exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi, Tokyo.
After seeing Aida’s exhibition, I can’t say I enjoyed the entire experience, as I felt the space was simply too big and he should have done a slightly smaller exhibition. Showing such a large body of work, spanning his entire career, was simply lost on me, as I really wanted to see his best pieces, which I did in the final gallery of the exhibition. But don’t get me wrong; for some, seeing how he developed, is maybe even more fascinating.
The exhibition gave me a great insight into this controversial Japanese master artist, or so I thought ... and therein lies the problem. With so many making assumptions of who an artist is, based on his works, making up any number of fantastical stories to explain the inner most workings of an artist ... in the end, we don’t have a clue.
I can’t tell you how frustrating it’s been in life, listening to someone’s opinion about art or literature, giving special meaning to a brushstroke or a verse in a song. Unless you directly ask an artist what something means, it will only be your opinion. It will never matter if 100 people have the same opinion, as it will always be an opinion and that’s what I learned once again in meeting Aida.
Firstly, he’s not a man who wants to do anything sexual with young girls, no matter what you may assume, from his works. When we met (see photo below), I was taken aback as to how much I assumed and how little I knew. He’s a charming, intelligent man with a nonchalant attitude. With every question I asked, he took his time and answered with honesty, sincerity and without any care for how it might come across, knowing the interview could portray him in a negative light.
We spoke for maybe an hour and a half and in that time, I leaned many things about the man behind the art. He loves young girls, or more accurately he loves the idea of young girls, full of youth and energy, unbroken by the harsh world we live in, still maintaining innocence. Would any of us like to think of youth in any other way? Do you think of your children, broken by the world or full of resentment? With a snappy tongue, forged by years of adult life?
He never speaks to young girls, as in his words, they have nothing to say. I’m not quoting him exactly, but I believe he feels what could an 11-year-old and a man in his 40s possibly have to discuss? He admires from a distance and I sensed nothing seedy in his words.
He’s modest and although he teaches, he will constantly play down his ability. Maybe you feel this is a Japanese trait, but he has genuine modesty and that’s something I appreciate. Having a few drinks with his students, giving me more than the time agreed for the interview, going to new artists’ exhibitions, working on student projects—all seem to be things he genuinely enjoys. He believes an artist should always create something new, change, evolve and create original art. He believes in the traditional way of developing your career, slow and steady or you could end up like Vanilla Ice, Los Del Rio or Johann Pachelbel.
Aida is a man who has grown up in a very different society to anyone in the West and his works might be shocking to us; they might even be shocking to some Japanese, but the sex industry, the culture and general life in Japan is something you can only understand after spending real time here.
In the only country to ever be bombed by a nuclear device, where Christianity is not a widespread religion, where Christian views of sex don’t really apply, where school girls are revered, where sick days don’t exist, where temples are right beside skyscrapers and S&M dungeons are next to fine dining restaurants, it’s impossible to understand anything about the Japanese culture unless you’ve lived here and Aida’s work takes all of this into account. He’s an exceptionally gifted artist and as with all art, it’s highly subjective, but I personally find both his art and the man, very interesting.
I’m not saying I like all of his art—I don’t and sometimes I genuinely dislike the art works of some artists I really admire, but when you enter the last gallery of his exhibitions and you see “Ash colour mountains”, you’ll find it hard to deny the skill of this man.
If you can, I’d recommend going to see “Tensai de Gomennasai” (a rough translation would be “Sorry for being a genius”) and make sure you read his statement at the end. If nothing else, you’ll be surprised.
The exhibition ends March 31.