Calligrapher Opts for Different Strokes
Jul. 22, 2015
An artist named Sisyu creates a unique style by combining the traditional techniques of Japanese calligraphy with digital technology. She is generating buzz at the current Milan Expo.
The Japan Pavilion at the Milan Expo designated July 11th as Japan Day. Among the special events was a performance Sisyu gave for an audience of 800 people. Her canvas was a 3-meter wide sheet of paper, on which she painted a kanji character of her own creation. It means both “mouth” and “abundance” and is meant to reflect the Expo’s culinary themes.
Sisyu focuses on creating a new style of Japanese calligraphy, or shodo, which is both traditional and innovative. Experience tells her that strictly traditional Japanese calligraphy doesn’t translate well overseas.
She also uses metal in her work. She makes 3-dimensional characters from iron and then bathes them in a soft light that creates characters in the shadows.
In 2014, France’s Societe Nationale des Beaux-Arts singled out Sisyu’s work to represent Japan. And the jury at the Carrousel Du Louvre awarded her its highest recognition, the gold medal.
Sisyu also uses state-of-the-art technology in her work. One multimedia piece shows characters falling as they transform into images representing each character’s meaning.
She also designed the interior of the Japan Pavilion at the Milan Expo with the theme “Diversity with a Common Root.” On the screen are various phenomena that exist only in the context of the other, such as light and shade, life and death. On both sides of the wall are paintings made to resemble the traditional Japanese woodblock prints known as ukiyoe. The sequence of paintings represents how drops of rain begin and finish their lives over the four seasons. Sisyu’s exhibition has been popular with visitors to the Expo, where over half a million people have already seen it.
Sisyu joined Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio.
Shibuya: Can you tell us a little about your experience at the Milan Expo?
Sisyu: I showed some of my work at the Japan Pavilion. I was really impressed when foreign visitors applauded after seeing my images. I thought I was able to convey my message about the charm of Japanese calligraphy and reach people despite the language barrier.
Shibuya: What led you to become a calligrapher in the first place?
Sisyu: I started studying calligraphy at the age of 6. As an adult, I started working at a company and I didn’t think I would end up becoming a calligrapher. When finally I made up my mind it was a relief. It must be my calling. I think I made the right decision.
Beppu: After you chose to do calligraphy as your profession, what made you decide to challenge the world and go global?
Sisyu: People used to think of Japan as a top economy, but that’s no longer the case. I think the time has come when Japan needs to convey to the world what it is through culture and art. And I feel my role is to make the most of my skills, which are in calligraphy.
Shibuya: Can you tell us how you first got into 3D and multimedia art?
Sisyu: I felt that if I combined calligraphy, technology and sculpture, it would be the most attractive way to convey my message to people abroad, even if they do not understand Japanese characters. This combination of calligraphy, sculpture and technology would be something that no one had ever seen. It was quite challenging.
Shibuya: Earlier today, you created a piece of calligraphy here in the studio for us. What’s the message you hope to get across?
Sisyu: The phrase I wrote translates as “may there be peace, may there be calmness. “ This year marks 70 years since the end of the Second World War. It is my sincere hope that my message reaches people of different cultures across the world.
Beppu: Talking about your future plans, what are the things that you want to do? What is your imminent plan?
Sisyu: I am planning an exhibit that will be held in Paris in December. Words are charged with many messages, messages that can sometimes be conflicting. I want to convey the complexity and the subtlety that words have. I hope that people, even if they do not understand Japanese, will be able to appreciate my works as art.