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Heartbeat is the beginning: Interview with Heartbeat Sasaki

“It all starts with the heartbeat. The first sign of our existence is the beating of our own heart.” In this way, artist Sasaki explains why he has drawn heartbeats from all over the world, heartbeats of more than 1300 people since 1995. With red ink, he traces the beating of the heart on white canvas.

Sasaki drew heartbeats in books at LA ART BOOK FAIR, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Sasaki drew heartbeats in books at LA ART BOOK FAIR, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

Heartbeat is the beginning of everything

-Why did you start painting heartbeats?

I was inspired to start drawing heartbeats after traveling to Shanghai in 1995. I saw the old China. Thousands of people were walking on the streets and rushing from one place to another. While I was in the middle of all these people I could feel their energy and also their heartbeats.

I could feel how humans are eager to be alive. Everything starts from the heartbeat. In fact, when we are in our mother’s wombs, our hearts are the first organs to form, even before the brain. The heartbeat is the most radical source of humans. This is my perception.

Inside of the book of heartbeat drawing

Inside of the book of heartbeat drawing

-“Why did you decide to use the color red?”

Simply put, it is the color of blood. Besides that it is a color that has a very vivid and strong energy. Some say it looks scary while others say it is powerful.

In addition to that, we can feel a warmth in this color and it implies life. As long as a person is alive, he or she is warm.

-Can you tell us about your project in Venice Biennale?

It was a series called “heartbeat portrait.” I drew 299 heartbeat drawings by listening to 299 people’s heartbeats. The most important part of this work is communicating “one on one.”

After drawing one person’s heartbeat, I placed the drawing on top of the others so that the person whose heartbeat I drew was the only one who could see his or her own heartbeat. All the others could see was a pile of 299 heartbeat drawings, specifically, their edges.

Heartbeat Venice Biennale in 2011

-What is it like to hear thousands of people’s heartbeats?

Just imagining 2500 people and actually meeting and shaking hands with this number of people are totally different. I think these experiences will have an effect on my future creation, but not immediately, after the performance.

-Drawing for long hours sounds really tough. What are you thinking about while you are drawing?

I am thinking about a lot of things, sometimes just silly things. It is like meditation for me too. There are some moments when I am not thinking about anything. There is a sense of openness or joy.

Drawing heartbeats is really similar to our lives. There’s not much time when I can feel good. Most of the time I feel tired or uncomfortable. But I have a purpose to draw and some physical or mental pain is expected. I draw everyday so my body is used to it just like a marathon runner can run for a long distance.

-Do you see yourself as patient with a high tolerance to pain?

Other than in art, not at all, hahaha. I think the reason I can do this is because I feel a strong passion towards heartbeat drawing. I have been doing this for more than 15 years. It is my mission to draw heartbeats.

How people think about life or heartbeats changed and my perception changed as the time passed as well. That is why I can keep my passion and never get bored after such a long time.

To show that we are living right now in a visual way, it is important to hear, actual heartbeats.

Adding a story to heartbeat drawing

Heartbeat Sasaki draws in a book at the art book fair.

Heartbeat Sasaki draws in a book at the art book fair.

-Why did you draw heartbeats in books?

I got a proposal from a gallery to join the art book fair and draw in books. I hadn’t drawn in books before and it sounded interesting to me. Heartbeats are symbolic letters for me and they can replace the real letters written in the books.

In addition to that, the time is bound in one book. It is important that the starting and ending times are noted. It adds a story to the drawing.

"4:00pm" telling the start of the drawing performance.

“4:00pm” telling the start of the drawing performance.

-Why did you connect the gallery space through Skype?

Heartbeat drawing itself is a completed art. But I think by connecting this activity to another something else like Skype, creates a new work. Skype is a technology that connects people, peer to peer. Visitors can see how I am drawing heartbeats and that adds another story to my work.

Unseen heartbeats

Heartbeat Sasaki "In a day" series.

Heartbeat Sasaki “In a day” series.

-Can you tell us about your new series “in a day”? Why some parts are erased?

I drew the red line in the daytime and erased them partially at midnight. Actually I drew it in 5 minutes but imagining the whole day on one canvas. Today is a day that you may forget, but you may also hope to remember forever. I am expressing the forgotten part of the day by erasing part of the painting.

Detail of "in a day" - white part was erased at the end of the day.

Detail of “in a day” – white part was erased at the end of the day.

As the time passes by, there are days that we completely forget about, as if they didn’t even exist. I want to erase that part in a second, and experiment it in many ways. It is similar to how there are several ways for us to erase our memories.

-How about your work “in a week”?

“In a week” was created with the same concept as “in a day”. I drew red heartbeat lines one seventh of the canvas every day for a week, and erased part of it at the end of the week.

Unfinished painting of "in a week." He was showing the process over Skype.

Unfinished painting of “in a week.” He was showing the process over Skype.

"In a week" displayed in the gallery after he completed it and sent from LA to Tokyo.

“In a week” displayed in the gallery after he completed it and sent from LA to Tokyo.

-The water heartbeat is an challenging work.

This series is complimentary work of the red heartbeats.This is a work to imagine. Imagine that there were lines. I just used water instead of the red ink. When the water dried, only the rough surface remained. When you see it from the side, it looks like waves. This is a my endeavor for me.

Heartbeats drawn with water.

Heartbeats drawn with water.

Detail of the water heartbeat.

Detail of the water heartbeat.

Los Angels is good to be neutral.

-Why did you decide to move to LA?

I was thinking of living and working abroad 4 years ago. I didn’t choose the US because I preferred it to other places. “Heartbeat drawing” is something neutral. So I needed to be neutral as well. To be honest, it was difficult to be neutral living in Japan. There is no racial diversity. Except for the history of Hollywood, LA doesn’t have a long history. Having a history is a privilege but it can also be an obstacle to being neutral. The United States itself doesn’t have a long history. Compared to New York, LA has never been the number one city on earth.

-What do you mean by being neutral?

To think about the future of the world or to know about what’s happening in the world, it is important to be surrounded by many races. LA has potential to grow still. For example, when I have a dinner with 10 people, we are all racially different. I can feel that this is the world. I feel that this is the value of living here.

-Thank you.

Interviewed by Rasa Tsuda. Text by Stefanie Muehlberger, Rasa Tsuda.

We talked with Sasaki in LA over Skype.

We talked with Sasaki in LA over Skype.

Exhibition info
Date: March 1 -19, 2013
Place: Gallery 360 degrees, Tokyo

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