Shovel Head - The Mechanical Mutants Interview

Shovel Head - The Mechanical Mutants Interview
An exclusive interview with Japanese artist Shovel Head.
Updated: 05-15-2006

Shovel Head is a Japanese artist who has been creating unique sci-fi-esque sculptures for the better part of 10 years. His work came to the attention of at a recent Wonder Fest model show in Tokyo where interested attendees were crowding around his booth. While Shovel Head's work fits in with some of the cutting edge models at the show, it also stood out from the pack. So much so that his art has been gaining attention from collectors and publications around the world and he was recently invited to participate in a Nike art show with some of Japan's coolest underground artists.

Wondering what exactly this "art" is and why it would be of interest to us horror fans? Shovel Head creates sculptures that he calls "Mechanical Mutants". The Mutants are often animals, insects, or other strange creatures built with mechanical and electronic parts. (Describing them doesn't do them justice, so make sure you check out the pictures that accompany this article.) The artist mixes technology and biology in interesting and sometimes shocking ways. Shovel Head's Mutants look cool from the first time you see them, but they might also inspires you to think a bit about the direction the world is going in and to consider the ever-blurring boundaries between machines and living things.

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After the Wonder Fest show was over, Shovel Head kindly agreed to talk to about his artwork and other related stuff. Here's Shovel Head:

Q. Can you give our readers a little background on how/why you started out making "Mechanical Mutant" art - how long you've been doing it, when it started, etc.?

Shovel Head: One of the motivation I started making this kind of mechanical creatures was "cut-off tail of lizard". One day I caught a lizard which escaped by cutting its tail off. The waggly tail came up with an idea "What if the lizard could reproduce a new tail with mechanical parts?"

The imagination grew bigger and that's why I tried to make it. I was fond of making something from my childhood. Also I was attracted by mechanical movement and function of bike and tools. So the both elements might have influenced well to me.

After graduating from University I worked at an architect's office, in the meantime I made pieces for the pastime. When the bubble economy collapsed, the office went down and naturally I started this career. I'll accomplish ten years this autumn.

Q: Can you talk a little about the actual process of creating your mutants? Do you use material taken from existing machines/electronics or do you create the parts in your studio? How long does the creation process take?

Shovel Head: The main parts are from paper-mache. After several times of shaping and sandpapering, primer coating and painting with acrylic, enamel or lacquer come next. Then using electronic parts and metallic parts such as bolts and nuts, assembling and detail-up follow.

The junk parts taken from the broken radio or video are often used, and paper, wood, rubber, plastic are also quite useful. Any materials could be parts.

The time to finish a piece varies according to each one - between a week and three months. The pieces are made in parallel, several at a time, because paper-mache needs time to dry.

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Q: What is the largest piece you have ever made and how big would you like to go - lifesized creatures, maybe even bigger? Do you have plans to make a giant mutant someday?

Shovel Head: The largest piece is "iD-Station" that I made last year for NIKE. But this piece is quite unusual for me in many ways. So the largest one in my ordinary pieces is lizard which measures 1.2 meter .

Q: Do you prefer to make stationary pieces (sculptures), or would you rather be making actual moving motorized pieces (robotics)? What is the difference between making a sculpture and a robot?

Shovel Head: If your question refers to the difference between the animal type figures and robot type (humanoid) figures, there's no big difference to me.

Q: How important is the fact that you live in the shadow of Tokyo to your work? Has growing up in the most populated metropolis in the world, and a society who is known for being high tech, been a strong influence in your art?

Shovel Head: I'm living in Kawasaki city, next to Tokyo.

"Tokyo" is the place where its people get influenced even without knowing. Places to buy materials, for meetings, for photoshooting, for exhibitions are mostly in Tokyo. It sometimes make us rapturous sometimes exhausted. It's important to keep a good balance and stability.

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Q: Can you tell us a few of your favorite horror or science fiction movies and let us know if you feel that any of these films have influenced you as an artist?

Shovel Head: "Men in Black" was interesting for me in point of the image that have something common with the pieces I make.

Q: Have you ever thought of the idea of someone licensing your characters to make a movie staring your "Mechanical Mutants"? Have you ever done any stop motion filming of the pieces you create?

Shovel Head: I've received some offers but none of them realized yet. A friend made a very short film of White Dunk piece just for fun. I'd love to see the pieces moving around in a movie someday!

Q: Are there other contemporary artists who you think are doing interesting work that revolves around the convergence of technology and nature? Are you familiar with the work of Korean artist Lee Bul, for example?

Shovel Head: I'm amazed all the time by these 2 artists, Eisaku Kito and Takayuki Takeya. Especially Kito takes the similar method that is very interesting.

Q: Do you believe that machines might someday become the masters of humans, as predicted in books and movies like Terminator and Matrix?

Shovel Head: I believe that the human manages the computer. I don't want to be dominated by machines. However, now we are dependent very much on machines and lots of things are now inseparable from our daily lives such as mobile phones...

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Q: Where can people see your artwork? Are you currently represented by a gallery - do you have any upcoming shows in Japan or the U.S.?

I'm sorry, there isn't a permanent place to show them at this moment. I take part in exhibitions a few times a year - that is the easiest way to see it. I'm plannning my next solo exhibition in the Ginza area of Tokyo in October of 2006. Please check my website for the exact details once they become available.

We appreciate Shovel Head taking time out of his schedule to talk to If you want to find out more about his work, please check out he following links: Shovel Head artwork gallery.

Official Site: Shovel Head's Official Website with pictures and info on upcoming shows.

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