From Japan to Italian riviera

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Gyotaku by Elena Di Capita, alias Gyotaku Levante

By Chiara Barbagallo

Gyotaku is a printing technique born in Japan in the mid-Nineteenth century and used by fishermen to ‘picture’ their best catches.
In an age in which photography was still at the beginning, fish were inked and then imprinted on rice paper to keep their trace on the surface. Afterwards, having regard of its aesthetic peculiarity, this process was used for artistic aims and it spread in the world.

Elena Di Capita approached to gyotaku art a few years ago.
After having discovered of being pregnant, she decided to return to her native Liguria – a seaside region in the North-West of Italy – and to quit her job as a restorer and drawer of archaeological finds which led her to often move to Countries torn apart by political instabilities or even wars.

In that period, she tried to reinvent herself starting to sell some artworks of her but without a precise direction.
It’s thanks to chance if she found her artistic identity when a man, casually walking in front of her stall, suggested her to address to a technique with an unknown and exotic name.

At that time, in Italy, no one made professionally gyotaku yet and Di Capita herself never heard about them. So, she made researches and insights, and she did some practical tries to better comprehend how to obtain aesthetic likeable and long-lasting results.

This is how Gyotaku Levante was born, an artist who mixes a Japanese technique with her personal bond with sea, considered by herself “a member of family“. Indeed, in her artistic alias, the term Levante – which in Italian is a synonym of East – is referred both to Japan, called in Italian Paese del Sol Levante[1], and to the part of Ligurian coast called Levante[2] from which Di Capita and most of the fishing she uses come. Her aim is precisely to “print zero miles fish” enhancing all Mediterranean marine life, from different fish species to squids and octopuses.

However, it’s the anchovy, one of the smallest and most common fish in Mediterranean Sea, to have become the main subject of her artworks. Gyotaku Levante usually shows it in shoals that it creates with other anchovies to protect from predators.

Despite the use of this bidimensional technique, thanks to the adding of own and delivered shadows, the artist succeeds to keep intact shoals’ depth and their vortically, hypnotic and at the same time relaxing dynamism. So, it’s easy to ideally dip in a submarine world with muffled sounds and choreographic movements.

Choosing animals which usually, after being caught, immediately end their lives as food for humans, Di Capita gives them a longer existence using them also for her art. In this way, sea species let her sustain two times: earning money from the artworks and eating them in the end.

With gyotaku technique it’s so possible to honour marine life which, despite always being part of food chain, is eternalized through the trace of ink it leaves on paper.

Useful link:

About gyotaku technique: Gyotaku, la tecnica dei pescatori giapponesi diventa arte

Photo courtesy of the artist

[1] It literally means Country of the Rising Sun because sun rises at East
[2] Because it’s on the East side of the main city of Genoa

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