OR x TWELVE ARTISTS x OTAQUEST+DA.YO.NE is a project that aims to shine the spotlight on an up-and-coming artist each month. Musical events, collaboration items, pop-up stores, and other events will take place at OR, a cultural hub located in the newly re-developed Miyashita Park in Shibuya, Tokyo.
The first artist we’d like to present is PAC CAT, a contemporary visual artist. Being self-taught, expressions of freedom and the use of multiple mediums to achieve that effect are characteristic of his art. In this exhibition, he presents a project inspired by the 2020 pandemic, specifically the self-restraint of going out while living in Tokyo, the new forms of communication, and the stress that accompanies these changes.
PAC CAT: I felt that event was in and of itself a living piece. It felt almost like an experiment. It was refreshing to see the space and the lighting; having people come in as part of my work gave it a new look.
OTAQUEST: What did people think of your exhibition? What was it like interacting with the people that came in?
PAC CAT: Well, I’m not a big fan of calling myself an artist. When people come up to me and tell me my art is cute, I do my best to tell them that it’s actually some else’s art. If you look on my profile, it might say that [I’m an artist], but that was written by someone else. I use that description, all the while thinking ‘Am I a contemporary artist?’
OTAQUEST: Why do you tell people it isn’t your art?
PAC CAT: The emotion of surprise is where the brain’s capacity for change is at its highest, similar to the Big Bang. By thinking about things and coming up with different interpretations, the universe is created. I think that’s what art really is. Thinking my art is ‘cute’ is only one interpretation. I say it’s not my art because I want people to recognize there’s more than just a single point of view.
OTAQUEST: What if someone gives you a response beyond your expectations?
PAC CAT: I think that’d be rather interesting. I’m pretty sure I’d end up butting heads with them (laughs)
OTAQUEST: By the way, how did you get to know Mr. Yonehara?
PAC CAT: We had no mutual acquaintances, but we did follow each other online. Mr. Yonehara had this image of being someone that changes with the times, or rather was able to keep up with the changing times whilst being true to himself. At the time I had felt this sort of cultural loop happening, so even though I had never met him, I asked him what he thought. He wrote back with this incredibly long and well thought out message, and we’ve been in contact ever since. This was about 15 years ago.
OTAQUEST: What kinds of interactions have you two had since then?
PAC CAT: I was on good terms with the manager of this design hotel called Mustard Hotel, and was talking with him about how they were collaborating with this art magazine called Bijutusu Techo to do an art exhibition. I told him I was also making art, and he decided to exhibit my work. I asked Mr. Yonehara if he’d like to come to my exhibition online, and he actually showed up. He was like ‘How much for this piece?’ (laughs)
OTAQUEST: That’s certainly quite forward (laughs)
PAC CAT: I didn’t really know how to put a price on my work, so he invited me to go to some other galleries with him and his wife. Seeing all those pieces displayed with nothing to distract from what they were conveying made me remember what art museums are like.
OTAQUEST: That artificial space created by an exhibition is in and of itself a kind of exhibition, isn’t it?
PAC CAT: Yeah, I learned a lot about exhibitions. Then Mr. Yonehara was telling me about this great exhibition space in Shibuya and introduced me to OR, so I decided to leave some of my work there. Then I saw the space and thought, ‘Hey, this is kinda different from the other galleries I’ve seen up until now!’ (laughs). Of course, that’s not a bad thing at all, seeing as they were taking into account the compatibility of my work with the rest of their space.
OTAQUEST: The piece fit the space the most was the square piece you had hanging over the booth seats that customers were eating and drinking in.
PAC CAT: Someone once described it as ‘the type of trippy piece you’d see hanging in the mansion of someone who herds yaks for a living.’ I’d like to see other people’s work too, although I’ll be a bit jealous if it fits OR more than mine.
OTAQUEST: It might’ve been more advantageous to have your exhibition later on, seeing as management can have some time to get used to how pieces look in the space.
PAC CAT: When it comes down to the exhibition of art, I don’t want to lose. I gave it my all in a space that had never had anyone else do an exhibition before, but if given the chance, I’d like to do an even better job. Putting that aside, I’d also like to do collaborations with other artists, akin to a jam session. Having two brains in tune to one thing. I think being able to have those kinds of interactions is quite interesting.
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OTAQUEST: Like showing your hand.
PAC CAT: It’s interesting, even if the artists don’t necessarily accommodate the other’s work. For example, giving them something that I drew and having them cover it up and draw all over it. Like, ‘hold up, where did my art go?’. Even if my art is burned, as long as the ashes remain. Although I’d bet if I actually did that, I’d end up being a bit bummed out as it was something I’d really worked hard on (laughs). I guess in the beginning I’ll just hand them a copy instead of the real deal (laughs).
OTAQUEST: That might just be the best bet (laughs). By the way, I found your interpretations of the ‘new coronavirus’ in this current exhibition to be very interesting. I especially found your use of PVC to be distinctive.
PAC CAT: PVC is used in various places as a material for partitions and face shields. I chose to make a relatively straightforward metaphor by having human figures wearing PVC and growing thorns to symbolize forcibly creating distance.
OTAQUEST: The feeling of loneliness from staying home and social distancing… These pieces are your way of expressing doubt against the values that have been emphasized due to COVID. One thing I wanted to ask, it seems that the motif of the girl holding the stuffed bear is quite popular and I wanted to ask why you chose to use a bear?
PAC CAT: The bear is able to hold its own symbolically both as part of a series and as its own thing, although I won’t spoil what that meaning is here. Each person’s interpretation of what it means is in and of itself the meaning behind the art. My way of making art is to leave the viewer unsatisfied with the answer, to leave space for them to butt in with their own response. I leave blank space for the viewer to insert their own thoughts.
OTAQUEST: You’ve said yourself you’re not a traditional artist, so what brought you into the world of art?
PAC CAT: I can’t say that I’m 100% not traditional. I hold a pen, I draw on paper. Those are quite traditional. Like my hair, it’s traditional in that it’s grown out, but not traditional in the ways and places that I’ve cut it.
OTAQUEST: How long have you been drawing?
PAC CAT: I held this tradition of drawing the zodiac signs at my parents’ house once a year on New Year’s.
OTAQUEST: You didn’t graduate from art school and join the art world from there?
PAC CAT: No, I didn’t. I originally was making music, but my parents wanted me to go to college, so I got accepted into an art school. However, at the time I wanted to do special effects makeup, so I decided to lie about my acceptance and go to a vocational school instead. I rewrote the admission letter and did some behind-the-scenes work to go to a vocational school, and learned special makeup, special modeling, hair and makeup, etc. for two years.
OTAQUEST: How did that lead to you connecting with music and art?
PAC CAT: When I was 19 I met with the artist behind the artwork for the BOOM BOOM SATELLITES and they showed an interest in photographing my work. That was where it started. As I continued to do work with that person taking pictures and designing stuff, I ended up taking the pictures for THE MAD CAPSULE MARKETS’ solo work. When I was in middle school, I would save up my food allowance and buy their CDs, so I was ecstatic. During an event with them, the lead singer Kyono reached out to me and told me they wanted me to shoot their rehearsals for their new band. When I showed up, they handed me a rehearsal card and told me to try out for vocals. After that, it was decided that the band I had just joined was going to play at a big event in Japan. So from there I went on to play tours and different music festivals, and lived off of being a musician.
OTAQUEST: That sounds awesome, why did you quit?
PAC CAT: For a while people would stop me on the street and ask me for my autograph, and at the time it was interesting, but after a while it became tedious. Playing the same songs, getting on stage and having to perform the same way over and over, I started to feel a disconnect from reality and what I was portraying. A long time ago Keith Flint of Prodigy said that his job was to get on stage and cut loose in a matter of seconds, and I think there’s some truth to that. It’s not that I’ve quit music altogether, it’s more that there isn’t any joy in sound for me right now.
OTAQUEST: People tend to expect this certain standard when it comes to performing music.
PAC CAT: It’s like, what even is perfection? You can spend a long time working on something until it comes out perfect, but isn’t that miserable? That’s how I feel. I’d rather have my soul light up in a blaze rather than stew in at a steady boil during rehearsals. Although there is a certain importance to stewing and cooking over a long time, so ideally I’d like to have both.
OTAQUEST: I feel your attitude towards art is similar to punk philosophy.
PAC CAT: I’d say it’s a similar mindset, punk or maybe post-punk. I like not being placed in a box so I tend to change how and what I make pretty frequently, to the point that I was once asked if one of my solo exhibitions was a joint exhibition. I’m still exploring myself, so if I had this same interview a week later, I might’ve said something completely different. The entirety of my growth and progress as a human, the entirety of my soul as a human, has been condensed into my work.
OTAQUEST: When was it that you re-discovered the joy of drawing?
PAC CAT: I still work for that company that I was talking about earlier, the one that did the work for the BOOM BOOM SATELLITES. There was this painter that had come from New York to do some work for us and had left behind some art of his, so I decided to copy it. That’s when I found out how fun it was. I find it a lot more freeing than making music.
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OTAQUEST: What exactly feels more free?
PAC CAT: With music there’s mixing and mastering, then music videos and other visual media attached. All those things together create a completed piece, it’s never just about the music. Some people may be able to do all of that by themselves, but I have no interest in mixing and mastering, and I’m not even really a fan of having to do it in the first place. With art I can finish everything by myself, there’s no need to rely on someone else. Of course, even with art, not everything is done by myself but to a certain extent I can do things by myself, so there’s still a relative sense of freedom.
OTAQUEST: I think recently, especially with the rise of platforms like YouTube, there are many people who listen to music while watching the video. What are your thoughts on video versus art?
PAC CAT: Personally, I feel that music takes too much time for the consumer to listen to. You can’t say you’ve ‘seen’ the whole thing until you’ve listened to the whole song. For example, let’s say you don’t like the first verse, but you really enjoy the chorus. You have to wait out the parts you don’t like to listen to the parts you do like. On top of that, you don’t know what parts of the video you’ll enjoy. It’s not smart to be forced to look at the details that way. Pictures on the other hand is a medium that allows you to see the whole thing quickly, and allows space for each person to interpret it at their own pace, in their own way. Music is also something that, on a more primal level, either grabs you or doesn’t grab you. Pictures don’t have that same effect.
OTAQUEST: What other reasons do you believe that drawings suit you as an artist?
PAC CAT: It’s easy to insert my emotions. Music, especially music that’s arranged digitally, has you cutting and pasting different sounds and effects from other people and ends up being a sort of collage. In the case of painting, the pens and painting materials are made by someone, but I feel that the impact by other people is small compared to music.
OTAQUEST: I see that, especially if you break down music into just its raw components. What was it that you were working on when you felt that great sense of freedom?
PAC CAT: It was something without necessarily a sense of delicacy to it, but there was a sense of passion. At the time COVID was already starting to spread, so I created a piece dedicated to the phone with callbacks to the concept of working remotely. On pieces that have a cat in them, the zodiac doesn’t have cats in them, so I had never drawn cats, which is why I chose to draw cats. That’s partly a joke in poor taste, but also the cat is an animal that looks free and yet embodies a crippled creature, so I continue to draw it.
OTAQUEST: The things you’ve drawn up until now have all been connected to this exhibition.
PAC CAT: After I found the joy of painting, I wanted to keep doing it. They say if you teach an orangutan how to masturbate it’ll do so until it dies, but I think the same can be said about humans.
OTAQUEST: The line ‘If you don’t get addicted to something and live that, it’s impossible to keep living’ just popped into my head.
PAC CAT: Listening to your favorite music, or doing something you like. Not doing it because you have to, but because you want to. Being driven to do something because that’s what your heart desires, that’s what fuels me. Finding somewhere comfortable and being able to work there. I’m drawing what I’ve seen in my life.
OTAQUEST: After hearing your backstory, it’s even more interesting seeing that you’ve collaborated with DJ’s and musicians for this exhibition.
PAC CAT: I think that human beings are rather sloppy and cruel creatures with ambiguous and hazy memories. For me, drawings are a way of marking that memory; to set in stone the emotions I felt at the time. I think it suits me, or rather it suits how humans operate.