Seiko Hayase: the art of exploring emotions
This Sunday, artist Seiko Hayase brings her "Creepy Parade" to the Kino. For the Cork-based Japanese artist, art is a vehicle for exploring emotions, especially hidden emotions.
About two dozen first-year art students were leaning into their work, huddled in quiet conversation when Seiko Hayase led me into the art class at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. On the tables in front of them were small piles of soft pink fabric.
For anyone who’s been to one of Seiko’s “Creepy Parades” the pink fabric the art students were knitting into hats is immediately recognisable. For everyone else, it looks like…art?
Called “Brain caps'' they consist of what looks like long, soft pink intestines or bits of brain which twist and twirl and are ultimately sewn into a hat. (To be clear, it’s definitely fabric and not bits of human anatomy!). Since Seiko first unveiled them in 2021 at the suitably named Creepy Parade in Skibbereen they’ve become a kind of signature piece of hers.
For the art students that morning at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa (CSN) the brain caps are a novelty and a lesson. As one student tells me, sewing is a craft she hadn’t practiced in ages, and it felt good reacquainting herself with a needle and thread. Who knows, the morning’s workshop, which was set up and supported by Sample-Studio’s Young Curators program, might one day inform some of their artworks as they set out on their own creative paths?
Originally from Omihachiman, a city that straddles the eastern shore of Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, Seiko has been living in Cork since 2018 when she moved here from Marseille with her partner.
In the Cork art scene Seiko stands out, not just for her brain hats, but for her brightly coloured dyed hair. A member of Sample-Studios, for the past 10 weeks Seiko was artist-in-residence at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, and in doing so made a little bit of history as she was the first recipient of the award.
What it meant in practical terms is Seiko had a base and materials to work with and in return she taught workshops, staged an exhibition and really took to the brief of being the artist-in-residence.
Along the way Seiko has made big and small and strange art ranging from heart lookalikes encased in concrete, to a giant fluffy purple “egg shell” and, of course, the brain caps. But her singular focus has been emotions, and peeling back the layers to expose the feelings that make us human, and make us mad, sad and everything in between.
The Irish football fans connection
After finishing high school in Shiga Prefecture, Seiko went on to study oil painting at Nagoya University of Arts in Nagoya, one of the biggest cities outside of Tokyo. Seiko said her father was against her pursuing a career in art, but her mother supported her. “My mother knew that I loved art,” she told me in the staff room at CSN.
From an early age she sketched, drew and doodled, and her mother picked up on those creative cues. During college she was an exchange student in Dijon, France and not long after graduating college in Nagoya she moved to France where she lived in Marseille.
Like immigrants the world over Seiko had her fair share of adjusting to do on moving to France and acclimatising to a new culture and city. Making art took a back seat for long periods, a fact which frustrated Seiko. She’s the type of artist who freely admits that she has to be making, creating. For her art is praxis, or process.
While living in France, Seiko came across a particular tribe of Irish people: Irish football fans. They were in France en masse for the 2016 Euro Championships. You might recall the viral moments involving the fans as they won hearts and minds before being eliminated by the hosts, beaten by two goals to one. Call it soft power, but Seiko recalls being in awe of their, well, joie de vivre.
“They were so happy and having so much fun,” she recalled.
Up until then she hadn’t really had any encounters with Irish people. “I remember just thinking ‘wow, they’re having so much fun’”.
And they were. They also made a lasting impression, because two years later Seiko and her partner made the move to Ireland. They live a few miles outside Mallow, “in the country, countryside,” she says, but they’re up in the city most days for work.
On moving to Ireland, Seiko says she worked hard to make connections and get funding so that she could make art. Along the way she’s received bursaries from the Arts Council of Ireland, Cork County Council and she volunteers with Cork Community Art Link. She’s had residencies at Uillinn:West Cork Arts Centre as well as CSN and has been supported by The National Sculpture Factory also.
Artist-in-residence, the first of her kind
Art exists in the community, Jean Bradley, one of the art, craft and design course directors at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, told me while explaining why the art department there set up an artist-in-residency program.
Students from CSN regularly go on gallery, studio and site visits to see how art and artists exist beyond the classroom. As part of those trips they visit Sample-Studios, an artist-led studio in Churchfield, which is where Seiko also has a base. Jean explained that the art department at Stiofáin Naofa was familiar with Seiko’s community-driven artwork and they thought she would make an ideal fit as the college’s first artist-in-residence, an idea that had been percolating since before the pandemic broke in early 2020. It was a leap of faith Jean said, but one that paid off and which will be repeated.
Jean explained that there’s no monetary assistance as part of the residency, rather it’s about giving artists a space and resources - and an audience. As Jean pointed out, across the city, artists, especially younger and emerging artists are struggling with the burden of rent, if they can even find a suitable and affordable studio space, and while the artist-in-residency is only temporary Seiko grasped it.
When she started the residency in August, before students filled the classes and corridors, she had the department almost to herself. By the time they returned - or started - Seiko was busy preparing for her exhibition which was held in the college, and opened just before Culture Night last month.
Jean said Seiko made a real connection with the college and the students in the short time she was there.
“By the end of the summer everybody knew Seiko,” Jean said. “She’s not big or brash, she’s genuine and humble and that made everyone so comfortable.”
For “Unnatural Ordinary”, Seiko’s exhibition at CSN she filled a foyer with a series of new, old and work-in-progress pieces.
For the exhibition she drew on her painting background to create a triptych, entitled Unnatural Ordinary. The three canvases are big and bright and, at first glance, they’re filled with ordinary domestic scenes. Ahhhh, bliss.
That is until you notice the unnatural elements: the pot boiling over with what looks like intestines or bits of brain, a sandwich made of tomatoes and…strands of brains. The third canvas features a big bed dressed in pink with the legs of a body sticking out from underneath the bed. Seiko calls the three pieces “Pressure”, “Over-flowing” and “Scattered”.
Seiko said that the residency provided her with the space and resources to work on the triptych. The exhibition also featured something you don’t often see in exhibitions, a work-in-progress, in this case of a series of wooden boxes holding up glass cases, all with miniature “brains” suspended inside. In one box, below the suspended brain, it looks like there’s a small forest made of trees made from salt.
As Seiko talks me through her exhibition, students and staff roll by and friendly interruptions flow with Seiko turning this way and that to wave and say hello as people greet her.
Creepy Parade in the Kino
I have a lot of fond memories of the Kino as I worked there for a few years back in the early 2000s when it was an art house cinema. I also ate a lot of the shop stock there in the quieter nights, and quiet nights there were many. Since it closed as a cinema it’s stumbled along, but it opened back up again this year and this Sunday it will hold the first edition of Trash Culture Revue which brings together an eclectic mix of performance art and music. Seiko will be there with Creepy Parade, along with musician and guitar maker Brian Leach who composed and performs the soundtrack to Creepy on the uilleann pipes.
Since its first outing at the West Cork Arts Centre, Creepy Parade has also been staged in Macroom but the Kino gig will be its premier in the city.
The dancers in Creepy Parade are masked by brain hats (she calls them brain hats for her performances and brain caps for her workshops). With Creepy Parade Seiko said she’s trying to explore hidden emotions, which makes sense since it premiered in Skibbereen during World Mental Health Day in 2021 and the concept was born in the pandemic, peak times for emotions of all sorts.
“The music starts out open, free-flowing and then it comes together and aligns which I think is exactly what Seiko was talking about, and it was really nice working with Seiko,” said Brian who first met Seiko at Sample-Studios.
When the music was ready, they brought it to some of the dancers at Circus Factory in Cork who choreographed movement to it. On Sunday Leach will be joined by dancers Moss Russell, Eimear Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh and Jude O’Neill.
Seiko enjoys the fact that Creepy Parade has a life of its own now, and that it’s been staged in quite a few venues across the county.
The Kino was, and is again, the ideal venue for experimental art such as Creepy Parade as well as the rest of the line-up for Trash Revue which also includes percussionist Alex Petcu and rapper and spoken word artist Raphael Olympio.
Baseball and washoku
In conversation with every Japanese person there comes a critical junction where you have to broach the subject of food.
“Oh, I miss it,” Seiko said, referring to washoku, or Japanese food. Miyazaki on Evergreen Street fills a gap, as do the Asian food shops dotted around the city where you can pick up udon, soba and natto.
Away from art Seiko is a big fan of baseball, and given its huge popularity in Japan, that's not surprising. She’s a fan of Kansai-based team Hanshin Tigers, but what’s more surprising, perhaps, is that she’s found a baseball team to play with in Cork.
Maybe even more surprising is the Renegades, as they’re known, are based at Blackrock Hurling GAA grounds.
“We train every Wednesday evening,” she says, inviting me to come over.
A few hours after our interview has wrapped up Seiko sends me a photo of the first-year students from the workshop at CSN. They’re lined up at her exhibition space alongside Seiko and they’re wearing their brain caps. In true artistic fashion some of them decorated the caps.
As for the emotions on display? Most of the students are smiling, some have hidden their faces behind masks, and some others, well true to form, their emotions are hard to mine.
Seiko’s smiling though. Beaming even.
Trash Culture Revue takes place this Sunday, October 23 at The Kino from 7 pm. Tickets are €10. More information here.
For more information on Seiko’s upcoming performances and shows visit her website or follow her on Instagram..
Thanks for sharing