For Japanese artist Shintaku Kanako, her body is a canvas on which she can explore the meaning of life.
Her artistic beginnings can be traced back to high school when she participated in a group exhibition with a few fellow classmates. In an experimental, performative piece, they used their body as brushes to paint atop large paper canvases. This was the first time she experienced the sensation of paint on skin. “That was what inspired me to apply paint directly onto my body,” she recalls, “It was a moment of freedom, an affirmation of my existence. My skin felt wet, and the wind was chilling, but the magnificent colors that we made seemed to stretch as far as my eyes could see.”
In 2019, Shintaku received her master’s degree from the Kyoto University of Art and Design. In the same year, she held two solo exhibitions in Kyoto and Tokyo, and in both live performances, she spent four to six hours per day drenched in wet paint. It wasn’t particularly pleasant for her. For the project, she doused herself with a mixture made from starch powder and paint, letting the concoction dry and harden on her skin. During this part of the process, she must remain motionless in a chair for 30 minutes so that it can settle. With each layer of color, she repeated the process. The starch, being water-soluble, adds a sense of viscosity to the layers and has the added benefit of being easier to clean, coming off with a simple shower.
“The starch reduces the stickiness of the paint, so as the paint dries, it gradually peels off your body with each breath you take and each minute movement,” she describes. “It almost feels like you’re shedding your own skin.”
2019年，加奈子刚刚获得京都艺术设计大学艺术设计研究生院的硕士学位，同年在京都和东京，她还举办了两个个展，展览期间她每天会有 4 到 6 个小时全身涂满颜料呈现自己这件“作品”。整个过程听起来并不享受：加奈子需要先把淀粉混入颜料中，制成一种特殊的“涂料”来倾倒在自己身体上，让它在体温下逐渐干化变硬，持续大约30分钟。这个过程里，她必须一动不动地坐在椅子上。涂料变干后，加奈子会继续这个过程，然后又坐下来。
Shintaku grew up in a troubled family and was a victim of domestic abuse, as such, these weighted issues—among others—are often touched on in her work. As she puts it, the act of covering herself with paint is an affirmation of sorts, a way of letting herself know that she’s still alive.
Prior to using her own body as the medium, she experimented with 3-D art, but the digital sculptures she created weren’t creatively satisfying. She believed that what she sought to express had to be done on a medium that was “alive.” In the end, her own body seemed like the natural choice. With her skin as the canvas and multilayered approach to painting, she sought to create a sense of depth. “By using my body and mind as key aspects of my art, I’m both expanding myself and escaping from myself,” she states.
The delicate threshold between life and death is one Shintaku has long been fascinated by, and something she’s experienced herself. She describes it as being “biologically alive, but being uncertain of whether she’s truly living.” This state, in which reality and a person’s feelings seem mismatched, is what inspired her to work so heavily around the theme of life and death. At a time when suicide rates in Japan remain high, she believes it’s a necessary topic to bring to light. “If we want to renew our lives and the environment we live in, we need to update our definition of ‘death,'” she says. “It’s a topic I’m eager to express with my own body.”