The Story of Excalibur (Part I)

An Interview with Yoshinori Tanaka (founder)
November 30, 2021
The Story of Excalibur (Part I)

 Interview by Charlotte van Zanten












Yoshinori Tanaka (1978), founder of artist collective EXCALIBUR , was born and raised in Motoise, a part of Japan situated close to the sea. Shintoism has its origins there and is rooted deeper and more profoundly than elsewhere in Japan. 

Although a lot of Japanese would say that Shintoism is part of them, not many grow up surrounded by its history such as Yoshinori did.

The (mythical) culture of Japan and historical happenings are a great motif for Yoshinori Takana's work. In 2018 he even made an exhibition in Naruko Tenjinsha Shrine, in Tokyo.

Besides, he takes great interest in the gap between 'Virtual' and 'Reality'. He strongly believes the field in between these two is an ever-closing one. With his art he explores the exciting possibilities. Creating a work based on a past event, he feels as if the moment becomes more real. To him, the distance between an historical event and oneself is similar to the distance between a screen and oneself. Here, the (often 8bit) pixel serves as the door between real and virtual.



[SG] "Did you grow up in an artistic home?"


[YT] "Not an artistic home, but more like an activist home. My father was an active member of a right wing political party. He picked me up from school in one of the party's promotional cars announcing their ideals.

As a child, I couldn't understand him, but growing up I could relate to him more easily. When his motives started to unfold such as his love for the country and the culture.


I was introduced to art by playing video games. While playing Final Fantasy I realized that what I played was in fact art. Watching this animated world of Amano Yoshitaka come to life on screen, I became aware of the possibilities."


 I was introduced to art by playing video games. While playing Final Fantasy I realized that what I played was in fact art. 


[SG] "What kind of possibilities?"


[YT] "The transition from a watercolour drawing of Yoshitaka Amano, into an 8bit digital Nintendo image was shocking and beautiful. It was the first time the game world directly asked an artist to create the world of the game and you could see how they tried to eliminate the line between physical art and digital art.

And that is when I decided I wanted to become an illustrator."


[SG] "And you moved to Tokyo to make this happen?"


[YT] "When I was about 19 years old I moved to Tokyo to establish myself, but it wasn't that simple. In my hometown I was the boy that could draw very well, in Tokyo he was just another nobody. Eventually I ended up in Akihabara"  [ED: a neighborhood in Tokyo considered the center of Japanese pop culture and shopping Walhalla for video games, anime, manga and electronics]


[SG] "Didn't you go to art school?"


[YT] "I didn't. My idols Amano Yoshitaka and Jean Michel Basquiat didn't go either. Besides, I didn't have money to pay any kind of tuition. I strongly believed in my ability to do everything by myself."



[SG] "You have been creating technically rather complicated works. Didn't you do any internship or such?"


[YT] "Like many Japanese artists, I did an internship at Murakami Takashi. Only, at that time Murakami was intrigued by agriculture - mostly cactuses - and all interns were working in the garden. We had to work in the garden in order to learn that contemporary art  "grows" out of small ideas. 


For a few years I made my own exhibitions in Akihabara showing acrylic. But at some point I switched to sculptures. [ED: the keyboard sculptured] I got inspired by the cyberpunk world of "Ghost in the Shell".  With those sculptures I gained some recognition. It was around 2005. Akihabara had also changed a lot; it was booming. "





In Akihabara, Yoshinori could feel the potential of the computer culture. After working alone for several years he founded EXCALIBUR in 2007.


[YT] "An imaginary artist collective."


[SG] "Imaginary?"


[YT] "The idea was to form a circle of like minded people. It's alone, but you are active as a group. Excalibur comes from Final Fantasy. It is the strongest weapon one can get and it is a weapon everyone can share. That is what I aimed for with his collective: become a place where everyone can use the same tool and be the strongest version of oneself."


[SG] "But actually you were alone?"


[YT] "Yes, but it looks like a group. But recently, Maiko Iwata joined EXCALIBUR" 


[MI] "My grandfather died in the Chinese war. In Japan people who die in war are considered Gods, and from child on I thought my grandfather was a God. But I grew up in a pacifist family, learning not to hate people but instead hate the war. 

My dad worked for Apple in the beginning of the Internet invasion, and I grew up using apple. We joke about it sometimes as Tanaka san useds only Windows.  

When we met in Akihabara, I was still part of the performance group  Genso sentai lemonado [ED: Imaginary Lemonade ranger] So althought we had a rather different childhood, we  were both  involved in projects with imaginary members. 




That same year he made his first pixel art depicting the image of the notorious Yasukuni Shrine [ED: Japanese controversial Shinto shrine aka war memorial, worshiped by Japanese nationalist, criticized by others]


[SG] "Why did you particularly choose to create the image of Yasukuni shrine?"


[YT] "There was no particular reason. I wanted to make an icon that people have seen many times. Something easy to recognize. Nothing more."


[SG] "Do you consider yourself an activist like your dad?"


[YT] "No, but I do art activism. Through art I can express a political and social meaning. By creating an artwork that touches upon a recent happening, it becomes more real. It is something I can onl​​y do at the moment. We never experienced the historical event we talk about. The distance is similar to the distance between a monitor and oneself. It's almost as if you are watching a screen. Reality is important. Virtually is important. The distance in between them is even more important.

Street is reality, Internet is Virtual and the field in between is the distance. Today there still is a lot of distance between Virtual and reality, but in the future this distance might close."

Games require rules and as an artist using video games as a reference I enjoy making rules for my art works as if I am playing a game. 

[SG] "Why do we find a lot of purple in your work?"


[YT] "In the first place, this is because purple was considered to be an imperial and sacred color in ancient Japan. But the time has changed, and a new culture has emerged, a visual one, based on neon colours, of which purple is one of the main colours of the neon palette. 

Back in the days of the 8-bit PC games, only 16 colours could be used on one screen. I followed that rule and I only work with 16 colours or less. Among those 16 colours, purple is the base. 

Games require rules and as an artist using video games as a reference I enjoy making rules for my art works as if I am playing a game. I do it all the time, also when I make keyboard sculptures."


[SG] "What is digital art for you ?"


[YT "Digital art has always intrigued me. It can go on a screen, through a printer, appear on paper or on a screen. It can be projected. It can move everywhere. NFT is almost like a spirit. It is Shinto, a god that can move anywhere."


In the second part of the interview we will dive deeper into the world of NFT according to EXCALIBUR.



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