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CtrlGeekGirl Interview with artist Chaco Kato

20130703_164029Following our little excursion at the Sydney Tanabata children’s art workshop, we got the chance to sit down with well-renowned artist Chaco Kato where we talked about art and the Tanabata Festival.

There was something surreal about the Chaco-inspired setting and as we sat underneath the heartfelt tanzakus and the Tanabata decorations, the world simply felt peaceful and isolated from the outside world….

1) How did you think the Tanabata workshop went? I really enjoyed the event today and I was very surprised to see how deeply engaged the kids were with the workshop. I honestly didn’t expect the kids to sit still while I was reading, but throughout the day with the three sessions taking place, it was very interesting to see them so genuinely keen in learning about the Tanabata story and making different origami for the first time.

2) Which origami were the kids most interested in doing? I think the kids especially loved making origami that you can make some use of it. Some examples would be the samurai hats, ninja shurikens, and lanterns.

3) What are your personal thoughts on the Tanabata story of Orihime and Hikoboshi? How did the kids respond to the story? I’ve liked the Tanabata story ever since I was young. Personally, I love stories that are based on fairytales and legends. Growing up, I thought the story of Tanabata was exciting, adventurous and sad.

20130703_152348The kids should be able to understand the story in their own level so it doesn’t matter if they fully understand the story or not. The story is attractive enough for them — it  makes them think about two lovers hanging out in the milky way and Heaven…Since the story is quite magical, children should be able to visualise and feel something for these characters in this dreamy world.

What’s so special about the Tanabata festival? Were there any other festivals that you liked as a child or even as an adult? There are other festivals in Japan but they don’t have a story attached to the festival like Tanabata. To me, Tanabata feels like Christmas, and it is one of those story-events that are based on a Chinese legend which then came to Japan. It would then evolve into a massive summer festival as every city in Japan would make origami and decorate their cities with origami.

It’s not often that we see events like Tanabata in Sydney. In your opinion, should we have more of these traditional events? It’s good that there are so many people living together in Australia. I think each culture has to have some voice so others can understand and learn about their cultures and backgrounds. And also, I don’t really like to follow traditional things the traditional way. I like to see these traditional events evolve and adapting the traditional elements into the contemporary context. 

What’s your personal connection with art? How does art empower or motivate you? Art makes me, me. It makes me free from conditions. With my art, the art-making isn’t stressful at all as it is always trial and error. If I think something in my head, it cannot be easily done in practice. If I keep talking or thinking about it, things eventually come together.

How would you describe your artworks in three words? Fun, simple, beautiful.20130703_151828

Your artwork ‘The Nest’ — How did it come about? Where did you get the inspiration from? Originally, I’ve always liked line art and I began asking myself: “How should I use this piece of string and make art with it?” It’s a minimalist idea but that’s probably from my Japanese background.

My artworks are a lot like drawings but I get the chance to actually bring it to practice and make special things from it. I wanted to go opposite from traditional construction. People would usually use heavy or solid materials, but by using strings, I can still make big things but transparent and light instead.

For the Nest, I began with small scales, and of course, it didn’t work well as I imagined. I kept trying and once you’ve done many projects, you can learn so much from them, and from there, the artworks became bigger and technically better artworks.

How long would your art installations take to construct? It really depends. The latest artwork that I did at Melbourne’s McCelland Gallery took me about two months because I didn’t know how to do it or how to approach it. I had to go there and do it myself. At some point, I did have helpers, especially when I was two-three metres up in the air, but it was mostly by myself. Materials have some kind of way that it needs to be done and only I can control or work with it the way I want it to be.

20130703_164035On your website, you said your art-making practice was mainly based around your lost childhood. Do you still act like a kid? It would be nice to go back to being a child again. As a child, I wanted to do more performing activities. I never got the chance to dance when I was young — my daughter, however, dances now and sometimes I would be like, “Oh! that seems like a great thing to do, I’d really like to do that.” I actually dance now, but I just wish I could have done more creative, performing activities like dancing or singing when I was young, just so I could be free in some way. 

When you were a kid, what kind of Utopia did you dream back then? As a kid, I liked to make things and I wanted to make a dreamworld like this (refers to the Tanabata installations and decorations around her). I didn’t go to this scale but when I was young, I was always making my own world through my drawings and crafts.

What kind of messages did you write on the tanzakus as a kid? A few different things. Back then, I would wish for a set of crayons, nice clothes, and I also wanted to have some little animal like a rabbit. I wanted to play piano really well as well.

Many people when they grow up they don’t normally embrace their inner child — What are your thoughts on this? I think as a child, you can do anything you want whilst making mistakes along the way. You don’t have to worry about the outcomes as much, and I think that’s so important. Nowadays, kids as young as two or three are expected to become a certain somebody.

In theory, you should be free from those expectations and judgments so you can be yourself. If nothing goes right, it’s okay, there’s always something else to try. To be from the stress and expectations — this is what it means to be a child and I like to think that it’s important for us to follow this, even when we’re adults.20130703_153320

What kind of messages do you want to give to your audience? My artworks are very simple, it’ technically very primitive even though its looks complicated. Artworks like these needs patience and perseverance. I want people to know that anybody can become an artist — basically in any scale.

If my artworks are able to inspire people and make them go, “Oh, I can do something like this!” then that would be great. And if they can feel something from my artworks just by looking or going inside my artworks, then that’s my job done already as an artist.

** Many thanks to Japan Foundation, Sydney for allowing me to attend this special event

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