I interviewed “Cellotape Artist” Ryo Sehata on January 11, 2009 at the Nerima Art Museum in Tokyo. We spoke through an interpreter, museum curator. Hiroko Ono for over an hour, during which the artist demonstrated his technique.
CBL: A very unusual exhibition…So, are you the only artist working in cellotape?
RS: I think I am a rare artist, because, popularly, many artists can’t make works by cellotape, and it’s not easy that a cellotape company supported me. It’s not easy, so I think I am lucky that I can do only imaginative works in this way.
CBL: So, um, the connection with the cellotape company, did that come at the beginning or did the connection come later, after you produced some artworks in cellotape?
RS: When I started to make my works I approached cellotape companies to support my activity.
CBL: So, how long were you, er, working with cellotape before the company started to support you?
RS: From 2004.
CBL: And when did you first start to work with cellotape?
RS: When I was six years old I started to play with cellotape. As an artist, I have been making and presenting my works since 1999.
CBL: So, for 5 years, you were buying your own cellotape?
RS: My parents bought a lot of cellotape for me.
CBL: At the same shop every time?
RS: First, my parents bought it at the same shop, but step by step I really needed a mountain of cellotape, so my parents couldn’t buy it at the small shops, so they bought at the supermarket… Then we couldn’t buy a mountain of cellotape at any stores, so I approached the cellotape company.
CBL: Why cellotape? Why are you so attracted to cellotape? Why do you want to work in cellotape?
RS: When I was six years old I felt this material is really good. It’s like clay, but clay works break soon, but cellotape doesn’t break easily so I thought it was a good material for works. That’s the start.
CBL: When you were six, what did you make with the cellotape at that time?
RS: At first I made a dog and some figure people, some animation characters.
CBL: So, at that time, how would you start to make a piece.
RS: I want to demonstrate now. Is it OK?
CBL: Oh yeh, that would be interesting.
[Sehata pulls out a lot of tape and starts to work it into a loose ball that he then presses and winds tighter and tighter]
RS: If you make a mistake with cellotape, it’s like this. You pull everything and gather it with your fingers, step by step. When I make my works, I need really power because it’s hard work.
CBL: So, at this point do you know what it will become.
RS: It’s a core. Every work has a core.
CBL: The core is always like this?
RS: Yes, like an egg. For example, if the baby’s body’s core is here, first I make the parts of the core.
CBL: So these cores are they like the bones?
RS: Yes. For my abstract works I only use my imagination or do it through the activity. Many times I only work through my abstract imagination, but with figurative works, like a baby or a dog, I make some cores for the various parts.
CBL: Let’s see how it’s developing. It’s not sticky anywhere.
[Liddell then started to make a cellotape work]
RS: Once you start it’s difficult to stop.
CBL: I’m going to the edge now. It’s not doing what I want, really. It’s still fighting me. We’re fighting here. Me and the tape. It’s a battle between man and cellotape… It’s a combination of stress release, this random element, and sometimes you’re trying to control it. I’m sure in your case you can control it all the time, but in my case the cellotape is controlling me.
RS: But sometimes the cellotape also controls me… I think you’re getting stuck on cellotape.
CBL: This will have to stop somewhere…Sometimes it’s frustrating! Yeh, you have an idea and you want to go somewhere, but the cellotape fights you and you get angry and it changes direction.
RS: Also, I sometimes I get angry and I beat the cellotape.
CBL: It’s very difficult to stop, isn’t it? Because if I stop now, it’s not satisfying. It’s something incomplete….
RS: The important point of the activity is to fasten it, tightly, tightly.
CBL: If you leave the bubbles within, does it cause a problem later? Maybe the shape will change.
RS: When it has a bubble of air I kill it the bubbles, so I never leave a bubble inside. When I make it I need really hard power, so I hurt my hands.
CBL: People think of cellotape as very, y’know, ordinary, mass produced, and also a kind of throw away material. After you make the object, how does it change?
RS: I make a coating and I try to stop deterioration.
CBL: What kind of coating is it?
RS: I don’t want to say the ingredients detail because it’s my original…
CBL: In the exhibition, a lot of the forms have an organic feel, like you find in nature, like shells, or, y’know, bones, or, em, tadpoles, very organic… Is this your intention or because of the qualities of the cellotape? The cellotape wants to be this shape?
RS: I don’t have an intention to make such shapes, but I think when I make these works my hands naturally move, so I think they are determined by my subconscious.
CBL: Also in a way these shapes reflect the shape of the hand, I think. When I look at this one [Rolling Sculpture.2], I feel my fingers can move between those spaces. It’s like the shape is not coming from the mind and not from the cellotape but from the hand. These are very hand friendly shapes, I feel. To me it’s like an abstract sculpture of a hand.
RS: That’s right.
CBL: Now also, um, there are these two dimensional works as well. Em, how about the color? How do you get the color in these two dimensional art works?
RS: These colors, the original sellotape have a color. My sponsoring company makes cellotape with color. I get the different tones like a mille-feuille, like a cake….This side is best. For example this cellotape has a color and this one has a different color and I overlay them. Other sculptures having color are also like that, step-by-step…
CBL: This is very connected to the company itself, I think, again showing the different uses of the company’s products… Have you tried to work with other companies’ sticky tape, like Scotch tape?
RS: I approached Scotch tape, but unfortunately they didn’t accept my offer. This company is Nichiban. Nichiban is the biggest cellophane tape company in Japan. When I approached them, the company accepted.
CBL: But you tried working with Scotch tape? Is there a difference for you?
RS: Scotch tape is made from like plastic, but Nichiban’s cellotape is made from pulp.
CBL: Pulp? What kind of pulp?
RS: It’s a natural material. It’s made from wood. The texture is really different. Scotch tape is a little bit hard because the material is different, but Nichiban’s in more soft…
CBL: Pliable, so it’s easier to work with?
RS: Yes. In the past I tried to make my works with other materials, but now I make works only in cellotape, but I have an ambition to make art with other materials, but I can’t say now.
CBL: Yeh, but you see, the cellotape thing is a very strong image, and so people will think you’re the cellotape guy. So, people might not you seriously as an artist if you’re too closely connected to cellotape. Aren’t you worried about that?
RS: I believe cellotape has big ability so I’m not afraid, but I think that people think I am a cellotape guy, but as an artist making works by cellotape is one step as an artist, only one step. So I don’t care if people think I’m the cellotape guy
[there is a section of around 10 minutes untranscribed]