On Thursday i went to Artissima. Turin's contemporary art fair lands in the agenda almost straight after Frieze and compared to the London's fair, it feels lighter, fresher, edgier. It also demonstrates a greater attention for the design -in all its forms- of the event. I'm a fan.
That evening I've discovered a dozen of artists whose works i'll mention in the coming days (or weeks given my propensity to write at the speed of a banana.)
Let's start with Tatsuki Masaru whose photos were exhibited by Gallery Side 2 (Tokyo). The artist spent a decade following the Decotora (an abbreviation for "Decoration Truck") subculture, photographing the trucks of course but also their drivers and in the long series of "Japanese do it better", these vehicles have a panache and extravagance that never reach bad taste.
In an interview to Photoeye, the artist explains that the phenomenon is subject to trends and economic woes: There was a peak in say 1980, that was the peak time in terms of the number of decorated trucks existing in Japan. This trend got started somewhere in the '60s when Japan's economy was growing and people were starting to spend money decorating their trucks. In the beginning it was like, "Who has the most number of lights on the truck," that kind of competition. But then in the '90s there started to be a little bit more specialization, and one area which became popular was Gundam, which are like Japanese transformer movies, and anime type of decoration, so there are some stages to its development. Recently, because of the economic difficulties like Japan's recession, and governmental regulations, traffic laws and all that, the [truckers] can no longer do the things they used to do. So in a way, they're sort of going back to the '70s style, which is a little bit less lighting, more heavy on the paintings, a little bit more subdued decorating style so they cannot get busted by the police.
And now for something completely different....
Last Thursday, i stopped at the British Museum to see Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. I thought that Thursday would be a good day for a quiet visit. Wrong! It was the kind of crowd in which you have to stretch your neck in unnatural directions to read the descriptions of the works and wait patiently behind several people before you can actually approach a print. When finally you're in front of the work and have had a good look, you want to turn and walk to the next window but you're blocked by the people waiting and staring behind you. And no, they won't move lest they loose their spot in the queue.
My visit was thus laborious but i liked the show so much i'll have another try (a Tuesday morning when the doors open? a lunch time?)
Produced in Japan from 1600 to 1900, Shunga (or "picture of spring", spring being an euphemism for sex) are erotic paintings, prints and books that were used for personal stimulation and for the education of young lovers.
Make no mistake: this was art, not what we'd now call "pornography". In fact, the works were regarded as a suitable gift to brides on the eve of their wedding or to official foreign visitors. Unaffected by the inhibited sexual attitudes of Christianity or Islam, Shunga presented a fantasy world of sexual delight enjoyed by both sexes. The sense of sin didn't have a place in shunga. But female pleasure, tenderness and beauty did.
The genre flourished even when it was officially banned and many works were in fact produced by some of the country's most distinguished artists. The decline of shunga is attributed to the arrival of Western culture and technologies at the end of the 19th century and in particular the importation of photoreproduction techniques. How could Shunga compete with erotic photography?
In Japan, however, the influence of shunga can still be seen in manga, anime, tattoo art and other popular cultural forms.
I got the following photos from the British Museum press office. Unsurprisingly (but disappointingly), the ones i received were quite tame compared to most of what you can see in the show:
Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art is at the British Museum, until 5 January 2014.
I wasn't particularly dazzled by the press pictures of the exhibition Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s and i thought i'd visit it on a day i'd be really really bored. Which you're never supposed to be in London. Still, last Sunday i was at the Barbican, attempting to recover from the heart attack i had when i saw the endless queue to experience Random International's Rain Room and took the lift to see the photo show. I found that the press pictures didn't do it justice. Everything Was Moving is a magnificent, albeit slightly exhausting, show. The exhibition shows the work of photographers who lived and worked in countries as different from each other as Ukraine under Soviet control and Apartheid South Africa, Maoist China and Vietnam attacked by American soldiers. Plenty of politics, social issues and conflicts to cover!
I might not have (or rather 'take') the time to cover the whole exhibition but one of the rooms that impressed me the most was dedicated to the work of Japanese photographer Shomei Tomatsu. His most famous series is "Nagasaki 11:02". Fifteen years after the horrific atomic bombings of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Shomei Tomatsu was commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to document the effects of the A-bomb on the city of Nagasaki and on its inhabitants.
The series is named after the photo of a watch that was dug up 0.7km from the epicenter of the explosion and which stopped at the exact moment the bomb fell: 11:02 a.m on the 9th of August 1945.
Another of his most admired series is Chewing Gum and Chocolate which exposes the influences of the US occupying forces and of American military and popular culture on Japanese society.
Everything Was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s remains open until 13 January 2013 at the Barbican Art Gallery in London.
Photo on the homepage: Hairstyle, Tokyo 1969.
The obvious tip would be to send everyone to see the collection of François Pinault at Palazzo Grassi. But there's a small and charming exhibition about to close at the gallery of the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa on Piazza San Marco: Graphic Design from Japan - 100 Posters 2001-2010.
Some of the most impressive works eluded my google image searches. Thankfully, Kazumasa Nagai's "Life" series didn't.
I couldn't find anything about this cheerful "Hiroshima appeals 2010" by Keisuke Nagatomo (design), Seitaro Kuroda (illustration) and Shinzo Higurashi + Seitaro Kuroda (copy). So all you'll get will be details from the original posters:
If the many billboards glued on and around Piazza San Marco haven't exhausted your patience for advertising, then head to the Fondazione Bevilacqua La Masa. Graphic Design from Japan - 100 Posters 2001-2010 remains open until 20 October 2010.
She's not only a graduate of Design Interactions (RCA, London), she's also Sputniko!, a Japanese pop star whose music, videos, performances and electronic devices explore themes of technology, gender and pop culture.
Hiromi is the author of devices such as the Pénis Cybernétique (i'm sure your french is fluent enough to make sense of the words) and Crowbot Jenny, a dark-haired girl who goes around urban park carrying on her shoulder a crow-shaped robot that can communicate with crows and turn them into a bird army. Her first dvd album Parakonpe 3000 is a collection of videos which comment on our relationship with technology. There's the "Child Producing Machine" but also the Google Song, "Sputniko! TV: A Children's Program for Newly Born A.I.s" and the Wakki Song (an interactive armpit performance).
More than just a gadget, a video, a song, Sputniko! creates a whole character with its own manga-inspired aesthetics, attributes, super-powers and dynamics. Each of her projects has been produced in collaboration with scientists experts in Zoology, Medicine and Reproductive Science.
She was presenting two new works at the Summer exhibition of the Royal College of Art.
First, a much blogged-about device which, i hope, will soon be added to the collection of the Museum of Menstruation.
The question at the heart of the Menstruation Machine, Takashi's Take is 'It's 2010, so why are humans still menstruating?'
Abdominal pain, headaches, depression, emotional sensitivity, feeling bloated, changes in sex drive and nausea, premenstrual water retention, etc. Not to mention mood swings. Why do women still have to go through that?
Women are in good company though. just like them, chimpanzees and fruit bats need to bleed monthly for their reproductive cycle.
What does Menstruation mean, biologically, culturally and historically, to humans? Who might choose to have it, and how might they have it?
Fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and lower-abdomen-stimulating electrodes (the same used by your uncle to muscle his abs while watching tv on the sofa, only that Hiromi maxed out the power of the contractions), the Menstruation Machine simulates the pain and bleeding of an average 5 day menstruation.
The machine could be worn by men who desire to feel closer to women and experience what they have to go through, but also by women when menstruation becomes obsolete in the future and the process becomes a mere ritual of gender and identity.
The artist made a music video to illustrate how and by whom the machine could be used.
The video 'Menstruation Machine - Takashi's Take' stars Takashi, a boy who builds the machine in an attempt to understand better what the girls he hang around with experience every month.
Her second project had the same level of fantasy, the same vision of a technocratic future. Sushiborg Yukari is a cyborg designed to serve Sushi on her rotating belt. Her function is to entertain over-worked Japanese businessmen in their after-hours. She is tomorrow's equivalent of Nyotai Mori, the tradition of serving Sushi on naked women.
Given scientists' fondness for young, slick, pretty girl-robots, one would not be surprised to see a sushi cyborg hit the gadget blogs in the future. Sushiborg Yukari, however, is a dissatisfied cyborg.
When Yukari's artificial intelligence develops enough to understand she's little more that a sex object, she starts to slowly and secretly hack herself into a lethal weapon by attaching knives to her own body. And one day, she manages to escape the sushi restaurant....
More works from the RCA show, over here, ladies and gents!
Previously: Japan Media Arts festival - The Art Division.
Last and overdue notes from the Japan Media Arts Festival which took place last month in Tokyo. You'll have to forget my laziness, today i'll just gloss over the entertainment and animation categories and then go back to that mountain of books i'm supposed to review before 2010 shuts down.
Some rather good projects were submitted to the entertainment division. I often think that there's much confusion between the entertainment and art categories in many media art festivals but it didn't seem to be the case in Tokyo this year.
Two of the excellence prizes went to:
scoreLight, the electronic musical instrument designed by Alvaro Cassinelli, Daito Manabe, Yusaku Kuribara and Alexis Zerroug. The prototype generates sounds in real time from the lines of drawings and the contours of 3D objects nearby. A modified laser scanner works like the pick-up head that searches for sounds over the surface of a vinyl record. The difference is that the groove is generated by the contours of the drawing itself. The result is a light beam that dances on the surface of the drawing, while singing its secret score.
Director Naoki Ito created a documentary style web advertisement. A real couple in long distance relationship was selected to run the 1,000 km distance that separates Tokyo from Fukuoka. It took them one month (only!??) The run was broadcast live on the web and it was not until they reached their goal that it was announced that Love Distance was to be turned into a TV advertisement for the world's thinnest condom.
I spotted many gems among the Jury recommended works for this entertainment category:
daruman, by Mari Matsumoto, is a daruma otoshi that changes facial expression as it loses his body pieces, becoming frightened or angry of being dismembered by players. If anyone has other links or maybe a video of the projects, that would be more than welcome.
Rather unsurprisingly some of the entries are best enjoyed if you understand japanese. I haven't got much clue about what is going on in the video below but that shouldn't prevent me from posting it:
The animation, called Here comes the Gyorome Alien, was created by Yosuke Kihara. The stories are told using hand knitted stuffed toys in stop motion animation.
What would a Japanese media art event be without the presence of Maywa Denki?
Designed by KAYAC Inc. and Maywa Denki, YUREX is a device that improves your concentration through Binbo-Yusuri, or twitching leg. It will be released on April 24th.
Now for the Animation category!
The charming stop-motion animation Elemi by Hideto Nakata got an Excellence Award. The short movie follows the romance and struggle of a telephone pole standing in a downtown area.
Ryo Okawara's Animal Dance, which only received an Encouragement prize, narrates the dynamism of life through charcoal strokes on a vibrant orange background.
A young man is struggling with a Deadline while the post-it notes he had stuck on the wall begins to move and morph. A stop-motion animation by Yao Liu Bang.
In Chisato stared, by Wataru Uekusa, a line is used to reflect emotion, and the theme is the sublimation of a complex and continuous moment, like following one phrase of a song.
The image on the homepage illustrates the work of Yoshinori Kanada who passed away last year. The festival awarded him a Memorial Achievement Prize. Looking through his amazing works i was reminded of my favourite tv programme when i was a kid (i don't think Kanada ever worked on that one though) and i'll leave you with Goldorak, or whatever you call it in your language, until tomorrow.