Imagine a banknote, it doesn’t matter which one. Think of one you like the most or the first one you can recall. Imagine this note on a flat surface. Now imagine someone picking it up and starting to fold it. With each bend, the banknote ceases to be what it was and before your eyes, evolves into something else. Behind this metamorphosis we find the artist Yosuke Hasegawa.
Japanese born Hasegawa, was a graphic designer when he began creating Money Art towards the end of 2006, after graduating from the Musashino Art University in Tokyo, Yosuke started folding money as a hobby. “The first time I made origami with banknotes was in December 2006. I saw some people’s folded money on internet and I was impressed about playing with money. So I tried to fold money in my own way. I don’t know why, but I could make it perfectly the first time I tried and I was able to make one after another.
When I was beginning, I gave my money origami to my 6 years old niece as a New Year’s gift. The moment she saw it, she was angry with me and said, ‘You can’t play with money as a toy!’ At this time, I remember being very surprised that even a 6 years old child already recognises that paper of money has a special value.”
At first Hasegawas’ style was Money Origami (Moneygami). “Money Origami is an origami that uses bills with portraits of various countries. It is made by folding a single bill without using scissors or glue.”
His work soon became noticed on social media. This recognition led to the publication of his first book in Japan in early 2007: “How to Fold Money Origami Book”. Later that year, he published his second book, “Origami Noguchi Kung Amusing of Bills.”
Can Money Buy Happiness?
The new perception of the value of the banknote has been a constant in Hasegawas work. In a series created for his exhibition, “Moneylicious” (Tadu Contemporary Art Gallery / Bangkok, Thailand, 2015) we see historical characters wearing origami hats, which give a humorous touch and change the way we connect with money.
“When I started to fold money, the images changed. The value of it changed too the $5 bill doesn’t look like a $5 bill anymore. I felt that it was really funny and comical.” 1
Humour plays a fundamental role in his artistic repertoire as an invitation to connect with the playful side of ourselves.
“At first, I used to fold all these notes and gave them to people. It startled them, but it also made them happy. It made me think about all the things money can bring to people and in this case, it’s happiness. Not through the money’s value, but through my work. I folded money because I wanted to change this idea in society and to find new ideas to cross over this old belief”.1
The Whole Is More than the Sum of Its Parts
Origami is not the only technique Hasegawa uses to create art. Collage also plays a recurring role in his works. With delicate precision, banknotes from various parts of the world are turned into utopian worlds, where each piece takes on a new meaning. In Hasegawa’s artwork, the image speaks louder than a thousand words.
Hasegawa has travelled to more than eighteen countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, India, Vietnam and Nepal, and has collected money along the way. Banknotes from distant countries, notes which have been discontinued, and he buys on the internet. These banknotes are the fuel that gives life to the creative spark that manifests itself in his art.
As with any entrepreneurial endeavour, Hasegawa has had to overcome a number of obstacles and challenges: One of the challenges facing Yosuke is the sensitivity of using particular countries banknotes to make art, as it can be deemed illegal. For example, in Thailand, where the Thai banknotes feature portraits of kings, it is a crime against the Imperial house and Hasegawa could have been arrested by folding the country’s money.
On a lighter note, he observes another challenge; “paper is very expensive”.
Living in Utopia
Just as Michelangelo Buonarroti believed that each sculpture he made was inhabited within the block of marble and that he only had to remove the excess part to expose the intrinsic creation, so Hasegawa sees each banknote, a part of that whole which he wants to express and which drives him to create.
His art shows respect and care in every last detail. Each fold in the paper represents a door to transformation. Each cut, a window to change. In his pieces, the cultures of different countries merge into one. His utopian universes are nourished by diversity, colours and symbols that make each creation unique.
Yet this utopia is also a critique of the fast pace of today’s society and an invitation to reflect on what is really important in life:
“I have the feeling that the modern world and society place too much importance on the economy. I want people to have the opportunity to reflect on what money is and what is most important, because it is something I fear society will discard.”1
Money Art is an artistic expression of criticism, humour and irony; a way to shock and make us think differently about the world around us.
“I would like to be able to express the world of money, which can be called the current slavery, from various directions and express it with irony. Also, while negating the system of money in that way, I think that it is a work that includes self-contradiction that hopes that the value and price of the work will increase at the same time.”
The excessive value we place on money to the point of losing our own values is a leitmotif in Hasegawa’s work:
“If you have money, you may be able to buy books but you cannot buy knowledge. You need to study hard to get good grades. You can buy guitars but you cannot buy skills and talent. You need to practice. “I just want to say that money is not the most important thing ever and that there are things money cannot buy.” 1