Interview: Ryo Sehata, cellotape artist

Ryo Sehata with his work "Rolling Sculpture 20"

Stuck on cellotape

Ryo Sehata is that often-mentioned but seldom-encountered individual, a truly unique artist. His art is so uncommon that his fame has now assumed viral form, spreading through the Internet via blogs, vlogs, Twitters, links, Diggs and other clickable whatchamacallits. The young artist and his unusual creations are seemingly worth a few minutes of anyone's online time.

But the attention that he has been enjoying since his solo exhibition opened in December may well be a double-edged sword, because the 34-year-old artist has chosen to make his name in the art world with works created out of something as mundane and patently unglamorous as everyday, ordinary household adhesive tape.

Compromising the principles of high art even further, he has even cheerfully accepted sponsorship by the country's leading commercial maker of adhesive tape, the Nichiban Company. Called cellotape, Nichiban's product is similar to the UK's Sellotape brand and America's Scotch Tape.

Sehata's art raises eyebrows because it's so unexpected and perverse — it's rather like the story a few years back of the version of the Mona Lisa done in slabs of toast. But, according to the artist, his preferred medium has more to do with the overlooked artistic possibilities of adhesive tape than any attempt to appeal to fans of the quirky.

"When I was 6 years old, I felt this material was really good," he told The Japan Times on a visit to Tokyo's Nerima Art Museum, which is showing "Cellotape Art: Ryo Sehata Works 1998-2008" till Feb. 15. "It's like clay, but works made from clay are fragile and break soon. Cellotape doesn't break easily, so I thought it would be an ideal material for art works. That was the start."

His first efforts were figurative: people, animals and animation characters made to amuse school friends. The exhibition contains several examples of figurative works, including two well-made if rather cute and kitschy-looking dogs, Miniature Dachshund (2004) and Chihuahua (2004), and various sculptures of babies that emit a slightly sinister vibe.

Since receiving sponsorship from Nichiban in 2004, his abstract works have increasingly come to define his art. The most notable of these is Rolling Sculpture 20 (2006), which dominates the exhibition's central floor space.

"After I received sponsorship, this was the first work I made without any limits on the amount of tape I could use," Sehata explained. "It was the first really big work. I used 4,000 reels and it weighs about 100 kg. I was really happy to use as much cellotape as I wanted."

The sheer scale of this work and others — such as the nearly-as-large Transmission (2002), a pupaelike excrescence that seems to throb with the possibility of alien life — as well as the bandages wrapped around Sehata's right hand from repetitive strain injury suggest that the artist finds something powerfully addictive in his technique and expression.

Sehata starts by unraveling a length of cellotape a few feet long then rolling it up into a small tight ball to form the core of a piece. While figurative works have several cores, rather like the bones of the body, abstract works usually have one. The artist then continues to wind tape round them, all the time applying strong finger pressure, so that the sculptures develop a hardness similar to fiberglass.

"An important point of the method is that the core should be hard and the tape should always be fastened tightly," Sehata emphasized. "Always fasten it and get rid of the air bubbles because that might create a problem later."

Many of the shapes that arise from this process have a strangely familiar organic feel, like something that might be found in nature on some hitherto undiscovered shore or scuttling around some stygian abyss. As well, these heavily worked and kneaded pieces occasionally seem permeated with a kind of blind, tactile logic, as if they had discovered their own forms without the benefit of light, vision or conscious direction. Many of the smaller works give off such a powerful impression of the artist's fingers working, pressing and shaping them that they almost become like abstract sculptures of hands.

"Of course, with the figurative works, there is a clear intention to make a particular shape," Sehata said, regarding his conscious input. "But with the abstract works, I don't have any intention to make such shapes. When I make these works, my hands move naturally, so I think they are determined by my subconscious."

Whatever artistic merits humble adhesive tape may have, the big problem Sehata is sure to face is that he will be typecast as the "Cellotape Guy."

But this doesn't seem to bother him. "I believe cellotape has lots of potential, so I'm not afraid," he said as he put the finishing touches to a small cellotape figure he'd made during the interview. "People think I am the cellotape guy, but this is only one step for me as an artist. So, I don't care if they think that."

"Cellotape Art: Ryo Sehata Works 1998-2008" is showing till Feb. 15, 2009 at the Nerima Art Musuem

The Japan Times
23rd January 2009

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