Get It Louder (Part 1, China)

Just a tiny add-on focusing on the Japanese Chapter of Get It Louder.
Curator Mami Kataoka selected 4 emerging artists:

Akino Kondoh works in various media including acrylic and graphite paintings, sculptures, hand-drawn animations, and mangas.

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Animation work "Ladybird's Requiem"

There were screenings of her animations in the exhibition space, and it was lovely to see how much they mesmerized anyone passing by. Some of Akino Kondoh's videos are on you tube, i love the one below, it's called Densya Kamo Shirenai:

Hiraki Sawa -whose videos seem to become the staple of new media festival these days- is a master in the art of revealing the quiet, surrealist going-ons of domestic objects and devices. Miniature airplanes fly about an apartment, camels walk onto the bathroom sink, rocking horses swim into the bathtub, etc.

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Stills from Elsewhere, 2003 and Going places sitting down, 2004

Tsujikawa Koichiro is another Japanese video artist whose popularity is increasing fast and steady. He works mostly for commercials and music videos. Pink Tentacle highlighted a collection of his works.

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Tsujikawa Koichiro for Cornelius "Like A Rolling Stone"

Finally there was artist and designer Masahiro Fukuyama whose armours are by inspired by the ancient culture of the Samurai and contemporary game-culture.

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The Dedication of Soul, photo by Namiko Kitaura

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Elegant Slave, photo by Namiko Kitaura and the Otoko Lamp (which was not exhibited but i found it irresistible)

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The only thing i had ever seen of Ujino Muneteru was the poster of a rather fascinating sonic sculptural instrument he calls the Love Arm. It was 2 years ago at ars electronica. I keep hoping i'll see more of his work one day but in the meantime, lucky me! Vicente Gutierrez managed to meet the artist and together with photographer Martin Holtkamp visited him in his studio. Here's the result of their meeting:

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Muneteru in his studio, by Martin Holtkamp

Tokyo based sound sculpture artist and performer Ujino Muneteru's Rotators is a giant tweaked-out jewelry box of modern and out-dated technology. While many old objects are ubiquitous in Muneteru's work, its not the same old story of trash art. Muneteru works to discover new histories in material objects once discarded only to delicately care for them in hopes of restoring any sentimental value once lost. Tangled in Pop Art, Noise and some Dada, his conversions, performances and arrangements of junk and vintage are an insight into the role of materialism and what is of value in our lives- what is deemed junk or vintage or valid pop-iconography is largely up to the viewer. WMMNA caught up with Muneteru in his Tokyo studio to discuss the 'Japan-ness' of his work, all things junk and vintage and how dance culture fits into everything he does.

"my work is like plastic ikebana."

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The Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru.

You just returned from the Beautiful New World exhibition in China...how was it?

Well, I was in Beijing for two weeks setting up an installation of the rotators for an exhibition at the Long March space as part of Beautiful New World, it was to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the relationship of The Japan Foundation with China. So I had set up the rotators to be there playing automatically. Before the exhibit, I did some shopping in China for some old materials for this exhibit to make it a little unique for China, like I did before in Vancouver. So, just like 10 days before the exhibit, in Beijing I bought an old drill, blender, vacuum cleaner and lots of lamps. I'd say that about 50% of the items were bought in China. In Vancouver, I bought 95% of the items for the rotators exhibit.

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The Rotators 'Robertson and Phillips' at The Western Front, Vancouver,Canada. Courtesy of Munteru.

A lot of your work relies on old things, so was it easier to buy things in China or Vancouver?

I think it was easier in Vancouver. There's just a longer sense of history of material things there. The part of people's lives that is concerned with material things is longer in western culture, I feel. In China, there weren't many second hand things- it was so hard to find old things or anything with sentimental value. Everything was so new and as soon as anything gets old, its thrown away or people sell whatever is metal to a steel company for melting these days. So a lot things are made of plastic. I mean, I've been to many modern cities in the east and west and that being my first time in China, everything was different and it was a challenge to collect older materials for my work.

Maybe in the future, in about 10 years or so, there will be more older things laying around to be used by someone else.

So how about in Japan?

Well, compared to western countries and China, both being foreign to Japan, well, I think we have a longer history of westernization. Westernization in Japan has been in effect longer so I think we've developed more of an appreciation of material things. Its a gradual process that takes years. With the way the cultural revolution went in China, I feel China's economy boom is like catching up- they are quickly developing western sensibilities for western things. You can see that in how fast Shanghai developed into a major international city.

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Platform for the Rotators. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesty of Muneteru

Ah, so how did Chinese people react to the rotators installation?

Well, people approached and looked at it as a mechanical piece. Like some strange kind of robot.

How does that compare to the way a Westerner would?

In Vancouver, visitors to the exhibit thought it was like someone's grandmother's home. I think their reaction was a bit more sentimental. Younger Chinese visitors seemed to be a lot more concentrated and their eyes were a fixed. I mean, they read more contemporary art related media like magazines and blogs and stuff- they tried to understand it or understood it and were at least sensitive to it but I thought that older people, especially those in the art world or 'industry', didn't seem to care so much. The same is true for Japanese older generations, too. But anyways, one night, I had wanted to do a performance at the gallery but I couldn't so we set up the rotators at a club- it was great, a great space too. You know, it was like a cool club in any big city but it felt like- well, in other cities, I feel that some spaces are divided by scenes, like a rock club is for rock and a house club is for house, etc, but this place was like a beautiful fusion of it all. What added to it all was that it was really small like a Japanese live house.

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'The Savage's Plastic Ikebana Session' 2007. Photo: Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

You've adapted a new title for this particular installation of the rotators in Beijing, can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ah, the name, well, 'the savages' has a couple meanings, the first is referring to media art. A lot of the artists that were part of the Beautiful New World exhibit use computers or newer technology in their works and well, I don't. The technology I use is pre-1985 so it's a reference to being somewhat archaic, uncivilized and to a point- savage.

The other way of looking at the name is that it is a reference to an ancient tale of China and Japan, like 2000 years ago, it's kind of a long and messy story, but it really did influence the naming of this particular exhibit.


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The Rotatorhead which controls it all. Photo Masanori Ikeda, Courtesy of Muneteru

Great, back to rotators for a minute...a majority of the materials in your work are western, and if I didn't know you were Japanese upon viewing your work, how would I know this was done by a Japanese artist? What is Japanese about your work?

Well, It's really easy to get lots of objects for my work in Japan because there's so much old technology laying around in old recycle electronic shops. Every time i find and buy old junk things, I want to clean them up and polish them, make them nice again- presentable. The fact that there are many western things in the rotators, clicks with the idea of it being like a grandmother's room- you can get the sense that these things are or were precious because they had a home, they were once loved.

I think I put some love into combining and assembling them in such a way that in the end it's a sound sculpture. But I think my work is very neat, clean, organized and the layout is very proper. It's like a japanese bento, ya know? [laughs] Very organized, its own structure and aesthetic is present there. When I have assistants helping me, I tell them, "make it like a Japanese bento." Sometimes I say my work is like plastic ikebana because of its precise arrangement.

You said it so easy to get things in Japan because of a high turnover and I'm thinking- is there a relationship in your work to the record levels of mass consumerism in Japan?

Japanese people want to have the latest thing so they buy what's new and ditch the old at recycle shops. In this area, there are so many recycling shops that are formal companies, they have many trucks and assemble and gather peoples old goods for sale in shops, there is so much recycling going on here and that works out for me. I like to take that junk and re use it.

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Another shot of The Rotators. Courtesy of Muneteru

So do you see a difference in what is junk and what is vintage?

Some junk or cheap things may be vintage in a few years as they appreciate over time, but thats an interesting point, I will say that everything in the rotators is junk!

I read on your website, "the neatness and cleanliness are a very core of Japanese authentic beauty...a wild chaos can only exist as the subject of exoticism."

Yeah, thats true, I like it, I need it.

Ok. what's the message in rotators?

Well, its DIY. With an emphasis on physical means- just using your hands and body to make your own things- sculptures or instruments- using technology in your own way and not letting it dictate function. You know, its like a computer, the keyboard is made for your fingers, and we shouldn't limit our thinking to that way. I try to find the opposite way and do it. With the rotators, I feel I am reversing that relationship, that I am in control of technology, not vice versa.

But everywhere I look technology is getting more function specific and smaller? that's good, no?

Well, especially, in Japan! Japan excels at making things smaller and for now, thats the direction most technology is going, smaller and smaller, micro and nano. But I think it's too small for people and we're leaving something out. I remember in 1978, at a video game arcade, I saw an arcade game booth drop set into a table, like a sit down cabinet and that changed video games forever, since then, things have been getting smaller and smaller, but there are ergonomic limits, you know? I don't like using small buttons, I like older stuff, things that truly follow the human form for function. I mean, in the cyber world, there is no weight, nothing physical, no heaviness, and I like using real, bulky things, I don't want to lose that.

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Ozone - So Provided by Mizuma Art Gallery. Courtesy of Munteru

So is rotators a toy or musical instrument? Is it interactive?

No, it is not interactive, but I want to make it more interactive in the future and work in that direction, I am planning and working on a human-scale, ergonomic, drum machine. Interactive is next!

Ok, I have to ask you, you mentioned dance culture as an influence in your work, please explain!

Well, I like drum machines. I love the beats. And I'm interested in making sounds, especially sounds with a groove. I want to make music and do live performances and its all about the beat in dance so I like to use low frequency sounds, like using a blender- it gives off a nice low sound. And about dance music, well, I like thicker, more embellished beats like Prince- he had an influence on me in terms of the music.

I wanted to make, I wanted a groove.

Great! So what's next for you and rotators?

Well, I've got a live performance coming up soon, with Chim Pom, this young art collective. Two of the members used to be my assistants a few years ago when I was making Ozone-so, Ryuta Ushiro and Yasuyaka Hayashi. Other members are students of Aida Makoto. That's Chim Pom and they have a different way of making music but its really physical and focuses on objects too, in a realistic way. So we're going to have a live performance together. I'm thinking of a Berlin exhibit next year.

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Flyer for Sunday's performance. Courtesy of Muneteru

And any news on the Love Arm series or ozone-so for fans out there?

Well, I am not working on it now because i've been so busy with the rotators but in the future I will for sure continue it and work on Love Arm number 5, haven't started yet, but I will. And ozone-so is currently being exhibited in Germany now, and it will be exhibited in Berlin next year, in March, I'll go there to do a live performance too.

The live performance with Chim Pom will be Sunday the 28th!
at Open studio *3.0 in Tokyo. And on December 22nd, I'll be performing in Harajuku at the LaForet museum with several other performers.

Thanks so much Ujino for sharing and discussing ideas in your work- we had a great time at your studio! Thanks!

A new story by Vicente Gutierrez, wmmna's correspondent in Tokyo.

"I wanted to distance myself from the curse of time." - Ryuichi Sakamoto
"I wanted the imagery to project completely free of control." - Shiro Takatani

[quotes taken from ICC website]

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The recent collaboration between composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (a founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra) and cinematographer Shiro Takatani (a founder of the dumbtype art collective) is their effort to escape the constraints of space and time, namely notions of sequence.

For Sakamoto, it´s composing without sticking to traditional time signatures or a single genre in a composition. For Takatani, it is allowing a computer-controlled system to select clips from the diverse body of video he produced for this installation. For both, avoiding linear forms of their respective fields is what they had worked towards by looking to generative art as an escape.

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LIFE: fluid, invisible,inaudible... started as an opera by Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1999 as his effort at presenting an overview of music and society in the 20th century; for that work, Takatani was brought in to help out with the visuals. From then, the two later collaborated with a short series of experimental live shows, the first being Garden Series Vol.1: Experimental Live at Honen-in Zen Temple in Kyoto where they used laptops to conduct the music and images. Fast forward to 2007 and 'LIFE' was commissioned as a work by the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media (YCAM) and later exhibited from March 10 to May 28 2007 at YCAM. Now, the newest, slightly evolved version of 'LIFE' is on display at the ICC center in Tokyo.

'Life:' is a journey into the world Sakamoto and Takatani have created from a body of audio and visual work, and as the name suggests, it aims to be fluid, invisible and inaudible. Juxtaposing abstract sounds and distorted visuals with clearer, more sensible sounds and images throughout, two duo virtuously present the unknown, invisible and inaudible as perceptible to us.

The sounds and visions in 'LIFE' are stored on the hard disk of a central computer which is being controlled by an algorithmic program so the images are randomly withdrawn from the cache to create an installation which is generative and constantly changing. Although it was largely generative, it seemed that throughout the audio-visual collage there were moments where Sakmoto and Takatani cleverly synchronized their music and film for more dramatic effect.

But first, here's how it works:

0adelnier4.jpgThe decentralized flow of sound and video is established by a 3 x 3 grid of aquarium-like tanks made from acrylic, which are each 30 cm high and 1.2 sqm. The acrylic aquariums, each accompanied by two adjacently hanging speakers on the ends, are hung in the pitch-black darkness of a large installation room. Each of the 9 cubes contains a thin film of water, about a few centimeters deep and inside, within which varying levels of fog and [subsequent] ripples are generated by the ultrasonic waves from (8) silent pumps planted in the corners. A couple meters above are the discreet ceiling-based projectors which channel the images downward into the water, acting as a screen.

Upon entering the room to the tune of layers of blissfully jarring sounds by Sakamoto, the set up is confronting- a room consumed by darkness with the nine hanging cubes, suspended about 3 meters above the floor; all together creating a grid-like set up where laying down accommodates the best view of a single cube; those who felt free slowly paced within and around the perimeter.

Read the rest of the story.

0aawarriorj.jpgWarriors of Art: A Guide to Contemporary Japanese Artists, by Yumi Yamaguchi (Amazon UK and USA.)

Publisher Kodansha International says: Warriors of Art showcases forty of the latest and most relevant contemporary artists from Japan. Featuring the work of a wide range of painters, sculptors, photographers, and performance artists, the lavishly illustrated book is a shocking juxtaposition of the cute, the grotesque, the sexy, and the violent, offering a fascinating insight into Japanese society and its flourishing contemporary art scene.

Now this is a book which is easy to enjoy, flip through and come back to again and again. The introduction is short, the text introducing each artist goes straight to the point and the illustrations are plenty.

The author, Tokyo-based writer and critic Yumi Yamaguchi, has selected 40 artists whose work can only charm Western audience for the way they display and play with cruelty, cuteness, sex, etc. The fact that the Japanese culture is devoid of the taboos and barriers that Judeo-Christianism has imposed on us makes their work all the more appealing. Although i liked 95% of the works which appear in the book i couldn´t help but be disappointed when i realized that all of them fit a bit too perfectly the themes and aesthetics we expect from a Japanese artist.

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Motohiko Odani

The title Warrior of Art is inspired by Bushido (literally "The Way of the Warrior"), an essay on samurai ethics first published in 1900. Just like more than a century ago, Inazo Nitobe was attempting to explain the soul of his country to Westeners, the artists presented in this book share with us their vision of Japan.
"Warrior of Art" is also the title apparently used to describe Taro Okamoto (1911-1996), an influential contemporary artist who emerged in postwar Japan and who brought modern art to a wider audience.

Among the artists selected are several names many of us are familiar with: Shintaro Miyake, Hisashi Tenmouya (whose work illustrates the cover of the book), Noboru Tsubaki, Yoshitomo Nara, Maywa Denki, Mr., Takashi Murakami (who is truly one of the heroes of this book), Tabaimo, Kenji Yanobe, etc.

Then there were discoveries, loads of them. I can´t resist to open the show with the Toast Girl, a performed often spotted donning a cosplay outfit (so far so very normal) but also a toaster on top of a workman´s helmet or roller-skate vacuum cleaners. Now could somebody invite her for a new media art festival here in Europe? She would make more exciting evenings than the usual electro-band cum LED light show.

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More images

Hideomi Fukuchi's paintings represent long-limbed girls with super power jumping, shouting and displaying the most menacing grins you can think of. First they only look like your usual anime and manga characters but there's something very peculiar about them. After a few seconds you realize that some of them have three legs, huge feet and a six-pack just below their big round breasts. One moment the paintings just reproduce anime heroes, the next one they are displaying a new artistic expression based on a popular genre.

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Hideomi Fukuchi (images)

Sako Kojima sculpts cute animals walking on grenades, a lamb licking its own anus, paints lonely, lost and sad animals of the forest and spends days inside a cage pretending to be a hamster that scratches the wall and bites bits of wood.


Sako Kojima, The Reason Why I Became The Hamster

0aconsubodiess.jpgConsuming Bodies: Sex and Contemporary Japanese Art, edited by Fran Lloyd (Amazon USA and UK)

Editor Reaktion Books says: Consuming Bodies explores the themes of sex and consumerism in contemporary Japanese art and how they connect with the wider historical, social and political conditions in Japanese culture. Essays by writers, historians, curators and artists, plus diary extracts of a sex worker, engage with a range of artistic practices, including performance, digital media, painting, sculpture and installation. Together the contributors examine the contradictions and ambivalences embedded in the Japanese experience of modernity, and the effects of commodification on the individual and the nation state.

The list of contributors features a nice mix of Japanese and Western authors, artists, journalists, researchers, curators and academics.

As the introduction points out, despite Japan prime presence on the global marketplace, Western audiences are still fairly unfamiliar with the Japanese contemporary art scene. The book has been written in 2002 and 5 years on, the statement is still true. Proof is that finding images online of some of the artists mentioned in the book has been hard work.

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Araki Nobuyoshi, Personal Sentimentalism in Photography

A precious characteristic of the essays is that its authors do not isolate art and analyse or comment on it for its own sake but they also take into account the historical and material circumstances which have conditioned the emergence of contemporary Japanese art. besides the account of the imaging of sex and consumerism moves beyond the glamour, exotic and amusing aspects of Japanese behaviours and explores with much finesse the balance between the private and public aspects of sexual activities as found in media, comics, departments stores, etc.

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Miwa Yanagi, Eternal City I

Of course the book provides you with that Japanese quirkiness we like so much. I learned about Soaplands (a type of brothel where "client" can be bathed with female "companion"), Pink Salons (a brothel which specialises in oral sex); Compensated dating (the euphemism that usually refers to the practice of high school-age girls being paid by older men to accompany them on dates enabling the girls to get the lifestyle they crave for) which doesn´t carry the same evil connotations as in Western countries, women´s attitude towards sex and prostitution is different in Japan as it is not necessarily regarded as degrading in itself.

I also discovered the inevitable dark sides of sex, consumption and art such as the strong gender division, illegal human trafficking and how different the art system in Japan is from ours, from school to art galleries.

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Makoto Aida, The member of the giant Ico Chan vs. King Gidora

Chapter 1 and 2 give an historical perspective on sex and consumerism from the Edo period until today. The three following chapters focus on the work of contemporary artists who reached their artistic maturity during the height of the bubble economy in the late '80s. Chapter 4 in particular is a montage of images performed by Bubu and Yoshiko Shimada; titled Made in Occupied Japan, the work recalls the experiences of US GIs in Japan, prostitution, and Japanese housewives. Chapter 5 is all about the cult of kawaii and how it came into being. Chapter 6 explores the work of Makoto Aida. Chapter 7 Tokyo´s Urban and Sexual Transformations: Performance Art and Digital Cultures is mostly about performances and theatre, not much about digital anything.

It is interesting to be reminded that when Japan opened its borders, art and craftmanship were so indistinguishable that the language had no word for "art", they had to invent Hijutsu which means "technique of beauty". This has several consequences on contemporary art in Japan, one of them being that there is absolutely no stigma attached to being an artist sponsored by commercial companies.

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Immunity to pleasure - Balloon, 1993 and For Pleasure! - Dogs, 1995

The representation of sex in Japanese art often comes with a high dosis of dissent. Nothing new except that the formula is now adopted by many women artists eager to trash the confucianist idea that they have to be demure and submissive creatures.

Sex in itself is actually not enough to shock, the Japanese do not carry the burden of Christian guilt. For the more austere Samurai rulers, licentiousness was more the stuff of self-indulgence and weakness but not necessarily more than other forms of entertainments. That might explain why today bars, pachinko parlours, discos, game centres and sexual entertainment all come under the Law for the Regulation of Business Affecting Public Morals (1947). Another noteworthy peculiarity of the nation´s laws is that showing pubic hair was forbidden until 1981 when the government officially allowed for the appearance of 5% amount of pubic hair in photographs.

0aimmunitywomen.jpgThe work of Takahiro Fujiwara embodies quite well the ambivalent attitude towards sex. Fujiwara specializes in kitschy sculptures that look like big sex toys. There´s this naked women lying on her back with open legs (which reminds Allen Jones´ furniture) which he presented in a kids´playground as a kind of hobby horse. No one found it particularly obscene. The artist believes that one could only do such thing in Japan, albeit under certain conditions. Fujiwara explains. "Sex is something everyone is interested in, but using real experience is too physical, so by using something like a sexual toy which does not refer to one´s life and body but which is cute, one can get away with dealing with a taboo..."

I loved BuBu´s Dairy, the final chapter of the book. BuBu is both an artist and a sex worker and she wrote about her daily life: who her clients are, which kind of present they offer her (from potatoes to pastries and lottery tickets), the way her 80 year old client makes love, nightmare, etc.

While walking in and around rue Charlot yesterday, i stumbled upon the Galerie Art All Aaccess. They are currently showing the work of 3 very talented Japanese artists.

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Kentaro Kobuke, Saeka Enokura and Yutaka Kato are the new generation of Japanese artists, the one that emerged after the already ultra famous Murakami, Nara, Ozawa, etc. They transform what characterizes their everyday life (an invisible position in Japanese society, a child-like and boundless imagination and a lack of financial resources) into intriguing drawings and paintings.

Until November 3, at the Galerie Art All Aaccess, Paris.

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