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Mr Sato, underground gaffertape folk hero, doesn't mind the gap! - click opera
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Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 11:23 am
Mr Sato, underground gaffertape folk hero, doesn't mind the gap!

Japanwatchers -- or simply people watching Japanese TV -- will already know about train-man-gaffer-tape-lettering-hero and folk artist Shuetsu Sato. He's been featured on Pingmag ("Gaffer Tape Art in Tokyo’s Train Stations"), Chipple, Patrick from Chipple's Flickr page (Patrick took the top picture in my strip), and held an exhibition which has just closed in an art gallery in Koenji. As if the articles, the TV shows and the art exhibition weren't enough, there's also the DVD and the t-shirt.



So how did a railway employee who carves temporary lettering out of gaffer tape shoot to multimedia fame? Why did so many people turn up to watch Mr Sato do live tape-cutting at his gallery show that it was impossible to see past the forest of raised digital cameras?

It all began when members of a collective called Trio4 noticed the tape lettering, and its unusual gothic forms, in temporary signage at Shinjuku station back in 2003. These kids -- members of the Koenji Shiroto no Ran or Amateur Revolution group I blogged about back in June -- had been casting about for something to make a documentary about, and these letters seemed to be the perfect subject. At first, Sato-San proved a reluctant folk hero. ”In the beginning," Trio4's Hikaru Yamashita told Pingmag, "Mr. Sato wasn’t friendly at all. Later, he told me that me approaching him seemed kind of troublesome… However, he was much nicer in our second meeting. He agreed to do an interview and to demonstrate his skills on our live show”.

Little by little the young hipsters upped the charmingly gap-toothed old man's cultural capital with their curation. "Skills" became street smart "skillz", which eventually became "art" and -- the final apotheosis! -- goods marketing.

Here's the documentary Trio4 made about Sato, The Shinjuku Gaffer Tape Guide. This video is the basic alchemical act, the place where Sato's transmogrification began. It's quite basic as a document, full of stills, almost as handmade as Sato's own lettering. Perhaps this lo-fi approach is part of the Amateur Revolution's electronic folk style: the DVD cover boasts that their documentaries are a YouTube movement. But the decision to pay aesthetic attention to something practical is the film's crucial value-adding act, the Trio4 collective's basic curatorial decision. What really matters here is the original moment of seeing, and the subsequent framing.



The film reminds me of the chatty, informal investigations of Rojo, a group of friends (including architect Terunobu Fujimori) who travel Japan observing quirky details.



The reason I wanted to add to the blanket coverage of Mr Sato is that his work touches on a number of themes dear to me. First, I love the Japanese train networks. Second, I'm always snapping this sort of lettering. Third, the idea of folk heroes has been central to my work since "Folktronic". Fourth, I'm fascinated by the relationship between analog and digital here. Look at all the digital cameras in Patrick's photo of the gallery performance. They're snapping a defiantly analog event -- a man cutting tape by hand to make a stubbornly pre-digital letterform. Or is this actually a crucial part of post-digital celebrity, what I've called the post-bit atom age? Must our folk heroes shun computers precisely because we're all chained to them these days? It's also ironic that Mr Sato's work concerns orientation -- his exhibition was titled "You Are Here" -- and yet, in an age of satnav systems, it's lo-fi tape arrows that orient us best.

Mr Sato embodies another interesting paradox. He isn't just a pre-digital man (one of his first jobs was hand-lettering newspaper headlines) who makes perfect grist to the digital mill, he's also a bit of a wallflower in an age of attention-seeking and hype -- and therefore the perfect subject for exactly such hype. The true folk hero is a reluctant one. "Many people create something because they long for attention from others," Hikaru Yamashita told Pingmag, "but Mr. Sato is different… He just wanted to offer more safety and better accessibility for the passengers. I really do respect that.” Sato's self-effacing pragmatism is what makes him a star, a bit like the communist-era worker's statues which still line the streets of East Berlin.

I can't fail to relate this to Superlegitimacy, of course. "It will always amaze me how seriously some people take their job in Japan," says one commenter after the Pingmag article, "even if it’s just a seemingly trivial one as 'train guardian'". But here we come across another paradox -- several of the Pingmag commenters seem to want to learn Sato's gaffer tape skillz for the purpose of illegal street art. Yet they're full of respect for this superlegitimate, uniformed guru, this folk hero who confines his "street art" to his train organization.

The gap between legal and illegal street art, then, is a rather narrow one. As is the gap between what Sato does and the work of tape installation hero Jim Lambie -- the gap, in other words, between practical tape and art tape. In the words of the famous underground slogan: "Don't mind the gap!"

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electricwitch
electricwitch
For anything, oh! she´ll bust her elastic
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 10:33 am (UTC)

hipsters ffs

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCYH1d1_4kk


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kaipfeiffer
kaipfeiffer
Kai Pfeiffer
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)

the least interesting aspect of this whole thing is taking the work of a craftsman intended to a specific use, and putting it in a gallery.
that uninspired line of aesthetic dumbing down can also be detected in the approach of the street artists to sato. those two have not the same agenda, it's like the difference would be between an artist doing a bread performance, to be documented with his name labeling it as art, and a skilled baker selling bread for his happy customers to eat, without signing the individual pieces, and without the customers reading about the bakers conceptual position while eating it.
i'm maybe not the biggest fan of appropriation art, but i definitely find "drafting art" much more questionable: trick-casting innocent people into the ever greedy (not necessarily always only money-wise) arms of the gallery world.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 11:16 am (UTC)

the least interesting aspect of this whole thing is taking the work of a craftsman intended to a specific use, and putting it in a gallery.

But this is a gallery in Japan, remember, where galleries are very often full of record sleeves, graphic design, stools, airline uniforms... My language in the article (transmogrification, apotheosis, adding value) does suggest that Mr Sato has "moved up" as a result of his exposure, but in Japan it would be seen more as moving "across". Sato still works for JR (now at Nippori station).

I detect in Electricwitch's comment about hipsters and yours about artists a typical Western resentment of vertical gaps. It's one I understand, because I've felt it too. But I think that, as I say at the end of the article, these gaps don't need to be minded so much in Japan, because they're horizontal. Japanese hipsters and artists aren't a super-privileged leisure class, and therefore can't be hated on so easily. (Western creatives in Japan, though, do tend to be a superprivileged uberclass, which is why they can be so annoying.)


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qscrisp
qscrisp
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 10:56 am (UTC)

Is the back cover of "Strangeways, Here We Come!", a tribute to designers Jock Kinneir and Magaret Calvert, do you suppose?


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rodebrecht
Robert
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 11:10 am (UTC)
Emigholz - Schindler's Häuser

Finally, a dwnload link. It took many attempts until it finally worked out, so sorry for the delay.


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rodebrecht
Robert
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 11:43 am (UTC)
Re: Emigholz - Schindler's Häuser

I just noticed you need to have a 'premium account' (which costs money, naturally) on that site to download files larger than 250MB. Not informing the uploader about this is a clever way to piss potential users off.

After Badongo failed to give me a download link after the upload process (two times even) and some other site made the browser crash in the process, I'll try to find another place to heave the movie to later this week.


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niddrie_edge
niddrie_edge
raymond
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 01:35 pm (UTC)
is a hipster still revolutionary?

Is this an extension of the previous post about critical thinking?
Or is this the Warholian or even Fluxian joy in watching paint dry?
Didn't Yoko Ono name one of her works "You Are here"?

Some loaves of bread are works of art!
Craftsmen and their guilds were always seen as magical.
Plumbers and Boilermen certainly charge enough!

I love that curating the alchemical or alchemicising the curation, whatever.
Its what I come to imomus for.


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 01:38 pm (UTC)

I just want to say that I find this all interesting because of the real bottom-up nature of Sato's fame. I don't see any big institutions moving in on this to cash in. Not to say that all small trends are cynically captured by the top for profit or that all culture in Japan is top-down, but it's nice to see something that's pretty firmly grass-roots once in a while.

The internet certainly helped in spreading all this. Even if people saw the tape themselves, they would not have put two and two together. I know you disagree that the Net will change Japan, but it may restore a certain balance to the locus of cultural creation/mediation.

Marxy


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 02:09 pm (UTC)

Bottom up indeed. From what I saw of it in June, the Amateur Revolution collective in Koenji is a bunch of rather funky-shabby shop and cafe owners -- crate-digging hipsters with an eye for a stylish bargain. That seems to be what they've found in Mr Sato, who's cooler than any pro graphics shop in the same way a one-off original 80s jacket you might find in a secondhand store is cooler than anything new. Not "revolution" in Dr. Steinhoff's sense, of course. Something much more likely to go mainstream and resonate widely, perhaps.

By the way, doesn't the whole idea of "changing Japan" rely on the same identity-essentialism as the idea of "unchanging Japan"?


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 07:22 pm (UTC)

does every station have its own custom signage then, or's Mr. Sato going the extra mile?


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fishwithissues
fishwithissues
jordan fish
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 09:16 pm (UTC)

What's really on my mind here is a comparison between these beauties and the photocopied orange sheets posted about any changes to the train schedule.


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geweih
geweih
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 08:18 pm (UTC)
mmm, bread

Tatsumi Orimoto coming soon to CO-Berlin

<http://www.co-berlin.com/>


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
Re: mmm, bread

The opening was last night!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Mon, Sep. 10th, 2007 09:39 pm (UTC)

Hisae wasn't too impressed by your Photoshop mockup, I'm afraid. She said Sato would insist on much straighter vertical lines (bending the lefthand descender only at the very tip of the ki in "danger", for instance, but keeping the rest of the line straight), and would round all his corners (with a Stanley knife, natch).


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Tue, Sep. 11th, 2007 03:58 am (UTC)
cornelius is in there somewhere

Anybody know why Cornelius canceled his North American tour?


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Tue, Sep. 11th, 2007 05:14 am (UTC)

the lettering, balance and all is exellent by just that minimal gap required to make something excellent in this country. even the unconventional process is only relevant to the point that it reflects directly in the thing.

this might sound a bit vague but i'm inclined to think Superlegitimacy ultimately is an attribute applicable more to the form itself rather than people, jobs and processes.

interestingly the fact that it's been eleased first on you tube becomes a selling point for the DVD.


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yellowtails
yellowtails
Tue, Sep. 18th, 2007 12:18 pm (UTC)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

theres a pic of hikaru wasted. he is a friend of mine. tokyo hipsters are nothing like at all like western hipsters.... i like your blog.

anthony


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(Anonymous)
Mon, Oct. 15th, 2007 11:34 am (UTC)
from shiroto no ran...

dear mr. momus,

thanks for the article

but...

"ran" doesn't mean revolution, nor do we mean it that way..

I mean, I may not speak for everyone, we're a loose group, and we don't have an official translation, but if you look at anything we put out that has it written anywhere, it always says "amateur revolt" which is not only closer to the spirit of what we do, but is also a correct translation.

we are also not "a group of Koenji secondhand dealers"..

if you have a spare hour or two next time you're in tokyo drop me a line and I'll show you around

actually anothony's picture of hikaru above speaks volumes

hikaru is not a hipster

neonwondergirl
http://www.youtube.com/neonwondergirl


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