Website of IKIRO - Be Alive Project / Takahiro Suzuki


Letter to Vincent


Dear Vincent Van Gogh

How are you doing Vincent?
I'm fine here.
Sorry that I didn't write a letter to you for so long.
I've been still writing "IKIRO".
Do you remember?
"IKIRO" is Japanese which can be translated into "Be Alive "in English.
I used this word "IKIRO" in the letter to you in 1986 for the first time.
At that time I always struggled to live my life and sometimes
I was disappointed with society.
Maybe I was too young.
The word "IKIRO" was the best word to encourage such a young guy.
It's really an energetic word, isn't it.

Since then I've experienced a lot of things with "IKIRO".
From 1994 to 1996, I lived in New York to study English and Art.
Do you know New York? Maybe you don't.
Anyway I went to New York.
It was really nice. Why? Because I got enough distance from my place so that I could see myself very well.
The experiences I had there are quite important still now.
"What's the possibility of Art?"
"What can I do through my life?"
Watching through others I slowly found my own style, writing "IKIRO".

Since the 5th of may in 1997 my birthday <Thank you for sending me nothing!>
I've been writing "IKIRO" everyday.
Writing "IKIRO" everyday.
Can you imagine? Of course the beginning was really hard.
You say it is just boring and really a pain the neck!!
Yes, it is actually. But I tried. Why...?
Why not?
Sometimes for a show, sometimes for friends, sometimes for myself, I wrote "IKIRO".
The more I wrote "IKIRO", the less I asked "Why?"

You know what? Whenever I write "IKIRO", I have to face myself with nothing.
Which means I newly know I'm alive here.
So I got used to writing "IKIRO" little by little.
And now. You can say it has become a kind of daily routine or meditation.
It's really interesting. You know why?
Because I feel "IKIRO" is not only Art but also a part of my daily life.

Recently I have been to many places in the world with "IKIRO".
There were so many things that I didn't know in the world.
During the trip, I wrote "IKIRO". It was like a communication.
Half of my bag was always filled with paper for "IKIRO".
Sometimes in front of many people, sometimes in front of a mountain, surrounded by natures,inside,
outside, big city, small village --- I wrote "IKIRO".
Each time from each place I felt something new even though sometimes it might not have made sense as Art.
But it didn't matter if it could be Art or not, because in this time the point of my interest moved from "Art" to "Creation".
I went to places which don't even have Art.
They produced food, clothing, shelter by themselves in simple ways.
I imagined the roots of creation when I saw that.

Vincent. Compared to your time, everything has become systematic and complicated.
I think we have come far from the basic idea of creation.
And one more thing.
It seems like we human beings never stop creation.
Don't you think so?
So I won't become negative.
Because the only thing we can do is creation.
"IKIRO" "IKIRO" "IKIRO". This is my spirit still now.
I feel like nothing has changed since the first "IKIRO" in 1986.
"IKIRO" is always "IKIRO".
What I want to say is I did write "IKIRO"
even if the exact meaning of "IKIRO" was not understood.
Even though nobody know if it was Art or not.
Because... I just wanted.
That's all.

I don't have any reason to write "IKIRO".
"IKIRO" is no more and no less than "IKIRO".
And I think... maybe I like "IKIRO".

See you soon. Chao!

IKIRO Project

Takahiro Suzuki is an artist who writes the Japanese word "IKIRO" everyday. "IKIRO" can be translated into "Be Alive" in English. "IKIRO project" is an art project based on his daily writing. Takahiro has been working on the "IKIRO Project" since 01 April 1996 as an art project shown in many places throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. He writes "IKIRO" throughout his life.

Text of IKIRO


First of all I should say that I believe an art work has a life of its own once it leaves the artist’s hands. Therefore, attempting to write about my work ‘IKIRO’ results in another form of expression, something different from the work itself.

It is perhaps doubtful whether I will be any good at explaining my own work in an essay. However, as the person closest to it for the longest time, I will attempt to explain what I have gained through being involved in the work ‘IKIRO’ and how it has affected my outlook.


Outline of ‘IKIRO’

I would like to explain the work ‘IKIRO’ to begin with for you reading this essay. To be honest, I could not decide whether I should call the activity I am involved in a ‘project’ or a ‘performance’. I was reluctant to describe it using such words in an art context because what I am doing is not a conventional art form. In this essay I use “the work ‘IKIRO’” or just ‘IKIRO’ to indicate my activity. Please keep in mind my attitude to the word to read this essay.

A brief explanation of ‘IKIRO’

A man (a performer) writes ‘IKIRO’ continuously every day of his life. He makes space available for showing the results of this activity to the public and he writes solidly for around few hours a day as part of the work, which is a type of performance/installation. The sheets of paper on which he has written are placed around him on the floor. Viewers can see the space for limited time. It is possible for this performance to travel on demand and it will tour around the world.


Why I started writing ‘IKIRO’

The word ‘IKIRO’ first appeared in my diary of 1986. In letters to a friend, in which I was writing about the meaning of my existence and complaints about society, and in a diary which I addressed to Van Gogh (my favorite artist at that time), there are positive statements, such as: ‘I have to do it no matter how much I grumble!’ or ‘I have to live my life with more effort!’. When I think about the origins of these statements, I recall hanging a piece of calligraphy bearing the word ‘KONJOU’ (mettle) on the wall of my room during my Junior High School days; or that I wrote, half joking, for the yearbook of the elementary school ‘First, second, third, forth, fifth and sixth grade, I have been able to live without such trouble…’.

I shall explain how I came to take this word ‘IKIRO’ as art.


What is art?

What is ‘IKIRO’? To answer this question, it first needs to be asked ‘what is art?’. If art is defined only as the pursuit of new appearances in expression or technique, my action in writing ‘IKIRO’ is an art of the past, like the early humans drawing animals and inventing hieroglyphics, or simply a means of transmitting information. If my activity seems anachronistic, then I should explain how I interpret art.

For me, making art and discussing the history of art inevitably involves referring to Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. I do not want to talk about Duchamp in general here, however, and I set out my view of Fountain below.

1. After presenting a urinal as a work of art, anything could be considered as art.

2. The ‘notion’ of what art should be disappeared.

I think these are themes that all artists, at any time, have thought about in general, and Fountain need not be privileged in this respect. However, I believe Fountain most decisively broke the ‘framework’ or ‘notion’ of what art is. It seems natural for Duchamp to have made Fountain, considering his questioning of whether it was necessary for an art work to be made by the artist himself, the limitations of conventional art materials such as paint on canvas, and anxiety about art being left in the wake of the new philosophy of the time. It was inevitable for art to pursue `possibility of expression’.

I also note the relationship between ‘framework’ and ‘freedom’ in art. Because art has ‘freedom’ (a fluid nature) in comparison to, say, social values or morality, this tends to lead to an ‘ambiguity about what art actually is’. In other words, it is impossible to think of art within a static ‘framework’ while expecting ‘freedom’ from art. This suggests that art must find its own means of expression, as it cannot be explained in words (although ‘art’ itself is a ‘word’). The more people try to understand art through language, the more obscure it will become. The ‘ambiguity’ or ‘freedom’ of art draws out ‘spirituality’, which is increasingly necessary in our materialistic society fraught with serious problems. ‘Science’ seems to be the leading edge of ‘creation’ in computing or biotechnology, and art is necessary ‘to nurture the free spirit’ of human beings involved with technology. Art is indispensable to us; without it we are unable to ponder universal themes such as ‘what is a human being?’ or ‘what does living mean?’.


Art in the contemporary world

After Duchamp’s Fountain, various forms of art have been developed. When I look back at art works in the last several decades, I see how each artist tried to broaden the field of art, taking Duchamp’s Fountain as a good example of ‘free expression’. It seems very natural that new types of art were to appear: Performance Art to express with the artist’s body that which cannot be expressed using conventional materials; Conceptual Art, conceiving works not only with regard to their visual effect; and Minimal Art, a consequence of being interested in a more universal and simpler essence, rather than the expression of the artist’s individuality.

‘Variation in the form of art’ does not necessarily mean a ‘evariation in the concept or framework of art’. Even if a new technique is utilised, it does not mean that the work created embodies a ‘new concept of art’. This is in accord with Duchamp’s presentation of a urinal as an art work. In this sense, how many artists have worked on this issue after Duchamp?

I must mention Joseph Beuys at this point. His activities, described as ‘social sculpture’, gave me the possibility to ‘make’ something and I have adopted his philosophy. Beuys answered the question of ‘what is art?’ that Duchamp asked with Fountain, simply by saying that it was ‘for making social’. And he answered the question with his activities as well as his words. He broke the illusion that art is something special, and attempted to break down the fixed ideas of society and the art world with his words and the things that he made. Art was no longer to bear ‘meaning’ derived from its history nor to claim that it is art simply by illustrating a certain aspect of that history. Beuys’s philosophy also means that ‘everyone is an artist’. (I quote Duchamp and Beuys to give representative examples in explaining the essence of art. They are not the only great artists, but they were essential in helping me to define art. )

It seems that artists of today have to think about what we can talk about using ‘art’, whose ambiguous image is already established in society.

As its means of expression have diversified, art has come to be categorized by its form or style. Art styles are now precisely categorized and systematized. People today place more importance on ‘how well connected a new style is to the Zeitgeist, and how long to retain that style as art’, than on considering ‘the framework of art’ itself. This shows that to ask ‘what is art’ without producing anything no longer corresponds to the current of the time.


Time to pursue new framework for art

I am still interested in the ‘framework of art’, even when it has become useless in theory and it is taken for granted that each artist attempts original expression in their own way. Thinking about ‘what art is’ has probably become one of my art activities. I now feel one thing strongly, however: that in the near future my long-standing interest in a ‘new framework of art’ will become of greater interest to today’s materialistic society than the art world. Art can only be explained vaguely with words and it is impossible to measure precisely its value using established ideas. I believe ‘art’ will play a great role in the future. As a result of pursuing material development, people will reach a deadlock with the rational system of production and feel a lack of spirituality is holding them back from further growth. It will be a time for confirming the necessity of art. It will also be a time to reflect on our society’s past history of unquestioningly ‘producing objects’, and this will subsequently lead to a re-evaluation of the role of artist, whose job is also to ‘produce’ things. Art will be indispensable for people to rethink the need for ‘spirituality in the creative process’, which has been abandoned in the wake of technological progress. In this situation, artists will begin to participate in the ‘real world’ by ‘making’ things. I think it is the essence of art to offer another viewpoint against the conventional one, specially with regard to questions such as ‘what is a human?’ or ‘what is living?’. And now is the time for the ‘framework of art’ to be expanded into the ‘framework of humanity’.


What I learnt on my journeys <1>

It may sound rather exaggerated, but I think that every problem on the Earth boils down to the question of ‘what does it mean to make something?’. I went to a journey for about a year from 1997 to 1998 to reconsider what ‘making’ means. The destinations were Tibet, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and various African countries. By visiting these ‘developing’ countries, I perceived and learnt enough to take me back to the ‘basic principles of creation’ which underlie productivism and material civilisation. One thing I realised was that people in ‘advanced’ countries have a self-centred world view in seeing other countries as somehow ‘delayed’, and that the world is made up of relationships between countries, one person’s actions and a balance with nature. ‘Development’ derives from a combination of elements and people, not from one person. I learnt there that true ‘development’ means both ‘material and spiritual richness’. In this sense, advanced countries are still in the development process. Moreover, I realised that people in large cities are absorbed in a huge social system and try to keep their ‘identity’ by ‘self-presentation’. As a result, society has become ‘self-contained’ and continues producing products. As people get used to the idea that the lack of one ‘product’ can be compensated for by another, they come to feel ‘happy’ as long as they can be ‘satisfied’ with material goods. When I saw people in deepest Tibet or wild Africa finding ‘happiness’ in ‘activities’ not in ‘materials’, I realised that ‘happiness’ cannot be achieved alone and must come through ‘spiritual development’.

Another significant finding on my journey was that contemporary art is also based on the means of productivism. To make and exhibit something new requires an engagement with fashion ability without regard to artist’s will. As urban people become more readily used to things, they demand that art should ‘change’ to inspire their senses, and as this process escalates, occurring in a shorter and shorter time span, art becomes an ‘item’ based on transient styles. It is not too much to say that art is on the same track as productivism. Art is in a state of contradiction: it is considered as a ‘non-productive’ activity from the viewpoint of consumer society, although in reality it is created under the same means of productivism. It has become clear to me how much contemporary art is based on ambiguous definitions. Here is the question, ‘what is art?’ again.

I decided not to have an exhibition in order to reconsider art once again. I have not shown my work at a gallery for about two years now. I felt it was inevitable that I should consider ‘making’ things from the viewpoint of a human being or nature, not from an art perspective. It was my journey which helped me reach this decision. Putting my travels aside, however, I will describe how I became interested in these things in the first place.


The relationship between ‘art’ and ‘IKIRO’

I have been working as an artist since I was a student, constantly asking myself ‘what the hell is art?’. I tried various styles of work, believing that I could achieve more through action than thought. A new question would be raised by something I did and I would respond to it, which was just what I needed. Working to my best ability, I have cast off the ‘framework’ of art again and again by employing new means. I began with figurative painting and changed to abstract painting, three-dimensional objects, installation, conceptual art and performance art. The means of presentation has shifted from galleries and museums to a performance on the road or collaborations with people working in other fields. Neglecting means and form, I began to feel ‘art’ strongly. The question ‘what is art?’ gradually became ‘what is living?’. I felt as if I was useless unless I were involved in art. Then I came to think that to having a show in the conventional way was too limited. It is difficult to explain, but I felt it controversial to have a show in a special space and in the form of an exhibition, even though what I wanted to do as art was outside the recognition of galleries and museums. As a result of asking ‘what is art?’, I finally released myself from ‘art’, at which I had been straining.

The only thing I had been doing continuously during that time was ‘living’. It was not something artistic, a ‘performance’, however. ‘Living’ seemed to me the best means of expression in pursuing freedom. I needed some form of work, apart from my day-to-day activities, in order to use my body and feel that I was ‘alive’. Using my hands or body and thinking about ‘art’ affirmed my ‘existence’. Finally I decided to keep writing ‘IKIRO’ every day. The word had often been used in my previous performance works. I shall try to explain more analytically the state of my mind at this time.

The story dates back to 1995, when I was living in New York. The city seemed to be a place where art took root in everyday life and was put into practice as people from various countries, with different values, coexisted. On the other hand, it also seemed to be a huge city in which people insist they are right in a materialistic world. I considered two things while living in such a provocative city. The first was how many people could say to others what he/she really wanted to say, in a concrete way, in his/her limited life in such a fluid society? My conclusion was ‘not so many’. The second was how important and difficult it is to find the right job by him/herself, and to gain a sense of value. In art, for example, a successful artist is one who can find at least one thing to communicate to others and succeeded in doing so. Given this ‘artist’s principle’, I felt what I had been doing by means of chasing changes in style was limited and had no future, although it could be briefly fashionable in a small area. I felt strongly that I had to begin something now, given the limited life span ahead of me. I shuddered at the thought of the dramatic change I needed to make. New York was the best city in which to compare my talents to those of many others, as so many professionals in various fields gather there. It was also a good opportunity to see Japan, and myself as Japanese, from a distant perspective. I spent many days in composed consideration.

At this time I began the routine activity of writing ‘IKIRO’ in Japanese ink on Japanese paper. (It was two years later, in May 1997, when I actually started writing ‘IKIRO’ every day.) Initially, it was to make myself calm amongst the hustle and bustle of the city rather than to express my inspiration from this exciting city and people. It was a compromise, a contradiction: ‘I want to make something without using anything’ I was thinking. The question of ecology rose up against the vast material consumption of a large city. The ‘pain’ of using materials was probably derived from the experiences I had of throwing away my installation work after temporary shows. I later learned how much a piece of iron meant in the materially poor countries I visited. After a while, I began to feel like not using things simply because they were needed for my work. I took it so seriously that I could not even use a piece of paper. This is one of the reasons my work moved to performances in which my body was the main subject matter.

I spent much time thinking long and hard about my possibilities and potential course. At this time I began writing ‘IKIRO’ for some hours everyday in my apartment in New York. There was also another reason for writing ‘IKIRO’. I was planning a performance at Washington Square Park. It took a year to realise the performance. I wanted to make writing ‘IKIRO’ open to the outside, not end up as part of a private cycle, as I had been interested in the ways people influence each other. I eventually discovered that I was expressing myself through an art form, although I was trying to keep my mind as far away from art as possible. I had caught up with my life as ‘a man alive’ rather than as an artist by choosing a means of expression that took place over a long period. I was also hoping that I might find some answers to the questions about my ability, potential, the work I should do and who I am, through a performance involving the corpus of a year-long activity. I admit that I needed a ‘form’ in order to visualise what I was doing as being an art work. In fact, my state of mind varied greatly during the year leading up to the performance. For the first several months it was so boring to write just ‘IKIRO’ that I felt pained. What sustained me was the need to write ‘IKIRO’ as many times as possible by the performance day. I gradually came to think that I’d better write it happily and nicely, which I did a considerable amount of times for some months. That was when I began to ‘enjoy’ writing. What’s more, I came to think that the activity itself, writing here and now in ‘reality’, was more important than to write with an eye to the performance day. As the action of writing every day became more important for me I realised that the performance would be just a passing moment. In fact, writing ‘IKIRO’ became a habit, an ‘indispensable thing’, which went beyond the earlier feelings of pain or joy.

Eventually the day of performance came. Washington Square Park was the best place in the world to express what I had been doing and for me to see for myself what my activity really was. I wrote ‘IKIRO’ continuously, sitting calmly where were usually busy with street performers. I asked a friend of mine to hand out my statement to help people watching understand the message of ‘IKIRO’. Sheets of paper bearing the word ‘IKIRO’, which I had been writing for a year, were laid around me. Simple and clear! This was the means of expression I chose. I was a bit nervous at the beginning, though I came to think ‘this is right’ later. Of course, the audience was not as excited watching me as watching street performers. The atmosphere was very quiet except when they asked me about what I was doing. The one important thing was whether my means of expression reached all viewers, regardless. The responses I received from the spectators were varied and I cannot say I was successful. However, buoyed by my endurance, the performance was significant for me in that I realised my talent was to continue doing something every day rather than showing temporarily. It was the art in which not only performance but ‘things’ work on people, with which I could make the most of my talent. Realising this, I decided to keep writing ‘IKIRO’ as my work after the performance.

My recognition of art changed dramatically after my ‘IKIRO’ performance in New York. I was questioning myself: considering the limited time given to me and thinking of my possibilities in a reality away from ‘art’. Eventually, in May 1997, I came to the conclusion that there wasn’t anything but ‘IKIRO’ for me.

I decided to focus on ‘IKIRO’. I was fascinated with it as it had some quality very different from my past works using conventional means. I even felt as if I was being called to ‘IKIRO’, that I had to do it. It seemed a strong belief was needed to keep writing ‘IKIRO’ and to focus on the ‘creativity of mind’ behind the activity (anyone could do it and it seemed meaningless at first glance) without being influenced by the sway of fashion. For me, it was more appropriate to write ‘IKIRO’ than pursue the possibilities of new technology or materials. ‘IKIRO’ has universality beyond the limitations of time or nationality. My aim during the past few years was to make a stable foundation from ‘IKIRO’, although my plans and expectations for it continued to expand. Eventually I started my life of writing ‘IKIRO’ every day.

My relationship with ‘art’ had shifted by this point. In putting myself on show while writing ‘IKIRO’, the question of ‘what is art?’ gradually changed into ‘what does making something mean?’. This then became a question of ‘why do people make things?’ and I felt the necessity to travel to find answers in different places. In this way I started my own style of writing ‘IKIRO’, trying to communicate with people and touch upon the origin of ‘making things’ at various locations around the world.


What I learnt from the journey <2>, ‘what does making something mean?’.

I would like to focus here, briefly, on ‘the origin of making things’ that I learned through ‘IKIRO’. (Please read ‘IKIRO, the journey in Asia and Africa’ for the details.)

I allocated a time to write ‘IKIRO’ at least once a day. It was sometimes done on an aeroplane or a ship, on a road or in a park where people might gather around, or somewhere deep in the mountains. The important thing was the ‘fact’ that I wrote and wanted to communicate with the people or nature around me. When I was inspired by the people around me, I attempted to make my activity understood using language.

The most important thing about ‘IKIRO’ during my trip was the sense of writing it without being deceived by nationality, religion or race. That is, to write ‘IKIRO’ purely as a word coming from the mind of one person, without any other aims.

Another important result of the trip was that I became more mature through reconsidering ‘IKIRO’ by myself in various locations where the backgrounds or problems of the people differed and therefore changed the significance of the word.

With regard to ‘IKIRO’, the trip had two aspects: as a long-term performance and as a form of personal training. In addition, I travelled with the main theme of ‘what making things means’ constantly in mind.

My travels offered the opportunity to discover the basis of ‘making’ things, which is less visible in the contemporary civilised world where things are mass produced and taken for granted. I found the origin of ‘making’ in the religious thought, group psychology, discipline, customs and traditions of nomadic or hunting peoples who live alongside nature, or of peoples who keep practice simple agriculture. I approached the essence of ‘making’ things little by little, eliminating any prejudice that I obtained unconsciously in civilised society. I was reassured to find that making things stems from the need for ‘food, clothing and shelter’, which are necessary to all human beings.

Based on the lifestyles and customs I encountered on my trip, I realised that ‘making’ means that ‘people make things in order to live’, which lead me to ‘to live = to make’. Here the question ‘what is making?’ becomes ‘what is living?’. I believe that this question should be asked particularly in contemporary society, which has undergone many transformations.

In contemporary society I think the relationship between ‘living’ and ‘making’ is connected to the difference in ‘views towards nature’ of people living simply in nature and people living surrounded by buildings in a large city. People of the former type are regarded as a part of nature, coexisting with animals and landscape, while the latter type put humans first or take what they makes to be a part of nature. If this idea is taken to its extreme, people may become resigned to the belief that their own actions, in using up the world’s natural resources, will lead to their inevitable extinction and they will come to blindly accept this fate as the ‘destiny of nature’ instead of becoming aware of their true situation. This is one ‘view of nature’, so I must question why people live. Towards what goal are people aiming? Is the principle ‘make to live’ true to this vision of nature? Has it already reversed and become ‘live to make’? How are we going to pursue ‘materialistic development’?

No matter how much people doubt the system, they might feel they can do nothing as long as society continues on this path. The power of a single person is too weak to stand against the system.


Art as an individual and art as a system

I want to let art go. I think that art could go some way towards inventing a new notion of the social system, as it is excluded from the rational system due to the fact that it deals with very personal subject matter. Both the strength and weakness of art is that it is an appeal from one individual to another. Its weak side is that it is a newly created world that has no influence on reality. Its strength lies in the fact that reality is comprised of ‘worlds created’ by individuals. Then I think art could revitalize today’s reality in which the power of the individual has become weakened.

However, at this moment in time, art also needs a system in order to maintain itself in our fluid society and prevent it from becoming isolated. Art seems to require systematization, as is sometimes practised by individual artists or artists’ groups, and by the curators involved in organising exhibitions.

What I would like to emphasise here is that art should be something one to one, no matter how much it becomes systematized. It is the same as when a work attempts to find something universal from individualism, such as Minimal Art or Conceptual Art, in which the artist’s autograph is eliminated. Who made the work and for whom is important. It is important to recognise that ‘nature is indispensable for people to live’, whatever ‘view of nature’ you might have. The ‘meaning of life’ and the ‘role Man plays’ differ according to time, region and individuals, however, it is a universal truth that everything is based on ‘being alive’.


Why ‘IKIRO’ now

Human beings seem to be reaching the time for a great leap. Are we going to maintain the same style of development or take ‘spiritual development’ into account without regard for profit? What is clear is that our development will never reach a point of perfection. Perfection means there is no need for further development and this state could only exist beyond the limitations of time and space. Then, why does Mankind pursue development? It is because we are ‘alive’, I think. The history of Man is evidence that people existed and made progress.

Thus I chose to keep writing ‘IKIRO’. It seemed the best way to convey my ideas to others. I also decided to dedicate my life to the work in order to make it ‘real’ and prevent it from being seen as a ‘made-up story’. The reality of myself is the ‘fact’ that I spend my life writing ‘IKIRO’ to the extent that it becomes an unchanging ‘reality’ in the ‘reality’ of contemporary society in which values constantly change. By performing an action every day in pursuit of spiritual development, I hope that a new direction will be shown to others. Please do not forget that the leading role is played by the numerous sheets of paper bearing the word ‘IKIRO’ accumulated over a long period and which embody the time I spent in writing them. It can be conveyed straightforwardly to others when it is expressed by ‘showing’, and my role in such a situation is only to write the letters ‘IKIRO’ in the space. The power of a man, alive, is indispensable to this work. I would like to keep writing ‘IKIRO’ while others meditate on it, rethink their lives, even think it absurd that I continue writing like a machine, or just receive the energy of life, ascribing it with any value they wish. What we see in ‘IKIRO’ changes every day, although what I do is the same. Life is too short to pursue the truth of life. I wish to reach out and touch something I can trust as deeply as possible in my life.

My plan goes further. Although it is still at the level of an experiment, as I do not earn money from writing ‘IKIRO’( now in 1999), I hope that one day it will be acknowledged as a recognised job in society. I also expect a spiritual work like ‘IKIRO’ will be received well in the future and if so, then it will be a sign that a shift is occurring in society.

  When my plan reaches this stage, I would like to move forward to the next, which is to introduce a donation system for viewing my work. I would like to give, via organisations like UNICEF, the money I receive to people who really need it for living. That would mean that the money gathered from ‘IKIRO’ will, in a practical way, help people to live. This idea comes directly from my experience travelling in poor countries, where I wrote ‘IKIRO’ in front of starving people. I felt powerless as I could not change their hard reality through my prayer-like message ‘IKIRO’. The bread I gave away was not enough to sustain them. To ask people to donate to the work ‘IKIRO’ might seem to be irrelevant in terms of providing aid for starving people, and the act of donation simply seen as a token humanitarian act. However, if ‘IKIRO’ is taken in a more realistic sense, and seen as connected to problems in the real world, then I think that donation could be included as an element of the work. Doing this may make it possible to capture people’s attention, or for the work to be a beginning for the solution various real-world problems, in addition to advocating a spiritual development.

I think it is important to see the world from more universal point of view, over a longer span of time, and not to chase temporary change. Development requires you to notice what is happening in front of you and look inside it. In this sense, ‘IKIRO’ works very well when it is shown for as long a period as possible. It is impossible to touch the essence of ‘IKIRO’ unless it is seen from the perspective of a concept of time not based on rationalism. I write ‘IKIRO’ today, too.


The end

My plan has just begun. I do not think that I have achieved anything yet. Writing this essay before presenting a work has been awkward, as the work ‘IKIRO’ is to be an ‘expression’ away from any linguistic sense of value. What I think and feel about ‘IKIRO’ is just a secondary valuation of the work. ‘IKIRO’ would end when I finish writing if its meaning were not questioned. ‘IKIRO’ has no intrinsic meaning; it depends absolutely on you how you receive it.

I felt this essay was necessary for realising my plan because I wanted as many people as possible to know about this project. I can’t make it come true on my own. Also, it is not only a project for me. I don’t think that the action writing ‘IKIRO’ everyday is particularly special. I think that everyone has inside them what they should do in their life. I want to play my role by realising this project.

It will bear fruit if the work ‘IKIRO’ is something that is really needed in the world. What I can do is to write ‘IKIRO’ as naturally as possible believing that this day will come.

This is all I can say about ‘IKIRO’ at this stage.

Thank you very much for reading this.


May 1999

Takahiro Suzuki

(translated by Hiroko Tsuchida)

IKIRO Project

Takahiro Suzuki is an artist who writes the Japanese word "IKIRO" everyday. "IKIRO" can be translated into "Be Alive" in English. "IKIRO project" is an art project based on his daily writing. Takahiro has been working on the "IKIRO Project" since 01 April 1996 as an art project shown in many places throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. He writes "IKIRO" throughout his life.


- 1996年からアート活動として行ってきた「生きろ」プロジェクトを文章化した資料 -


                                          2015年4月 鈴木貴博








  私にとって「生きろ」という言葉との出会いは1988年頃に付けていた日記まで遡る。当時私は好きだった画家、ゴッホに宛てた手紙として日記を書いていた。日記には、自らの悩みを打ち明け「結局、やるしかないんだ」とか、「頑張って生きなくては」などと文末を前向きにくくるものが多く、そんな中で自分を励ます為に「生きろ」という言葉が使われるようになった。それ以前にも、友人との手紙のやりとりで、自分の思いを言葉にしてお互いを励ますような習慣はあった。また、自分に向けた言葉のルーツとしては、それより更にさかのぼり、中学生の頃によく壁に貼る為に書いていた「根性」という言葉にもある気がする。「生きる」という言葉においては、小学校の卒業アルバムに冗談半分に書いた「1年、2年、3年、4年、5年、6年、無事生きてこられた…」という文章にも発端のようなものを見ることができる。 ART作品の中で「生きろ」の文字が初めて使われたのは、1992年に銀座のギャラリー現でアクション・ペインティングを行っていた時だった。体を動かし、激しいペインティングを何時間も繰り返しているうちに、偶発的に「生きろ」の文字が私の目の前に出現し、壁や床に増殖していった。その後、1994年には、同じギャラリーで墨と和紙を使い一日中「生きろ」と書き続けるというパフォーマンスを行った。では、そんな私がなぜ「生きろ」という言葉と生涯を通じて付き合っていこうと考えるようになったのだろう。















 しかし、私の中で従来の方法をもって作品を発表することに強く限界を感じる時がくる。うまく言葉で表現できないが、私の求めるARTというものは、画廊や美術館の概念の外にあるはずなのに既存の空間を使い、しかも作品発表という既成の形式を用いてそれを表現することに矛盾を感じたのだ。かくして私は「ARTとは何か」ということを問うがあまり、ARTからも離れることになった。 しかし、そのような渦中でも、私の人生においてひとつの行為だけは続けられていた。それは、当然かもしないが「生きる」ことだった。もはやパフォーマンスなどといった言葉でくくれるようなART性はそこにはなかったが、既成概念に捕われない表現手段として、この「人間として生きる」という純粋行為は、私にとって最も適したものとして映った。たぶん、アートの世界に面倒臭さや窮屈さを感じていたのだろう。人生の転機を感じた私は、アルバイトをして稼いだお金を資金にしてN.Y.に移り住んだ。東京の生活、そして日本のARTから離れ、私は新たな人生をスタートした。(N.Y.には1994~1996年まで在住。)とはいえ、それまでARTにどっぷりつかり自己確認してきた私にとって「生きている」と実感する為には何らかの作業というものが日常生活にどうしても必要だった。そして、その悶々としたエネルギーを何とか消化する為に、私は、それまでも日記として、また、パフォーマンスとして行っていた「生きろ」と書く行為を毎日持続するという方法を選んだ。





 N.Y.のパフォーマンスを終えた後、私のARTに対しての意識は大きく変わった。私には自分が人生の転換期に差し掛かっていることが分かった。自分に与えられた時間、自分の持つ可能性を様々なものと照らし合わせ、何度となく自問自答を繰り返した。そして、1997年4月私はひとつの結論に達した。「生きろ」をやるしかない。 様々な表現方法をとってきた私がひとつに絞り「生きろ」をその中心に置いて活動していこうと決心した瞬間だった。自分の製作技術を生かし従来の方法で作品をつくり続けることでは得ることのできない魅力を「生きろ」には感じた。他の仕事ならともかく、この「生きろ」には自分がやらねばという使命を感じた。「精神性の創造性」に重点を置き、時代に左右されずに「生きろ」を書き続けることには、強い信念が要されるように思えた。しかし、それまで様々な試みを自分なりに繰り返してきた私には、これから十数年は続くであろうコンピューターや新しい素材を使った表現手段の可能性を追求することよりも、そんな中で淡々と「生きろ」と書くことの方がむしろ自分に合った仕事、そして、時代や人種を超えた普遍性を兼ね備えた仕事のように思えるのだった。私の抱く計画はどこまでも続いていたが、ここ数年の目標は「生きろ」を通してしっかりとした土台づくりをすることにあった。そして、毎日「生きろ」と書く生活が始まった。
















IKIRO Project

Takahiro Suzuki is an artist who writes the Japanese word "IKIRO" everyday. "IKIRO" can be translated into "Be Alive" in English. "IKIRO project" is an art project based on his daily writing. Takahiro has been working on the "IKIRO Project" since 01 April 1996 as an art project shown in many places throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. He writes "IKIRO" throughout his life.


© Takahiro Suzuki, all rights reserved