Voices from SACO: Yuga Hatta
curated by Daniela Veneri
“In my process making objects is not the most important part at all, it is more about the original narrative that I want to know. Making objects or certain kinds of interventions is like my commentary, I do not think it is about inspiration, it is something smaller, it is more like a commentary and the communication of that commentary with people around.”
- Yuga Hatta
Yuga, what are the projects you are working on that excite you most?
I am following a Master's degree course here in Portugal, it started last year. My artistic projects develop from a process of trying to understand the everyday life and what it is composed of. I am a foreigner here and I have lived also in some other countries such as the United States, England, but I was never so much conscious about being a foreigner, and at that time I did not have to deal so much with the immigration process. Here in Portugal people are open, the process is not something difficult, and somehow I started using what normally is called artistic production as a kind of strategy to understand and internalise the context here. Sometimes it involves the process of learning the language or picking up seen objects that are usually being taken for granted in everyday life, and my artistic intervention can be really small.
It's a kind of process for me to internalize and understand what is around, that is somehow expressed through the artistic practice. Every time I work with different materials, depending on specific objects or projects. Right now I am mainly working with artistic interventions in parking spaces. Here in Portugal there are many parking lots in the streets, which is something that you do not see much in Japan, and people place whatever kind of object in parking lots to reserve a place, sometimes chairs, sometimes buckets and so on, and I find it quite interesting where these object are placed in the particular parking space, because it's like the specificity of the object disappears, they become all just objects good for saving the parking spot. For me it's funny because it's kind of opposite in artistic production, which is about making something more specific, involving many layers of things and meanings, and the space function is completely the opposite.
As I observe this I think that there is a story behind the object that is placed out there in the parking space, it can be a chair or food, and then there is the interactive dynamic of the car coming, and also the story about for whom, where and why they are booking the parking space and so on. The project somehow has been unfolding from this narrative, because there have been many experiments about using actual objects and I started focusing more on this narrative like a story-making process. A funny thing for me is that I do not actually have a car, and I started wondering who would I ask for help to reserve a parking place for me. It could be an object or a person, and first I thought of people dancing in the space, and then I thought of using extinct animals, so I came to the point that I thought I would ask extinct animals to save the place for me. They are not here anymore but for me it was more about giving something or somebody a role, a function of saving the space, and now I am quite interested in this role that one can take in the narrative, that is for me a key to understand something I get interested in. I start by asking what is the function of that object or person in that narrative and I bring them in, so now I started making dodos and they will be put in a parking space to book the parking spot. This is what I am doing at the moment. People stop by the studio and think that this guy is always making bones, something very weird.
What are your most important objectives as an artist?
A very important thing is that I keep being very interested in what I do. It is not something granted even if it is supposed to happen. It's important that I really get interested in the object or the project and stay enthusiastic and curious about it, and that I do not lose that focus, because in my process making objects is not the most important part at all, it is more about the original narrative that I want to know. Making objects or certain kinds of interventions is like my commentary, I do not think it is about inspiration, it is something smaller, it is more like a commentary and the communication of that commentary with people around.
It is difficult, there are for example many people at school who at the beginning get enthusiastic and then there are many reasons that take away this kind of force, and also for some people, even when they are really interested in the process, it is difficult to keep up with it for other reasons, maybe because of the visa if they are international students, or also because of financial reasons, so it is also a privilege when you can dedicate yourself to your interests. This level of involvement is important for me, maintaining, keeping the interest, maybe because I am a kind of person who gets distracted easily.
What values and principles guide you?
I have to be constantly aware of the differences. It's similar to what I said before. I think this happened even if I was in Japan but here it happens more often. For example, thinking about the calendar, here in Europe it's 2020. In Japan we also use this calendar but there is also another calendar related to the royal family, and whenever the emperor changes a new year starts. Just thinking of something simple like the calendar I have to be aware of the differences, and just in picking one concept like this that we use every day there are some differences. In general, there are many differences that I find, in small things, and I start picking them up and then analyzing them, sometimes I ask people around me why something is the way it is. In a way what guides me is curiosity, and also my desire to be integrated in the context here. My values are connected with the differences, which I enjoy very much.
I am not a very social person, so when my projects have taken a kind of formal public intervention I think it is also a way to have my works make the comment for me. It's a kind of multimedia communication. It's also about my satisfaction in a way. My artistic projects are not so much manifestations, they are more about presenting what I realize or what I thought. For example, here coffee culture is quite popular and there are a lot of cafes around and people go there, talk about politics, gossip, football, and one thing that you always find on the table is the paper napkins holder. I once was really attracted by these paper napkins because some cafes have personalised ones, some are used for a general message like "Thank you, come again" or "Bon appétit", and they are a very granted element. So, I once started painting and thought of distributing my personalised painted napkins for their normal use. In that way my work was ideally trying to give the objects back to where I found them, in the context of a typical life experience. I hope that with this kind of intervention there is some communication happening, but if it does not it's also okay…
What feedbacks you received over the years have been particularly meaningful for you or surprised you most?
One thing I loved happened when there was this napkin project going on. I live in a city that is next to Oporto, on the other side of the Douro river, at about a 15 minutes walk. I live in front of the City Hall and this antique building has inscribed walls quoting all the values that citizens should have, like virtue, work, honesty and so on. I decided to make a series of napkins printed with these words. In one case they were placed in a restaurant and the napkins were hang on the wall, and a guy came in and started reading the napkin out loud; he thought it was a joke and for him it was also a joke, because you could read the original message printed on the napkin that I collected in first place, like "Thank you, come again", and then there was my print over saying things like "work", "traballo, traballo, traballo". Maybe it was not the exact same of a feedback or a commentary about my work but I enjoyed it, it's one of the things I remember most because for that guy it was just a napkin, he did not see it as a work of art, and that is actually what it was supposed to be... People who are used to see artworks I think they have a different focus, and that same time someone asked how I painted the napkins, some other people tried to put them in relation with Japanese calligraphy because I am Japanese, and it was interesting, but these feedbacks stayed with me less because the object I made was not something important. It was more about an image or a situation that the objects created when they were placed in a flow of narrative of the everyday life. For me the project made a sense or the project was successful when someone read the object as a paper napkin rather than as a painting.
How did you become involved in the Festival of Contemporary Art SACO?
It was very random. I was in one class when the professor told us about an open call and suggested us to apply, it was for a project in Portugal and about planning a monument. I visited the website with the application form and I noticed at the bottom a banner about SACO and I thought it looked much more interesting, so I submitted my application to SACO instead to that other one.
What seemed so interesting about SACO?
The description of the festival and the theme of the year were particularly matching the project I was thinking of at that time and that was still not realized, so I felt like it was just for me to apply in that moment.
Can you share about the artistic project that you proposed in Chile? How did you choose it and what was the intention behind it?
The theme of the exhibition was “destiny”. That time I was thinking of monuments for emigrants that exist in many places in Portugal. The reality of migration is very much different from the times these monuments were made. So I decided to make one, but a personal one, for myself, as immigrant. I had already before used images of contrail of airplanes giving the feeling of direction and destination in the sky. I imagined myself as a contrail, a succession of myself and the image behind. I decided to use expansive foam for not having so much control. It’s personal but at the same time very general, it can represent anybody with their own history and destiny.
What did it mean for you to participate in the last SACO edition?
It was a great experience. It was the first occasion for me to be part of a big project, so it was a significant personal experience, and then being involved in the project of SACO meant meeting other artists, sometimes sharing the working space, sharing ideas and also seeing the exhibition buildings, and that was beautiful. Another aspect is how the project is managed. The team worked enthusiastically and observing them was really special. It is difficult to describe, there were so many inputs, so many meetings, it was amazing, I learned a lot of things. I do not think I can fully explain what it meant for me because it wasn't just about making an artwork and participating in the exhibition there, there were other interactions, many occasions of sharing besides the exhibition. It all happened through an artistic project but it was much more than an artistic project.
What opportunities and challenges did you encounter in Chile?
As for the opportunities, I had the chance of participating in this exhibition and developing the work outside my normal studio, through the interaction with others, and for me this is rare. Everybody was really enthusiastic about the project, the placing of the work, they really tried to resolve any issue together, to understand how to make it work better, and I was so happy, it was really nice. It was such an opportunity, I do not think it happens everywhere to find that kind of environment.
The space of the exhibition was really nice as well, and discussing with them how and where the work can be installed. Of course the opportunity of making my first visit to South America was nice, too. but the biggest opportunity was to be part of this project because the people who are co-creating it really believe in what they are doing, and it was great to be part of it.
As for the challenges, maybe I can mention the communication. With language I am familiar or not, it is always challenge to me. It’s my weakness.
What kind of impact do you see emerging from SACO?
I think there is much more impact than what I actually can see. What I see is already a particular impact on myself as a person, but I think the biggest impact they bring is for the community there. Dagmara, the artistic director, told me that before SACO there were not so many cultural activities going on in Antofagasta, and they really build up a big project there. I was there for only 10 days or so but the edition was going on from a long time before, with projects with local students and with some other communities.
In my way of understanding, especially because of how I work for my projects and my kind of artistic production, SACO offers another way of reading a situation or condition, a different perspective and way of expression that the project is providing in Antofagasta. There have been already nine editions, so I believe there is a real impact they bring there in the local community, which is much bigger than what I could see in my 10 days stay there.
In the unfolding of your own creative process, who are your most important partners or interlocutors?
There are multiple levels. First, now I am sharing my studio with colleagues and this is amazing. Before I was using the studio by myself and now we are four and it's very nice this kind of sharing and exchange. Thinking of partners, it is a bit different but the environment here, this city is in a way a partner in my production process, people living here around, the neighbors, and of course my family.
In your experience, how can arts and culture have an effective social contribution today?
First of all I see in the work of others a lot of productions that focus on really changing some specific conditions, and that is bringing a lot of impact... For me, it's about a different way of communicating a perspective, and because of that you can have an influence that otherwise would not be there. For example, once I was working on a project in Palestina, in a city called Jenin, with the help of local organizations, where the city used to have a train station, train system of Palestina. They demolished it after the war and people, even locals, many of them did not even know that they had a train system once, and their current condition is that there is little mobility there. The project was about planning with local teenagers the reactivation of the train system in the future. That implied also a kind of political discourse, I am aware of it, but for me it was more about discovering the city with local teenagers, taking with them decisions for the city. What we made was a kind of metal ticket, to go from a city to another city.
This way of working, by using artistic practices as a tool to understand a particular local context, it is sometimes similar to the appearance of a really political work, for example because it involves many times public interventions, so even if it is not intended to be a political work it is a commentary somehow. When there is a problem that is discussed politically and collectively, I think that an art project can show a side of it that was not really being talked about, another side of a problem or a situation. I prefer to be positive in a way and I think that an artistic production is good at projecting a kind of hope on some issues towards the future.
Where do you see current shifts in the evolution of the arts and culture system, where do you see risks and challenges and where do you see opportunities?
For me it is a bit difficult to see it in big scale. I am not yet ready to take risk more than I can take. Doing art is in a way already a risk and challenge in the system but also privilege. I think it would be nice if all of us start doing it, but maybe outside art-sphere. On culture system, to be honest, I do not know much about it.
If you were able to change one or two things in the area of responsibility of institutions, cultural producers, art curators, artists, and in the way the arts system relates to the social field, what things do you think would create the most value and benefit for all?
Maybe distance between art system and social field? I can only talk about where I am but here it seems they are almost separate world. I think if art people want autonomy as they claim in general, responsibility that accompanies it is actually bigger than how it is taken.
We talked first several months ago and ever since the global pandemic, due to Covid-19, has strengthened and has affected the whole world. We have seen educational programs, schools, cultural centers, museums, exhibitions, arts and cultural sites closing and being forced to change their plans. How has this crisis touched your projects and practice?
Fortunately or unfortunately, on a personal level, it has not changed my practice so much to the point I have to change a plan completely, though surely causing some inconveniences. Well, there is a project that was supposed to take place at cafés in the city and to happen within the next months. It would not be the same when I thought of before the pandemic, but how it will be also reflects the situation and mode of life we have to deal with and that my practice is about. So, yes, some decisions that I would not have to consider without the pandemic had to be thought of.
What is your feeling about how this emergency will influence our approach to experiencing, producing and sharing the arts in the future?
In the long term, maybe not influence so much neither in a good way nor bad way, i guess. It affects mostly the now, so there may be something we will discover retrospectively.
Is there anything that I did not ask you that is important for you to mention?
For me it's all very simple, but when I try to communicate it I complicate it with words...
Can you think of three or five keywords related to our conversation that resonate with you right now?
Sharing. Sharing the experience is a way we relate to each other, it is very important. I think it's a nice way we have to create knowledge. Sharing is like a seed of a new knowledge.
Yuga Hatta is a Japanese artist. After finishing BA degree in fine art at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design he moved to Porto Portugal in 2013. Currently he is enrolled in course of MA Artes Plasticas at Fauldade de Belas Artes Universidade do Porto. His practice explore artistic activities as a strategy to understand signs and meaning embedded in context of daily life narratives. Recent participation to exhibitions include: Descongelar (group), FBAUP, Porto, 2020. Destino (group), SACO Festival de Arte Contemporaneo, Antofagasta, 2019. FRESTA (group), Centro Comercial Invictos, Porto, 2019. etc.