My Way Your Way

Art Out of the Everyday


Creating Art from Things We Throw Away

Yamada Yuka, Kakegawa, Shizuoka prefecture


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©Saito Yoshiki

Kakegawa Specialty Product Art

Until my husband was transferred by his job to Kakegawa, I lived in Tokyo's Shibuya area and worked as a designer in an IT company. Since 2000, there's been a trend in the world of design for everything to be "fast" (quick and cheap). For example, you can create and post a work on your website right away. You can revise and adapt it quickly, and then in practically no time, it disappears. In times like these the importance of crafting things has kind of lost its former weight. Indeed, with material goods in such overwhelming supply, I began to feel as if there was really no need for me to be making anything new. Then I began to consider the idea of switching to art made from existing materials, and that brought me to the idea of recycle art.

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©Saito Yoshiki

But that remained an idea for quite a while, and I was quite busy, so I didn't really act on it for some time. After moving to Kakegawa I found myself suddenly living in a place where I knew no one, but I soon discovered that Shizuoka seems to have a kind of affinity for local markets and craft events. A friend advised me that I could make use of such events to expand my acquaintance. I tried selling miscellaneous items of recycle art like handcrafted candles made with the fine tea powder that is a waste product of the local tea industry and waste cooking oil, as well as remolded soap bars. After a while a local gallery owner offered to provide exhibition space if I would prepare a one-month exhibit. "Being a designer," he said, "I'm sure you can create something, right?" I really didn't know the first thing about "art" until then.

My Isaac Newton Moment!

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Hard at work in an all-white color scheme studio.
©Saito Yoshiki

Having been given such a special opportunity, I decided to do the best I could, and put a lot of thought into my exhibit. Somehow, the idea of buying a bunch of new materials and making something to show didn't seem right. Then I happened to notice the toilet paper cores. When I had made the candles with waste cooking oil, I had used them as molds and I knew how strong and well made they are as paper. I actually had about 100 cores stored away, thinking they would come in handy some day. After doing some research, I realized that nobody was making any sort of art out of toilet paper cores. So I had my Isaac Newton moment--and that's how I got started!

In fact, 100 cores was not nearly enough, so even after the exhibition began, I solicited more cores from people and then began using them to add on and complete the works on display. In a way it became a sort of participatory art. I'm taking something that has no value--that is in fact "trash," and using it to create art. So what I am doing is providing the source of its value. It is something only I am doing--so something I ought to do.

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Bags of toilet paper cores received from people who like my work.
©Saito Yoshiki

Japan's Toilet Paper Cores Are Amazing!

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This is how Yamada stores the cores, flattening them into boxes.
©Saito Yoshiki

Shizuoka is a region of many waterways and plentiful springs--so water is in ample supply. Since the end of World War II, it has been a center of the paper industry and there are many paper manufacturers. They are quite proud not only of their toilet paper but the cores it is rolled on, and in fact the quality of the cores of Japanese toilet paper is quite high. To make my works, I cut the cores across and when I cut them, I flatten them, but they never rip or tear.

Last year, I went to the Georgetown Festival in Malaysia and made my works together with students of a design school, but when we flattened the local toilet paper cores, they came apart. The students were surprised at the strength of the Japanese-made cores.

In Japan the strength and size of toilet paper cores is regulated by JIS (Japan Industrial Standards) regulations, so no matter which manufacturer makes them, the cores are of a standard strength and size. Strong cores--it's kind of part of Japanese culture.

Sharing the Impulse to Live Creatively

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Precut cores: Not a single one goes to waste.
©Saito Yoshiki

I made three rules for myself in creating my works: I don't paint the cores with any colors; I cut the cores in certain specific ways; once a core is cut I use all of it, leaving nothing wasted. And I stick to these rules. These limits help keep my work simple and consistent.

At the start I made very carefully crafted flower-like works, but the result was rather ephemeral--"oh, isn't that lovely--just like a flower!"--but then "so what!?" One friend remarked that what I was doing was craftwork--it wasn't what you'd call art. So after that, my work has gotten sparer and I made things that are quite simple. And I discovered that these pieces leave a deeper impression and are more effective as a form of art.

So what I am trying to do as a recycle artist is not to make things for their own sake, but by transmitting the thrill of remaking waste products as art, show how we can better appreciate our lives by sharing that thrill. I'm hoping to get people to maintain their awareness of the idea that anyone can live creatively. Continuity is important. We have to keep rethinking our attitudes. Even if we've recycled something once, it's meaningless if we only recycle once. So after I've shown my works once, they are sometimes damaged, so I often repair them, take them apart and remake them into new works.

Begin When the Inspiration Strikes!

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©Saito Yoshiki

My motto is: Begin when the inspiration strikes. I only began work as an artist after coming to Kakegawa, so I'm getting a late start in terms of age, but my encounter with art has greatly enriched my life; it all started from my rethinking of my life. In moving to Kakegawa I had to throw away a lot of my possessions. I took a close look at the things I had and my memories of the past and threw out a good half of everything. And that is what led me to recycle art. If I had stayed in Tokyo, I might never have made these discoveries. I might have just been satisfied with what I had.

Sometimes there are people who try to make art works like mine, but I really think each person should search for something that only he or she can make; there is sure to be something that is the art of that person alone. Anyone can find that specific something that only he or she can make, and can be creative by paying attention to the little things in their own lives. The fact that I can create art with toilet paper cores means there are all sorts of other possibilities and suggestions to be found in our daily lives.

By describing how my life changed as a result of my recycle art, I am hoping to send out the message that if you want to discover what it is that only you can do in this world, the first thing you have to do is to find yourself as an individual that does not rely on other people or on things.

【Interview: May 8, 2016】

Writer: Itagaki Tomoko

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