japanese art, design and culture

Posts from — September 2012

The wonderful world of Yuko Hishiyama’s mesh sculptures

I just discovered Yuko Hishiyama’s work when I attended the most recent Pecha Kucha night in Tokyo. After a degree from Tokyo University of Art and Music she went to Pennsylvania where she moved away from stone and began sculpting mainly using aluminum mesh. From this thin and light material, she creates large, inflated caricatures that appear heavy but are, in fact, entirely hollow. But they take up so much space that she confessed to not having no more room in her house!

all images courtesy the Haifa Museum of Art

These sympathetic characters are grotesque representations of emotion or mood, making them very approachable. Hishiyama doesn’t color them but, depending on the light, they can completely change colors. As they are empty she also encourages people to put lights inside and play with the shadows it creates.

Yuko is also a good narrator, creating interaction with the space and the public through the staging of her characters. Sometimes they appear as gentle ghosts from a wall, sometimes you may have the impression they just want to hug you or talk to you or make fun of you.

Unfortunately, no exhibitions are planned these next months in Japan nor in USA. We will have to be patient!


September 28, 2012   1 Comment

All tangled up | Akihisa Hirata at The Architecture Foundation

all images courtesy Joseph Keating | click to enlarge

As part of London Design Week, architect Akihisa Hirata is having his first solo show at The Architecture Foundation in London. The exhibition consists of a gigantic contorted loop – something akin to a Möbius strip – that is lined, inside and out, with over 100 architectural models and conceptual sketches. “Tangled,” which runs through November 17, represents one of Hirata’s core architectural principles and one which many of his projects are based off of.

The exhibition comes on the back of some very heavy European exposure for Hirata. In April his installation at Milano Salone won a 2012 Elita Design Award. And in September the Japan Pavilion at the Venice biennale, which Hirata took part in, was awarded best in show.

Technology is not something that concurs with nature, but that tangles with nature… Even if we cannot control nature, I think understanding it can enable better intuition, and the potential for collaboration between architects and engineers to become more radical in response. It will be very exciting if we can create a new type of coexistence between nature, technology, and society, by means of architecture.

– Akihisa Hirata

Take a look at some of our previous stories on Hirata for more ways the architect unites mathematics and nature.

Special thanks to atsuko & joe for going over the the exhibition for us and coming back with these fantastic images!

September 27, 2012   Comments Off

New work by Sohei Nishino | 10,000 contact sheets collaged together to create map of Bern, Switzerland

all images courtesy the artist | click to enlarge

The photographer Sohei Nishino (previously) spends months on a single work. That’s because it’s never just 1 photograph. On the contrary, it’s tens of thousands of photographs – contact sheets, to be exact – that he’s taken walking up and down every nook and cranny of the city. They’re what he calls “Diorama Maps” and they’re “not a precise google map, but presents the key elements of the city in a form closer to my own memory and observation.”

That’s why it’s worth taking note when the artist unveils new work. His latest map is of the city of Bern, Switzerland, where he spent almost the first 6 months of 2012 taking pictures. His map is currently on display at the festival des arts visuels de vevey through September 30.

In the artist’s own words:

The creation of a Diorama Map takes the following method; Walking around the chosen city on foot; shooting from various location with film; pasting and arranging of the re-imagined city from my memory as layered icons of the city.

source: artist’s website

September 26, 2012   Comments Off

Tokyo Art Book Fair 2012

I just came back from the Tokyo Art Book Fair and saw a lot of pretty art books! The event took place (of course in Tokyo) from September 21 – 23 in collaboration with Kyoto University of Art and Design, Tohoku University of Art and Design Gaien Campus.

There were close to a thousand exhibitors: editors, artists, communication student, and publishers, all packed into Gaien Campus where you were invited to touch and feel spectacular  books designed with attention, imagination and humor!

Here are a few of my favorites among an incredible variety of amazing works:

The Art publisher SEIGENSHA and its amazing little books about Japanese traditional design:

The CREATIVE LANGUAGE. They make amazing art books like this one called “Often” from Aquvii:

Or these cute pixelated animals for children from Norio Nakamura:

Last but not least, I enjoyed meeting PROTOTYPE BOOK which edits some great cultural local magazines like this one of Osaka:

I wish I could show all of the projects. These are such a small part of the colorful, tactile experience. I was reminded how much skill and passion goes into art, photography and graphic art books.

September 25, 2012   Comments Off

New Genki Sudo Music Video tries to mend ties between Japan and China and Korea

Amid heightened tensions between Japan and her two neighboring countries – S. Korea and China – one man was quick to take action, proving that not all are nationalistic douchebags. I am, of course, speaking of mixed-martial-artist-turned-buddhist-internet-dancing-sensation Genki Sudo. In his new video “Permanent Revolution,” he and his compatriots dance their way to Asia where they spread their message.

[Spoiler Alert]
It’s not until the last 20 seconds of the video that we learn what their message really was. “We are all one,” written in large letters across a single white page. But in an ominous turn of events, a sinister-looking Caucasian special agent is seen sneaking the message into his jacket and leaving the scene. There seem to be two interpretations: 1) the West had orchestrated the conflict and was trying to throw a wrench in the mending process, or 2) the man was taking the message back to the West to share it. What do you think? Any other theories?

Sudo is well known for his timely music videos. Just 1 week after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, Sudo uploaded “Machine Civilization,” a catchy electronic tune in signature Sudo style that shows support for Japan. “Any accident is neutral,” he says. “Although we are straying around this deep darkness, I believe we can get through anything when each of us can let go of our fear and face things positively… The darkness just before the dawn is deepest. So, we do rise up together to greet the brilliant morning truly coming for the human beings.”

Source: JapanProbe

September 25, 2012   6 Comments

Tokyo Station celebrates major renovation through large-scale projection mapping

photo by flickr user hidesax | click to enlarge

A major landmark of Japan’s capital – JR Tokyo Station – has been undergoing renovations since 2007 to return to its post-WWII appearance. Originally built in 1914, it was heavily damaged by bombing raids in 1945, only to reopen 6 years later in a lesser state.

To celebrate the new renovations JR East enlisted NHK Enterprise and jumped on the 3D projection mapping craze, creating a 10-minute long video that animated the stationary facade of Tokyo Station with added sound effects and music. Although the sense of scale you get live doesn’t get replicated on YouTube, below is what the audience was treated to over the weekend when Tokyo Station Vision ran on September 22 and 23.

photos by flickr user yukita | click to enlarge


September 24, 2012   Comments Off

Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus now open to the public

all images by Tom Powel | courtesy of the public art fund

It’s not everyday that all the pigeon poop on a 75-ft high outdoor marble statue is cleaned off. And it’s not everyday that a pre-eminent symbol of our new world is encased in a pent-house apartment with grand views of central park. And it’s not everyday we are allowed to enter that apartment, as we would a model living room at IKEA, to ponder the 120-year old sculpture by Italian sculptor Gaetano Russo and enjoy an intimacy reserved only for the aforementioned pigeons. I am, of course, referring to Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus, which just opened two days ago.

Yesterday morning I took my free timed ticket, signed a release form and climbed more flights of stairs than residents living on the top floor of a walk-up apartment.

Nishi’s project re-imagines the colossal 13-foot-tall statue of Columbus standing in a fully furnished, modern living room. Featuring tables, chairs, couch, rug, and flat-screen television, the décor reflects the artist’s interpretation of contemporary New York style. He even designed wallpaper inspired by memories of American popular culture, having watched Hollywood movies and television as a child in Japan.

After the exhibition closes on November 18th, the structure will remain standing so that the statue can undergo a major restoration. Art restorers will undoubtedly feel lucky to be able to work in the comfort of someone’s living room.

September 22, 2012   Comments Off

Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Vegetable Weapons

Vegetable Weapon-Nishime (Simmered Vegetables) / Fukushima, 2011

Japanese photographer Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Vegetable Weapons series began in 2001. Since then, he has traveled around the world taking photographs of young women holding “weapons” fashioned from the ingredients needed to make an indigenous hot-pot dish. His art concludes in him making an actual hot-pot and sharing a meal. His series, which poke fun at the stupidity of war and violence, will be on display as part of a group show at Misa Shin Gallery. Noteworthy will be a recent addition to the series – a work photographed in Fukushima right after the earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident in March 2011.

Chikuzenni (Simmered vegetables with chicken) / Kyoto, 2008

Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” – Susan Sontag

Borrowing from the title of Susan Sontag’s classic 1977 book, the group exhibition “ON Photography” runs through November 2, 2012

 Mutton hot pot / Beijing, 2002

Saury fish ball hot pot / Tokyo, 2001

Vegetable Weapon-Crawfish Etouffee / New Orleans, 2011

September 21, 2012   Comments Off

treasure mug appears to sink into your table

The Treasure Mug takes its name from an illusion it creates, appearing as if it’s a treasure chest emerging from sand. The trick is pretty simple: a slanted base and trimmed handle creates, what I think, looks more like a mug sinking into a table. Either way, it’s sure to make your morning coffee a bit more interesting!

You can purchase it directly from plywood (1,260 yen), an Japanese interior design shop. If you live overseas, your best bet is Amazon JP, since they ship overseas.

(PS: I love the very serious Japanese disclaimer: “Please note that when placed on surface, this cup will be slanted. This design is intentional and is not a defect.”)

September 20, 2012   1 Comment

The Deep Sea Mystery Circle – a love story

images courtesy Yoji Ookata and NHK

Introduced to life under the sea in high school through snorkeling, Yoji Ookata obtained his scuba license at the age of 21. At the same time, he went out and bought a brand new NIKONOS, a 35mm film camera specifically designed for underwater photography. He devoted all his spare time – aside from his day job – to perfecting his art of underwater photography. Then, at age 39, he finally made the transition. He quit his office job and became a freelance underwater photographer.

But even for a man who spent the last 50 years immersed in the underwater world of sea life, the ocean proved infinitely mysterious. While diving in the semi-tropical region of Amami Oshima, roughly 80 ft below sea level, Ookata spotted something he had never seen. And as it turned out, no one else had seen it before either.

On the seabed a geometric, circular structure measuring roughly 6.5 ft in diameter had been precisely carved from sand. It consisted of multiple ridges, symmetrically jutting out from the center, and appeared to be the work of an underwater artist, carefully working with tools. For its resemblance to crop circles, Ookata dubbed his new finding a “mystery circle,” and enlisted some colleagues at NHK to help him investigate. In a television episode that aired last week titled “The Discovery of a Century: Deep Sea Mystery Circle,” the television crew revealed their findings and the unknown artist was unmasked.

Underwater cameras showed that the artist was a small puffer fish who, using only his flapping fin, tirelessly worked day and night to carve the circular ridges. The unlikely artist – best known in Japan as a delicacy, albeit a potentially poisonous one – even takes small shells, cracks them, and lines the inner grooves of his sculpture as if decorating his piece. Further observation revealed that this “mysterious circle” was not just there to make the ocean floor look pretty. Attracted by the grooves and ridges, female puffer fish would find their way along the dark seabed to the male puffer fish where they would mate and lay eggs in the center of the circle. In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male. The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either. The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns.

the artist at work

What was fascinating was that the fish’s sculpture played another role. Through experiments back at their lab, the scientists showed that the grooves and ridges of the sculpture helped neutralize currents, protecting the eggs from being tossed around and potentially exposing them to predators.

It was a true story of love, craftsmanship and the desire to pass on descendants.

click images to enlarge

UPDATE [Aug 26, 2013]

Video footage of the little artist at work recently surfaced. It was uploaded to YouTube by MarineStation Amami, a hotel and dive center that assisted Yoji Okata and NHK in producing the video segment that aired last year. Of note, watch at around 1:20 when the fish takes a small shell in his mouth and plants it in the sculpture. Scientists believe that the shells are filled with vital nutrients and this is the soon-to-be-father’s way of preparing nourishment for the babies.


September 18, 2012   27 Comments