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Special interview with




Photo: Andrei Farcasanu

SACHIYO KANEKO JAPAN I always feel like she is a flying bird. She looks enjoying flying freely, lyrically. She was born in Tokyo and started to learn SHO, so called Chinese/Japanese calligraphy when she was seven years old. It happened naturally, she says. Little girl started learning it spontaneously and she got wings at the same time. After learning our traditional art deeply and intensively for a long time, she started to create contemporary art based on SHO. Her first solo exhibition was in 2000. Since then her art brings her many places in the world in Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, the U.S.A., Belgium, France, Italy, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain and Japan. She was graduated in Department of International and Cultural studies from Tsuda College. I think she did not only study but keep practicing ‘international’. In conversation with Yoshihiko Takao, Japanese journalist


YOSHIHIKO TAKAO: It was 2008 that I saw your art works for the first time. I was introduced your art book ‘Magical Ink’. Before opening your book, I thought I knew SHO well enough because I had been learning it for about 10 years. But your works surprised me so much. They were completely new. For me and for many people who are involved in traditional art often feel traditional world is very conservative. But your works looked very free. The book consists of ink works and short fantasy stories and they were arranged beautifully in dynamic negative space. The whole book looked like one poem. Since then I got interested in you and have been observing your activities. SACHIYO: Thank you very much. YOSHIHIKO: You have been achieved various kinds of projects. It is very curious for my journalist’s eyes as well. I want to start with asking on your visual art. We can find lots of variety in your works. Sometimes they look very different like being made by different artists. Is there any common idea or theme?


SACHIYO: SHO is my lifework. So I dare to keep pursuing our traditional ink, paper, brushes. Of course I’ve ever tried other materials as well, but I always come back to our materials and tools. These are very difficult to handle. It requires us many years to learn to use these materials and tools freely, but there are no other materials or tools that express my movement, even breathing as it is completely. I believe these are the best materials and tools. And I like to see ancient SHO in the museums. We can see the letters written by ink 2000 years ago. I’m using the same material. Then somebody might see my work 2000 years later. This is so romantic, isn’t it? YOSHIHIKO: Yes, it is! The translation ‘Chinese/ Japanese calligraphy’ is used generally. But you use the Japanese word SHO. Is there a reason? Concerning the word calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy is famous. Is there a difference from yours? SACHIYO: Yes. SHO has a long, long history which started as oracle bone scripts in China 4000 years ago. In Oriental world, SHO has been recognised as the best art among fine arts. One of the reasons is this. As you see its English translation, originally oracle bone script was a record of oracle, the record of the voice of God. People recognized those ideograms very sacred. But later people got the new tools, ink, paper and brushes. These are different from Western ones. Ours are much more delicate and sensitive. They reproduce the personality of the person who draws the lines precisely. When we appreciate the ‘good SHO’, people actually appreciate the high spirit of the person who drew it. If the same ideogram appears again in the same 5

poem, we never find the same shape. This is completely different from Arabic calligraphy. The personality appears in the quality of lines rather than the shapes of ideograms. Recent centuries, influenced by Western culture, we started to exhibit art works on the walls in the big room. SHO had been appreciated on the small desk or walls of well-educated people’s private room for a long time. But now we have bigger place to show and big tools, big paper and big brushes to make big works. I think this phenomenon gave us more possibility of lines.

Photo: Shigeaki Hashimoto

YOSHIHIKO: Oh, you say SHO is the art of lines.

Would you please explain about this

more clearly? SACHIYO: Then I tell you my experiment in my workshops in abroad. I prepare many various lines and show them to the students. There are only one good line and many bad lines mixed. But they have no information. First, I ask them ‘which line do you like best?’ 6

Then everybody chooses completely different line. It is very interesting. But next I ask them ‘which line do you think lively or healthy?’ And then most people choose the same line. This moment they notice the value of the line. They get a new point of view. After starting a practice of drawing lines, they realize lines’ value more. Because they cannot draw lines like the good line I showed them before. It is impossible to draw the lively line without a good mental condition or a right movement of the body. We need both. So that the good line is valuable. So people can be touched by SHO drawn with good lines even when they don’t know the ideograms’ meanings. YOSHIHIKO: Does it have to do with your performance that you told me right now? Just recently you made another success of a big format SHO performance in Barcelona. That paper was 4m x 10 m, right? You looked smaller than a big brush.


SACHIYO: When we see SHO works, we appreciate the traces of the lines left on the paper. What do you feel from those lines? For most people, they need training to answer this question. Even Japanese people get surprised when I show them the right movement to draw a good line. They see how much I move even before and after this trace on the paper. I move not only on paper, but move in the space beyond paper. This movement is very important, but very difficult and hardly known. Even a master shows it with explaining, very few people notice. I felt it ashamed very much. I wanted to tell people the most important and difficult essence of drawing lines. So I tried to make everything in big scale. YOSHIHIKO: And you are trying to visualize the invisible part of SHO. You often wear the skirt like a costume of figure skaters when you show the big format performance. I like that because it reminds me of Tennyo no Hagoromo*. It is beautiful, but is there any intention to wear it? * There are many patterns of legends on Tennyo no Hagoromo all over Japan.


Tennyo is a beautiful woman who is living in sky, in many cases she is a maid of God. She can fly with wearing a light, airy beautiful cloth, called


SACHIYO: How happy it is that you call it Tennyo no Hagoromo! Further more I’m happy you noticed that. I use it to emphasize the movement of my lower body. To express I’m using whole body to draw lines not only by hand. Many people told me I was like dancing. I’m happy they noticed even there is rhythm during drawing. YOSHIHIKO: So you got more and more opportunity even in abroad. let you fly here and there.


Tennyo no Hagoromo

SACHIYO: It might be true. One thing I want to add about my performance in abroad, it always came true through the help by local staff and collaboration with local artists. The latest performance in Barcelona was more international than before. Staffs were from Spain, Canada, Uganda and Palestine. Musicians were from Spain and Mexico. This is very big issue. I’m not just bringing and introducing Japanese culture, but creating a new project together with foreigners. I feel the possibility SHO can be international art. YOSHIHIKO: Wonderful! It is not only Oriental tradition but world tradition some day! By the way, everybody has a Shisho, master, in traditional world. You met your current Shisho, Sempo Tomono, when you were nine years old. Sisho must be very important for you, right? But is there any other artist you like or influenced? SACHIYO: Yes and yes.

We keep learning throughout life and I learned the attitude of

learning from Shisho. And I love Tamayo and Modigliani very much. YOSHIHIKO: Why do you like them? Their arts are far from SHO and they don’t similar each other. SACHIYO: I agree with you. They are very different. Different art, different country, different way of life. Rufino Tamayo (Mexico, 18991991) studied Mexican ancient culture very much. His drawing touch is so strong that I feel it sounds and sank to the bottom of the 10

belly. I was shocked when I saw his works for the first time in Kyoto. There were only two small paintings among more than a hundred of art works of super stars in his age, like Picasso. They were very simple ones of water melons and lemons, but I was stuck in front of them. I cannot forget that moment. As for Amedeo C. Modigliani(Italy, 1884-1920), I feel his famous series of portraits very comfortable. Once I went his archive exhibition, I found that he studied African art before establishing that famous style. I felt I found the reason why I liked his art very much when I saw his studies in this period. They were very strong. These two artists have roots in very primitive things and emit strong energy from there. I have been learning with old scripts since I was a child, so it is easy to sympathize with them. In addition to it, they made me re-recognize that there is stronger power than its visible shape very much. YOSHIHIKO: You are learning from many things in addition to Japanese traditional things. 11

SACHIYO: Yes. Tradition is not the word which means ‘to preserve old things’. It is inevitable for tradition to keep changing. It is the way to survive from epoch to epoch. Tradition is always evolving. When something evolves, its outfit sometimes looks completely different. But it never changes the most important thing. Tradition is the polished crystal over the years. Or fruit of wisdom. It has a core of people’s spirit. If we are only preserving the old style, it goes rotten like food. Or people throw away just because it is old. I want to think this is precious that I’m living now.

I have to do what I can do because I’m living in this age.

YOSHIHIKO: So you can create your own, new art works full of variations like works in ‘Magical Ink’ which surprised me so much. That is also the reason why you are recognized as a contemporary artist in the world, though you have been involved in Japanese traditional art for a long time. Recently you started another project in Barcelona. SACHIYO: Yes. It is ‘Gather evidences to show that our tradition is universal’ My art looks very oriental. But some look very different from typical SHO. My art is evolution of our traditional art. It has the most important essence of SHO. So I want to prove it is universal. There are so many cultures in the world, but there must be harmony with my art. I started this project in Barcelona this year. I put my art works in historical area and took photos. I put them also in front of fashionable shops or other modern things. I believe it was successful. But I had so little time that I tried only with small works. I want to put huge works and make a new harmony with the scenery of cities next time. YOSHIHIKO: It is interesting. Actually, I feel harmony in every photo. I’m eager to see next soon. I wonder where the next place will be. I wish the aesthetic essence of our traditional art will fly and spread over the world more and more through your activities. In April, 2016 12


それから 14

YOSHIHIKO: Last interview was taken place in April, 2016. One year passed since then. You’ve added new activities and achievements. With looking back these experiences, would you please tell me what you intend to challenge next? SACHIYO: I stayed in an artist-in-residence, Jiwar, in Barcelona for three months at the beginning of 2016. They supported my project very hard and I could make a lot of plans come true. One of the biggest achievements was the live performance of big format SHO in Plaza del Diamant.

They exhibited this 10meter work in the city council later and this

activity was introduced by BTV. The program was on air all day in the metros and metro stations in Barcelona next day of the broadcast on TV. I met a lot of people and many people met my art. Everything was special experience in the big city. I spent very busy and exciting days there. Just after I left Barcelona, the last interview was held with you, Takao san. I stayed in another artist-in-residence in Cadíz, Andalucía for three months. There I had peaceful days without any duty after the very productive, fulfilling days in Barcelona. I experienced both the chaos and the liberty in a very short time. I was born in Tokyo and spent my life only in big cities. It was the first experience for me to bathe myself simply in the blue sky and the sea for three months.


I feel the light of Cadíz, which is called ‘La costa de la luz, the coast of the light’, was really special. Fortunately, ‘Cadíz en Danza’, international dance festival, started.

I visited the

theaters and parks to watch various dances every day. At the same time, the international film dance festival started in the same building of my working space. It was the first experience to see so many kinds of contemporary dances at the same time. While watching them, I realized this might be the way to express my idea which I had over years. I could use very big working space alone in this artist-in-residence. I made a white 3m cube. I draw lines with black ink in this white box wearing white clothes. I challenged to make a dance film only with the movements, rhythms and sounds of SHOKA, so called calligrapher. Though this was my first film making, one of my films has already been officially selected by 2 international film dance festivals and screened in Portugal and Spain.

After I left Cadíz, I got a great opportunity to make an art work together with a Mexican artist Knut Pani in Madrid.

We made documentary films of this collaboration in

addition. 16

I feel like I had a big turning point. I got more possibility of my expression. I would be happy if I can release my mind more and keep pursuing the way of expression more freely. I cannot imagine what I’m doing 10 years later. I’m very excited with this idea. I’m preparing for the solo exhibition in Mexico City in next spring now.

YOSHIHIKO: Can you explain about the exhibition? SACHIYO: The Under the moonlight series, which was experimental in the last solo exhibition ‘Jardín escrito’ in Mexico City in 2012, will be the main works. We can find a lot of common feelings between Mexico and Japan. I picked up a Mexican poem to symbolize the relationship between Mexico and Japan last time. modern poems were developed by learning of Haiku.


I picked up the poem ‘Jardín

esctiro’ written by Mexican poet, Ulalume Gonzáles de Leon and made a SHO work of it. This title became the exhibition’s title. 17

I picked up the poem ‘Mar eterno’ by José Emilio Pacheco for next exhibition.

Digamos que no tiene comienzo el mar Empieza donde lo hallas por vez primera y te sale al encuentro por todas partes I feel the influence of Haiku more in this poem than last one. And I’m also trying a new experimental series. YOSHIHIKO Please tell me at the end. What is the art activities for you? Is there any purpose to do that? SACHIYO: Creation is a process to know myself for me. I don’t have a big propaganda like to help society or people directly. I experienced the good art works changed my mind. I believe the power of good art works. I just think it will be great if I can make a good art works. If more people have the same experience, we might get close to peace a little more.

In August 2017




Japanese journalist, worked in THE MAINICHI NEWSPAPERS covering judicature, including Lockheed Scandal, and peace movement for about 40years. During these years, he has written several books, for example, ‘Hilarious Pierrots, the Inspection of phenomenon occurred by Prime minister Kakuei Tanaka’ and ‘Story about Attorney Nakabou Kouhei’. Currently the President of Nippon News Ink co, ltd. Graduated from The University of Tokyo


Reference 【performance】 JAPANESE CALLIGRAPHY☆LIVE☆WAVE☆Sachiyo Kaneko (Barcelona, 2016) 【Official Website】 【Book】 ‘Magical Ink’ ISBN-10: 4779003474 ISBN-13: 978-4779003479


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Photo: Andrei Farcasanu