Masaharu at Imura Art Gallery, Kyoto
May 8 - 29, 2010

Interview with Masaharu Sato

The “No Man’s Land” exhibition achieved a remarkable attendance record for a contemporary art exhibition, an average of 4000 visitors per day. A large number of artists from Japan and other countries participated in this exhibition in the former French Embassy in Japan. Masaharu Sato stood out among these artists, and he has held two solo shows in Japan at imura art gallery. In preparation for the exhibition coming this May, I would like to ask him some questions about his artistic expression based on the original method of combining digital technology with drawing by hand.

 First, please tell us about the work, “Bye Bye, Come On,” which is also the title of this solo show.

Sato: The idea for this title comes from an adult video I saw while a student in Germany. In this video, the foreign actress shouted, “Come on!” while having a climax. This seemed to me to be the opposite of the phrase used in the same situation in Japan, iku (which means “going”). Later, I learned that this phrase had the meanings of both iku (going) and kuru (coming). It had the nuance of “ecstasy coming” as well as “going into ecstasy.”

While living overseas, one often hears people pointing out the discrepancies and differences between concepts in different languages, but I began wondering if I could transform the complex and strange condition of referring to the same thing with opposite words, separated by 180 degrees, in making my art. These contradictions depend on the position and situation in which one is placed. In the work “Bye Bye, Come On,” I made this chaotic condition into art.

 Please tell us about your working methods.

Sato: I ordinarily keep idea notes, both sketching pictures and writing words. Among the ideas written in these notes, there were times when I decided instantly to “go with animation!” There are also times I wondered what to do for more than a year. This sorting process is very interesting. In order to make my ideas concrete, I prepared models and motifs, and looked for places to photograph them. I started out by taking actual photographs or video images and putting the photographs or moving images into the computer. Then, using Photoshop software, I traced the images and drew on these images using a pen tablet.

To explain this in a way that is easy to understand, I feel like I am facing a canvas (computer monitor) and applying pigment (Photoshop) with a brush (pen tablet). Also, when I have completed the original image, the photographic data, which has been divided into layers, is erased. Nothing is left in the pictorial space but drawn images. In animation, movement is created with a number of accumulated images. The person doing the work sees a parade of still photographs. I spent a great deal of time drawing and connecting still photographs. After creating the animation, I realized that single still photographs convey an image straightforwardly, and I was sometimes saddened when I decided to lay aside some of the still photographs.

 I see. It seems that because your work is based on actual photographs, it is connected to realistic visuals.

Sato: Yes, that’s right. Ultimately, the photographic data is erased, but I feel like I am breaking down the things I have photographed in my own mind and then reconstruct them close to the original form. For example, there are many photographs of my ancestors around the Buddhist altar in my parents’ home, and I looked at them a lot while I was growing up. These portraits of the dead are heavily altered before they are printed. These photographs are reconstructed to make the person look better. Wrinkles are removed, the background is changed, and different clothing is added. The process has the purpose of creating a sense of permanence rather than simply fixing an image.

 Your work seems to contain many dark or frightening images. Did you choose these themes deliberately for your art?

Sato: I love horror movies and watch them all the time. However, horror movies often depict very empty fictions, in which ordinarily invisible beings suddenly appear, causing fear or conveying a sense of physical pain. I like works that can be described as metafiction. For example, I found metafiction with quite a strong impact in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. The anxiety one feels when looking at his work cannot be expressed in words. One has a sense of seeing dreams that contain reality, and every time I see it I am newly inspired.

 Please tell us how your work continued to develop.

The animation in the works being shown this time were all created as loop images. In Avatar 11, made last year, I used the loop method to make a video piece. I had various reasons for using the loop. For example, escalator girl, which appears in this show, takes a portion of the action of a person walking up a down elevator and repeats it over and over. The meaning of this action changes and, depending on the way the viewer looks at it, it can be infinitely expanded. Also, although this is not the main reason for using the loop, if a person begins looking in the middle when observing the works on display, he ends up watching the film from middle to end to beginning. With long films and works characterized by an introduction, development, turn, and conclusion, this kind of structure tends to make a bad impression.

However, I do not think that all filmic works containing an introduction, development, turn, and conclusion give this sort of impression. When encountering works that unselfconsciously let out something like the dilemma of video expression, they seem slightly arrogant. Paintings, which are developed on the same plane, appear without this kind of thing. Paintings linger in the exhibition space where they are mounted. They are always waiting. This may seem only natural. I wondered if I could use moving images in the same way as autonomous paintings to express a “perception of having no beginning or end.”