For local artist Shinpei Takeda, there are humbling experiences, and then there’s driving a rickshaw through the streets of downtown.
“That was the first few years because that was the only way to support myself,” says Takeda, who moved to San Diego in the early ‘00s. “But that’s how I really got into art in a way.”
Any artist worth their salt can relate to having to work an otherwise crappy job in order to make ends meet and, more importantly, support their creative endeavors. For Takeda—who grew up in Osaka, Japan and Düsseldorf, Germany before moving to the U.S.—those creative endeavors include everything from starting a respected non-profit to becoming one of the more successful visual artists and filmmakers in the region. His decade-and-a-half journey is a testament to perseverance and persistence and one that is now garnering him international attention and acclaim.
“Part of me thinks I’m ADHD,” jokes Takeda.
It’s hard to imagine Takeda having been distracted when viewing the works within his recent Beta Decay series, which was an extension of his previous Alpha Decay series that examined survivors of the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Beta installation series—which has been shown locally as well as within galleries in Japan, Mexico and Germany—consists mostly of intricately constructed installation pieces made from fiber and thread. One of the locally shown pieces, “Beta Decay 7,” was shown at the New Americans Museum in 2015 as part of a Takeda exhibition titled Inscription: A Monumental Installation. The show included documentary-style footage and writings from 113 different people examining the concept of “arrival.” The exhibition’s centerpiece was a massive, 50-foot wall installation that used threads to represent a visual poem Takeda constructed using the audio clips of the 113 people discussing things like immigration, displacement and what it means to be home. For Takeda, it was a particularly poignant and personal statement.
Photo courtesy of the New American Museum
“Beta Decay 7” at Inscription: A Monumental Installation
“It’s about those times and when you’re talking about the violence you have to really understand the way these things happen on the same timeline as this one,” says Takeda, who often describes himself as a “post-Americanized, culturally displaced border dweller.” “It almost feels like these things happen, like what’s happening in Syria, it feels like it’s somewhere else in some different world but it’s the same time that we’re living in.”
The topic of immigration is important to Takeda not solely because of his own experiences (he now splits his time between living in Tijuana and Düsseldorf, Germany), but also because of his experiences with the AjA Project, a local nonprofit he cofounded shortly after moving here. The organization has become a favorite in philanthropic circles for its work with local youths, most of whom are immigrants, and getting them to engage in photographic projects. The results have been displayed in public, most notably at a 2012 City Heights mural that consisted of 1,052 student photographs, as well as a recent exhibition at the Museum of Man.
“When it started, we were trying to figure out how to really exhibit these kids’ photographs in an interesting way, and I started printing them huge and putting them in the streets and so on,” Takeda says. “I was much more wanting to know how to better communicate these issues.”
Another installation within the Beta series was displayed, along with over a dozen other artists, at the City College Gallery last year as part of the San Diego Art Prize, a regional award given to up-and-coming artists. Takeda won the award and will debut new works and collaborative pieces with Irma Sofia Poeter at a showcase exhibition at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library in May. He isn’t sure what kind of pieces will be on display but hopes to “do something more political.”
“I mean, the other artists are two Caucasian, older men, and then I’m like this strange Japanese-Mexicana,” says Takeda laughing. “I start getting really political, but I don’t want to be disrespectful, and I really like their art actually.”
In the meantime, Takeda has plenty on his plate. At the time of our interview, he was going back and forth between Düsseldorf and Vienna, Austria helping his girlfriend prepare for her own art show. He’ll then head back to the U.S. to install a new show at the Mesa College Art Gallery titled Fobia. The show, which opens March 16, will mark the beginning of an altogether new project for Takeda and will consist of a woven, tent-like installation where he will essentially schedule students and patrons to come sit with him in the tent to talk about their phobias. These discussions will culminate in a closing reception on April 6 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. where Takeda plans on discussing some of the things he’s learned.
Photo courtesy of the artist
The AjA Project’s “Inter+FACE” at the Museum of Man
“Maybe art plays that type of role, making a safe space, so that’s what I’m trying to do there, and I’m experimenting a little bit of course,” Takeda says. “In America, I think that’s a very important process. Just communicating, so I hope I could get to the core of my phobia at the same time.”
As if that weren’t enough, Takeda will also be debuting his documentary film, Ghost Magnet Roach Motel, at the San Diego Latino Film Festival on March 18 and 20. The film revolves around his on-and-off punk band that he’s been playing with since 2011, and who sometimes performed in bizarre costumes and among elaborate stage setups.
“I was really trying to make it as an art project and document it throughout the process of what it was like,” says Takeda, who adds that he also wanted to take an unflinching look into some of the band members’ struggle with addiction.
With so much going, it’s a wonder Takeda has time for anything else, but when asked about his schedule, he just laughs and chalks it up to the undiagnosed ADHD.
“Like, I just get bored with art sometimes and I want to do a movie, and then I get bored with the movie so I’m back to music and so on,” Takeda says. “I still like being a kid. I still don’t want to accept that I can’t do everything I want to do.”