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Interview with Yuhei SAITO
Written by Kae ISHII   
Published: December 24 2010

fig. 1 View of The 23rd Part Concert, 2010

    I got to know Yuhei Saito's activities when I visited the group exhibition "Circle X" at a gallery called "Roji To Hito" in Jonbocho Kanda in August 2010. The members of the group are Yuhei Saito, Yusuke Asai, Sayaka Oikawa, Yusuke Gunji, stomachache, NANOOK and Yohei Nisogi. Even though the works displayed at the exhibition were mainly many small ones, they didn't look packed and their individual touches kept the exhibition in fine balance. Those works were by artists I got to know for the first time. I realized that there were many artists not in my knowledge who painted great pictures. That is the reason why I took an interest in Saito the exhibitor and the projector of this exhibition.

    I had been thinking of writing something about "Circle X" one day. However, my interest spread over this artist's whole activities. It is all because he was the projector of Takahiro Hirama's private exhibition "The 1st Retrospective exhibition of Takahiro Hirama" which was personally the most impressive exhibition for me this summer. And I saw many of his works at the exhibition "NEO NEW WAVE" held at "island" in September. And also, I had a chance to present myself at its related event "Park Concert" (see figure 1). He takes on everything from curations to music events while cranking out many pictures. I interviewed Saito one day in October at his studio to learn how he started to engage in such wide-ranging activities.

Even though I majored in media art , I was still painting pictures.

Saito went to Tokyo Polytechnic University leaving his home town in Niigata in the spring of 2001. He majored in the department of media art. But he realized, after entering the school, that the major he selected was not the kind thing he was interested in very much.

Saito: I had a yearning for something creative, and I wanted to make cool promotional videos and stuff. But when I actually made them, it wasn't like I anticipated. I have always been painting pictures, even after I had lost interest in undergraduate courses. Things sifted through and the act of painting remained naturally. I worked on the graduation project simply for the credit. It was a visual work made with infrared sensors. I do not know what it is myself (laugh).

fig. 2 "ODDS & ENDS" ♯10 (2004)

fig. 3 "Fastener" (2003); ballpoint, 21.0×29.5cm

The college campus was in the mountains in Atsugi (Kanagawa prefecture). I was so surprised because the campus location was more rustic than my home town (in Niigata) was. That is why I wanted to get out of there to a city. In order to go to Tokyo, I published a free newspaper called "ODDS & ENDS" (see figure 2). That way I could go to places in Tokyo to distribute the newspaper. That was a good excuse to go to many places. "Sanpo-No-Tatsujin" (Guru Of Walking) magazine published an article about this free newspaper in their free newspaper special issue(*1).

A connection I got from distributing the free newspaper opened up a chance for me to plan an exhibition for the first time. There was a gallery cafe named "appel" run by Taxxaka (Tasuo Takahashi) and Juka Izusawa in Kyodo. I asked them to let me put together a group exhibition of three people, Ryohei Kobayashi, Chihiro Mori and myself. A gallery "OFF SITE" run by Astuhiro Ito and Yukari Fujimoto also kindly let me put every edition of my free newspaper at their gallery. I held exhibitions at school too. Nobody farmed out a place for exhibitions at first so I sneaked into the locker room in the middle of the night and did a guerrilla exhibition there. And I exhibited my works in an open room of the size of three Tatamis with a proper permission. That was titled "Convexo Concave in Gap" (see figure 3). Since we wanted to do something else other than a graduation project, we held an exhibition to celebrate our graduation at the exhibition space in the basement of Meguro Art Museum. A friend of mine found the place.

-- Would you tell us the people and the events which influenced you during your school days?

Saito: People? Hmm, I can't think of any. I went to see Zon Ito's private exhibition three times, though I wasn't linking his works with my works. No particular influences from school either. I was making a free newspaper because I was in that environment, but it was only circumstantial.

-- Have you ever had any doubts about continuing artistic expression?

Saito: No I have never thought about quitting painting. I got some negative comments when I went to my favorite gallery to show my pictures after the group exhibition at Kyodo. That was pretty disappointing. But that was only to be expected, to think of the situation now. But I didn't think about quitting at that time. I was pretty determined to continue. I started to look for other ways after that though. I used to do pen-drawing before, but I started to use water colors and tried pretty much anything. I was pretty good at school but I didn't like studying very much. I liked geography. I wasn't good at gymnastics. But I had a feeling my painting always became better all the time. I felt I painted better even after having no practicing for months.

Saito has never thought about quitting painting. He was determined to continue. Those thoughts lead him to some energetic activities after graduation from school.

I decided to do something once a month.

Saito: I decided to do something once a month. After I graduated from school, I had a lot of part time jobs. In the fall of 2005, I traveled in Germany and Czechoslovakia for a couple of months. Many of my favorite artists are in Germany. Especially I wanted to see the works of Sigmar Polke and Dieter Roth for myself. I traveled to major cities and visited museums. And I did some sketches of animals at a zoo in town during the entire opening hours of the zoo. Those were great experiences. I wanted to paint as many pictures as possible so I didn't bring any books. I painted like 600 pictures, probably.

After his return from the trip, he held a private exhibition which turned out to be a turning point of his activities.

-- You had a private exhibition in February 2006, didn't you?

Saito: After I returned from the trip, I held an exhibition at "Shiroto-No-Ran The Second" in Koenji. It is a used clothing store. I put the canvases on the wall. The works were the new ones I created after the graduation.

-- How did you get to know Shiroto-No-Ran(*2)?

Saito: I had moved to Koenji after I graduated from school. One of my acquaintances took me there in June 2005. I moved to Koenji because there were a lot of live music clubs there. I didn't have many friends as I was pretty new to Tokyo. It was nice to have places for me to go to. I visited the store often before and after the trip. So I asked the owner of the store Hikaru Yamashita if I could have an exhibition there.

-- How did the exhibition turn out?

Saito: Many of my acquaintances came. Also I could get to know many people. But after all, the best thing that happened was that I could talk with Hikaru-san a lot. I talked with him ‘til dawn one night in the exhibition session. He told me, "I think you can do a lot more." That comment gave me the driving power for my later activities. Hikaru-san meant a lot to me. He comes up with ideas that ordinary people can't come up with. Even if a person doesn't have any talents at all, he likes to see him go headlong into his works. He is interested in not only the completed works, but he also appreciates the artists' impetus. Probably, Hikaru-san wasn't so interested in my pictures. Like, he probably did not understand (laugh). But he liked to see Saito furiously doing something. There might be people who would doubt that sort of evaluation criterion. After the private exhibition, I was driven by Hikaru-san's comment that I could do a lot more, so I decided to do something once a month every month.

-- Would you tell us what you did?

Saito: I made a wood block printed free newspaper and named it "LONG LIFE". I hid them under some vending machines in the Koenji area, and announced that I hid them on an internet communication site, Mixi. I thought I had to do something anyway but there was no place to present my works. So I thought I had no choice but doing it under vending machines even. Hikaru-san saw me, and told me gladly, "Oh, Saito is doing something again." It was like I was doing it for Hikaru-san.

-- What are the other activities other than the under-vending-machines?

Saito: Free newspapers mostly. Like I made a free newspaper "TOKYO" and distributed them in Osaka. Or I put my free newspapers on post boxes, or I threw them into coin operated lockers. I was pretty on it. There was a place called "Bashoppu" run by Hikaru-san. It was simply a location on a street. People got together there to drink. I had free newspaper exchange meetings there several times. The year 2006 was like that. It was a training period for me, to look back on. Through doing the once-a-month activities in weird places, my experiences naturally banked up. I still draw on the things I did that time.

Well, I did have a chance to participate in a group exhibition through a relationship with Taxxaka (Tatsuo Takahashi) in 2006, but I was pretty restrained in that year. Oh and I went to see "SHINRO OHTAKE / zen-kei retrospective 1955-2006" exhibition held at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo many times. Actually, I was the first visitor to that exhibition. In mid October, I accidentally met an independent curator Takashi Azumaya at a restaurant. I accosted him by saying, "I like your writings, I read them often." He answered, "Well then why don't we talk?" Then we kind of talked over 5 bottles of beer (laugh). We talked about a lot of stuff, and then started talking about "zen-kei" exhibition. He asked me, "Hey what about we getting to be the first visitor to the exhibition?" So I waited in front of the museum from 11am on the previous day.

-- The previous day at 11am? You didn't have to line up so early to be the first visitor?

Saito: I thought of it as my fun event. I prepared a bunch of stuff so I was full of baggages. I was so excited to see the exhibition. I must have looked like a clown came fresh from the country. I waited alone for like eight hours, and the one who came next was my girlfriend (laugh). There was an opening reception at night as it was the previous day. I watched Ryuichi Sakamoto and others go by from the outside. Makoto Aida came out and smiled at me. Azumaya-san came at around 10 at night. The people Azumaya-san called got together with us, and we stayed up all through the night together. Actually, I went to see "zen-kei" exhibition many times.

Seeing that exhibition was very exhausting. After seeing it on the first day, we were very tired so we bought some stewed pork innards and beer at the product exhibition in Kiba Park located next to the museum, and ate them with my girl friend in front of the museum. And then Otake-san suddenly showed up before us. We were so surprised so I said, "Your exhibition was awesome!" Later, Otake-san wrote about me in his "A story of a young man came first to my zen-kei exhibition" published in Shincho magazine(*3).

-- I think Otake-san was also pleased to have met you.

It seems His desire to do something somehow was forming Saito's activities after the graduation. His energetic activities during this period lead him to form "Night TV" and "Kikimimi".

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"Feature 2: Dreadful! Invasion of Free Newspapers", Sanpo-no-tatsujin (Guru Of Walking), January 2003 issue, page 84 (Sanpo-no-tatsujin is a town information magazine for the Tokyo metropolitan area).

"Shiroto-no-ran" (Amateur Rebellion) is a group running thrift stores and used clothing stores around Kitanaka-Dori in Koenji. They are also known for the demonstration against the PSE law. Please refer to http://trio4.nobody.jp/keita/ for their latest activities.

"Invisible Sound, Inaudible Picture, the 35th" by Nobuaki Otake, Shincho Magazine, issue 21 of volume 103, Shincho-Sha, December 2006, page 265. This is also published in Otake's book "Invisible Sound, Inaudible Picture", Shincho-Sha, December 2008, page 138 to 139.

Last Updated on October 27 2015

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