Aiko Tezuka came to Europe from her native Japan in 2010, first to London and then to Berlin, on a Künstlerhaus Bethanien Residency. She now lives and works in a flat in the fashionable Neukölln area in southeast Berlin.
Entering her flat on the fourth floor of a residential block, I am propelled into a different country. Discarding my shoes and putting on striped slippers, I enter a room where Japanese women are working on small tapestries. Tezuka currently has five assistants: "I said I don't care if they are male or female or anybody, but they must have good hands or neat craftwork, and be good at being patient!"
Tezuka's work has always involved textiles "because I could not find a new way to work in painting", the discipline that she trained in Japan, where she was born in 1976 in Tokyo. Her work is often composed of fabrics that she either finds or designs, and involves both making and destroying as she and her helpers unpick portions of the fabric revealing the warp and the weft of the original looming process.
She is currently spending her time in Tilburg, Holland, where she has discovered a textile factory with Jacquard looms that are prepared to make the relatively small amount of fabrics she needs for her projects.
Tezuka does have one male assistant, her "techie" who helps her download the symbols from the internet that she then weaves into her final works. She needs help with translating Illustrator into the codes to be woven into the final fabrics. "We can say that time is woven, everything is woven by time and human beings."
These fabrics are based on ancient Japanese, Indian and Indonesian fabrics – often based on old English fabrics. She points out pineapples and dragonflies and Asian symbols. They have been integrated with the contemporary symbols of modern Western life – the Visa card and peace symbols, signs of radioactive waste, strangely at odds with the old-fashioned, often floral-based fabrics.
"History is interwoven in the fabric and the symbols. I decided to make this a structure for my work, to mix cultures and to make layers."
Other works in the studio contain the embroidery that also forms part of Tezuka's oeuvre, the subjects often deeply personal. "Talking to many people after Fukushima, I found there were lots and lots and lots of Fukushimas for each. In the end, I could say it's like a bruise, not bleeding, but bleeding inside."
Having only recently graduated from her residency she has a powerful gallery in Berlin behind her and large projects for Hermès in Singapore on the go. Her touching modesty covers a steely determination, apparent when I ask if she can tell the difference between her helpers' work in the way the fabric is unravelled. "No. If I can, I tell them off."
Aiko Tezuka: Certainty/Entropy at the Fondation d'Enterprise Hermès, Singapore (aikotezuka.com) tomorrow to 27 JulyReuse content