Much like Nuit Blanche, in my hometown of Toronto, Roppongi Art Night is an all night art festival consisting of large-scale outdoor art installations. It’s a beautiful experience that has to be seen to be believed.
I arrived a little earlier than I was supposed to, and stumbled upon the Roppongi Hills Spring Festival, which was booming with excited guests. I left and returned a little later on to find a Roppongi Hills still bustling with people, but also with beautiful and interesting installations.
[First photo from flickr user Ryosuke Takeoka]
Attending Roppongi Art Night is much like attending Nuit Blanche. When attempting to stick to a viewing schedule it almost feels as though you’re missing out installations. It’s best to just go with the flow of the crowd and let your eyes do the navigation for you.
[Photo by flickr user robochick]
One particular installation that stood out to me was the first that I saw. A wooden boat, strung up with colorful flags. A very classic looking piece. Upon closer inspection, the flags were covered in modern manga style illustrations. It felt like a representation of how I see Tokyo: traditional and modern seamlessly woven together.
Part of what makes installation art so interesting is that you, as the viewer, feel involved with the grand spectacle that has been created all around you. Roppongi Art Night filled everyone with a buzzing energy to give the city of Tokyo a running start into the spring season.
This hasn’t taken off yet like we hoped it might — if YouTube video numbers are anything to go by at time of writing — but we wanted to share this video we spotted of an “Avatar Man” roaming the streets of Omotesando at night, amusing and possibly frightening innocent Japanese shoppers.
Here’s the trailer:
And the full video:
The production values are pretty slick, and the hair and make-up in particular are more impressive than anything wandering out of 109 by a million miles.
It is from a series called I AM MODEL, created by Maaserhit Honda.
According to the makers, the series was…
born in August 2011 through the creative ideas of photographer/cinematographer/art director Maaserhit Honda and British fashion model Dean Newcombe. The part documentary, part mocumentary story conveys the experiences of a ‘lost’ model in Tokyo, a metaphor for the unorientated feeling of many of the models in the industry.
Through this model’s exploits, we gain a comical taste of the show business industry.
Kind of like evolution in reverse, the series charts the lost model’s progress from wanderig around Shibuya to regressing to some new primitive state.
“Avatar Man, set free in Tokyo and wandering the unfamiliar streets. Fearful and misplaced, he suddenly encounters a beautiful, foreign-looking doll, and finally warms up to the world around him. Feeling relaxed and in high spirits, he dances his way through the crowds and becomes the life of the party. Is he hungry for a burger?”
Insipid Japanese celebrities, move aside! This “man” needs his own TV commercial right away!
Maaserhit Honda tells us that the next installment, intriguingly titled “Mr. English Teacher” will be out next month. You can stay updated via the I AM MODEL Facebook page.
Paddle8, the online art auction portral, is holding a special online art auction during this month, to accompany an exhibition, Trailblazer, happening at the Japan Society in New York. The auction itself will be “held” virtually on March 21st and bids are being taken until the day before.
With the current two-year anniversary of the Tohoku catastrophe on people’s minds, charity events are cropping up all over. This one, though, is not benefitting disaster-relief causes (which, sadly, as we have seen have actually seen little of the money that was donated) but the Japan Society Gallery.
Tomokazu Matsuyama, “I See U” (2012)
The selection of artists’ work, including international illuminaries like Mariko Mori, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Miwa Yanagi, celebrates the best of the modern and the traditional, with prints by Utagawa alongside contemporary curated photography.
The exhibition is celebrating the work of Toko Shinoda and the artist’s centenary.
Toko Shinoda, “Yugen” (1981) [left] and Hiroshi Sugimoto, “Conceptual Form 0026″ (2004) [right]
Miwa Yanagi, “My Grandmothers/HYONEE” (2007) [left] and Mariko Mori, “Oneness” (2013) [right]
Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee (41) has been arrested by Tokyo police on suspicion of distributing obscene imagery, a development that will surely ignite a fierce debate over the freedom of expression for artists in Japan.
Kee and two others were nabbed by police on suspicion of selling at least seven copies of Kee’s photo books to two customers at hiromi yoshii roppongi gallery as part of Kee’s current exhibition at the well-known venue.
Kee’s new series, “Super Goh” and “Super Miki”, feature extensive male nudity. (Kee is a popular figure in the gay world.)
The Tokyo-based Kee is a star in the local fashion and art worlds, having photographed music artists as major as Ayumi Hamasaki and Seiko Matsuda. He has also worked internationally, including album cover photography for Lady Gaga and famous portraits of the likes of Quentin Tarantino.
Japan, despite having one of the most profligate adult industries in the world, still maintains a bizarre schizophrenic attitude towards depictions of nudity.
A porn producer such as Soft on Demand can have a massive billboard in Shibuya — but to show direct images of genitalia is forbidden under an ambiguous century-old law introduced when Japan was attempting to copy western (i.e. Christian) morality.
This is the reason for the “mosaic” pixellation not just of pornography but also regular films with full-frontal nudity, and of course, photo books as well.
Japanese fringe theatre also suffers from this situation, in that while nude scenes do take place, technically it is not protected by the law and the production could be shut down if patrons then reported the performers to the authorities.
There is definitely something sexist at work here. There are plenty of so-called “hair nude” photo books with female actresses and models stripping off for publications sold in mainstream book stores (usually bound so browsers cannot open them). This has become more and more common over the last twenty-five years, even if the “boom” for them has died off recently.
But full male nudity is much rarer. And yet how sad that Kee, a Singaporean who no doubt relished Japan’s lack of strictures compared to his home country, would have to face the cops for his photography.
Kee certainly wasn’t being discreet, though. The exhibition at hiromi yoshii roppongi was even called “FOREVER YOUNG Uncensored Edition !!!! Male Nude Photo Exhibition by LESLIE KEE”. (One of the other arrested apparently included Yoshii, the gallerist, but there have been conflicting reports about this.) It opened on February 2nd and is (was? will it have to shut down?) set to run until March 6th. The sale of the uncensored photo books seems to have happened on the opening night of the exhibition.
*UPDATE*: The exhibition has been cancelled! Japanese police, congratulations for your act of censorship!
Okay, folks. We’ve found the funnest thing to do in Tokyo right now and best of all, it’s right in the center and it’s even artistic.
Head on down to the Louis Vuitton store on Omotesando, where on the top floor there is an art gallery called Espace Louis Vuitton Tokyo. There LV holds regular exhibitions with international and Japanese artists.
The main piece is a huge hanging canopy, a sort of hammock-like quasi-zoological sculpture, which you can walk up onto and then along till you reach this snug nest-like section where you can lie down and relax.
Press materials say that it “deals with stability, as well as discovery of how we move, desire, fear, and most importantly, of the fact our existence itself is part of a body that is ‘Life’.”
We’re not sure about that but it is certainly very organic and made us think of children’s ball pits, jungle ropewalks, a rainforest canopy, wombs, snakes, sperm… Well, let’s just say it is an extravaganza of motifs but walking along the hammock tunnels is indescribable fun!
Since the Espace gallery also features these massive glass windows, you can get great views of central Tokyo.
Not surprisingly with its location and child-like (and child-friendly) interactiveness, the show is proving a bigger hit than even the events at the more famous commercial galleries and art museums in Tokyo.
“Madness is part of Life” ends January 6th. Entry is free.
“You will experience a totally new cool art aquarium space where you can enjoy the beautiful kingyo in the stylish performance of Edo at Tokyo Nihonbashi Mitsui Hall.”
Okay, we can forgive the slight sense of Jinglish in that sentence but this Art Aquarium is undeniably cool — and spectacular too.
Those with subtler palates will likely want to stay away from this but if you have ever wondered what happens when the vibrant colors of Edo era Tokyo (i.e. “Edo”) meet with a host of fish in glass tanks, hope down to see this before it closes later this month.
It is of course very reminiscent of Mika Ninagawa and her typical furore of garish colors, opulent pinks and oranges, and always with some gold fish swimming around. Her critics and detractors call her immensely superficial — and this blogger is very much of that party — while her fans adore her vision and beauty.
Her film of the manga Sakuran began like a closeup from this art aquarium show, with elegant but luxurious feasts of colors revealing kingyo fish swimming in between.
What is it about Edo that we remember only through, if not rose-tinted glasses, but explosions of color?
Yes, there would have been some no doubt bright clothes around and it certainly was an era when the pleasure quarter Yoshiwara and entertainments like Kabuki were in full swing. But ordinary life would have been far more banal, especially in its spectrum of colors. Most people wore surely duller clothes and, there being no wonders like air con like today, come the summer everyone surely sweated and stank to high heaven.
It is definitely a case when the fantasy image of what we think the culture and city represented has come to supplant any sense of grounded imagination. Mountains of Ukiyoe prints and their “floating world” aesthetic have caused a sort of amnesia for realistic ideas of what “Edo” was.
An old colleague once made a great observation when he noted that Japanese period dramas are always so clean, while western historical dramas, especially ones with pre-eighteenth or nineteenth century settings, rather revel in the dirt, the grime. I guess the later happens because viewers like verisimilitude and also to feel comfortable, literally, while watching their TV screens, content that they live in a much more civilized day.
The former? Well, I suppose matters like hygienic and discomfort are not
The Art Aquarium runs in central Tokyo until September 24th.