Posts Tagged ‘art’

Taro Okamoto towers above 2011

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

Last year was samurai Ryoma Sakamoto’s year, as a huge surge of interest, largely generated by an NHK dramatization of his life, lead to countless product tie-ins. This year the dead celebrity du jour looks set to be artist Taro Okamoto, who will also be getting his own NHK show in celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth. A slew of exhibitions are also sure to revive the public’s interest in this iconoclastic painter and sculptor.

The NHK drama is titled “Taro’s Tower,” in reference to “Tower of the Sun,” which Okamoto created for Expo ’70 in Suita, Osaka. The first episode, which aired on Feb. 26, focused on the period between 1967 and 1970 when Okamoto battled to complete the tower in time for the World’s Fair. The structure is one of his most iconic works, and though it’s rather weather-worn, it still stands in the Expo Commemoration Park in Suita, Osaka.

Inside the “Tower of the Sun” there used to be a structure called “Tree of Life,” which represented the strength of life heading toward the future. Staircases winding round the inside of the “Tower of the Sun” allowed you to view it up close. Since “The Tree of Life” no longer exists the Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum has commissioned a 1:20 scale model of the art work. Standing just 2.5m tall, the replica, made by model shop Kaiyodo, allows visitors to see details that you couldn’t with the 50-meter original.

Other museums are also holding special events in memory of Okamoto. The National Museum of Modern Art will be holding a 100th anniversary exhibition, which kicked off March 8. The show’s theme — confrontation — references the fact that Okamoto challenged the values of traditional Japanese society. About 130 works, including paintings, sculptures, photographs and design, will be on display.

At Taro Okamoto Museum of Art in Kawasaki, an exhibition titled “100 years old Admirable Taro” will run until April 3. The curators have chosen 27 items from their collection of 818 works. Of particular note is a primitive shrine that Okamoto crafted out of traditional materials in celebration of folk art.

Though the art world is buzzing with Okamoto-related exhibitions, the craze for the artist hasn’t yet shown signs of reaching the same dizzy heights of last year’s Sakamoto boom. As yet we haven’t found any anniversary tie-in products, we did stumble upon these rather groovy Okamoto Children’s Day koinobori (carp kites), which were on sale as limited editions last year. Let’s hope they re-release them in time for this year’s Children’s Day.

“Tower of the Sun” photo by Ryan McBride [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Techno Shugei weaves craft into circuitry

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Techno Shugei's New Year's Rabbit, background knitted by 203gow

Meet Hebitsuke, the friendly felt snake whose eyes light up with joy when he bites his own tail. The snake is the work of the Techno Shugei (Handicrafts) group who published a book in November 2011 containing instructions on how to construct Hebitsuke — a combo of circuit boards with fluffy materials — and much more. The book, which bears the same title as the group, is proving to be a surprise hit, enjoying steady sales with people keen to try their hand at sewing, knitting and simple circuitry.

Hebitsuke's eyes light up when it bites its own tail

Techno Shugei was formed back in 2008 by Kyoko Kasuya and Tomofumi Yoshida, a pair of engineering students who shared the vision of combining handicrafts with circuitry. Their simple witty pieces were pretty popular back in autumn 2009 when we visited the Make: Tokyo Meeting at Ookayama campus of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, and since that time they’ve been busy programming and sewing to bring together this crafty collection of electronic objects.

The book contains instructions on how to program the Arduino circuit board used in their works as well as how to sew and fit together works like felt LED broaches and winking fox gloves. They’ve even thought up a fix for the glove/touchpad problem by sewing crosses of conductive thread on the pads of the index finger of a normal glove (quite possibly a cheaper solution than buying touchscreen gloves).

Techno Shugei is affiliated with Make Magazine that runs great events showcasing the work of amateur scientists and crafty types. At the last Make event, their book was in demand and sold out quickly, according to Nikkei Trendy. Another artist who exhibits her work at Make events is guerrilla knitter 203gow who has some works on display at the Make: in Hands event in Shibuya (on until Feb. 28). The knitting artist, whose own octopus-inspired work is currently making waves, has also collaborated with Techno Shugei to produce this cute scene for their New Year’s rabbit.

Unfortunately Techno Shugei won’t be at the Make event in Shibuya, but you can catch an exhibition of their works on the 6th floor of Junkudo book store in Ikebukuro till Feb 28.

Calligraphy gets a brush-up

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Apart from writing New Year’s cards once a year, most adult Japanese rely on computers to help them write out complex Chinese characters (kanji), meaning many forget how to write them by hand. This has had a detrimental effect on the traditional craft of shodo (calligraphy), which, until recently, was steadily losing popularity among Japanese. But artists who’ve been giving shodo a fashionable spin and popular dramas about the craft have led to a quiet revival.

Suitou Nakatsuka, for instance, is a self-styled “calligraphy space designer.” In addition to practicing traditional calligraphy, she creates modern calligraphy artworks live at fashionable parties, has decorated a munny doll, digital weather reports and her own collection of Arita-ware pottery. Her work has appeared on TV and in various fashion magazines like Can Can. In December last year she released a calligraphy work book for beginners who might want to take up the craft.

Live calligraphy painting is also practiced by artist Kotaro Hachinohe, who uses a camera inside his brush during performances. This performance in Sapporo last year (above) shows him creating an artwork to a jazz soundtrack. He doesn’t limit himself to using traditional washi paper but has used walls and even the interior of a tent as a canvas.

Calligraphy as performance art is an idea that reverberated in the 2010 movie “Shodo Girls!!” in which a high school calligraphy club shakes things up at the national Koshien competition. An NHK TV drama series titled “Tomehane Suzuru High School Shodo Club,” an adaptation of a popular manga of the same name, also came out last year and is thought to have inspired many young Japanese to take up the craft.

In a recent interview on J-Cast TV, Fumiko Ota, the editor of shodo magazine “Sumi” (ink), said that people were attracted to shodo because it involved taking time to do something carefully, taking time out for themselves. The magazine is now celebrating its 35th year with a special Jan./Feb. edition aimed at riding the wave of the shodo trend. The edition features tips for beginners as well as a special DVD featuring performances from the country’s top calligraphy artists.

Deck the halls with bottles of plastic . . .

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

This Christmas light show is quite literally garbage. High-class department store Takashimaya has decided to deck out the southern terrace area surrounding their Shinjuku store with Christmas illuminations constructed entirely out of discarded PET bottles and LED lights. The results, which include a PET bottle Christmas tree, UFO and giant man, are actually quite impressive, transforming the space into a clear plastic paradise.

The theme for the exhibition, which was installed by light artist Hiroyuki Morikawa, is “ancient ruins and outer space,” hence the UFO. Though we weren’t quite sure where the ruins fit in to the display, we loved the “Pet Tron” PET bottle screen, which showed passersby a pixellated otherworldly image of their faces.

Morikawa constructed part of this PET bottle world with the help of a group of children. The children assembled pet bottle stars with the artist’s guidance that were then either placed on top of lamp posts or piled up to create a splendid Christmas tree. You can see footage of this workshop towards the end of the video above.

Morikawa, a professor of Information Design at Tama Art University, is well known in Japan for his work with LED lights, such as this playful interactive installation piece constructed at MOA in April this year. The Shinjuku display will be lit up until Dec. 25.

Today’s menu: frisky fun rolled in novelty

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Nadeshiko serves up sushi handmade by cute young women

Nadeshiko serves up sushi prepared by cute young women

The appetites of Tokyo’s novelty-hungry clientele should be satisfied in October by a platter of new cafes and restaurants, running the gamut from photographer Miwa Yanagi’s pop up Café Rotten-Meier to Hooters, which is opening its first shop in Japan on Oct. 25. Whether you like a coffee served up in high style or prefer a beer delivered to your table by a cute girl with a wide smile, yet more options are now on offer for a one-of-a-kind meal in Tokyo:

  • Hooters: The idea of girls singing songs, playing games and generally entertaining customers has long been the selling point of maid cafes, so we’re certain Japanese men won’t have any trouble getting their minds round the concept. In fact, we have to wonder what took them so long, given the considerable expansion of Hooters overseas. Hooters Tokyo, Akasaka Tokyu Plaza 2F,  2-14-3 Nagata-cho, Chiyoda-ku.
  • Nadeshico Sushi: The girls show a little less flesh here, with the focus instead on appreciating their delicate sushi-making hands. “Bare armed young women handling sushi will make me happy,” commented one netizen on the concept for this new Akihabara eaterie. Nadeshico Sushi (lovable sushi), which opened Oct. 1, features nigiri sushi prepared by women aged between 18 and 25. The menu includes Edo-era nigiri or super kawaii sushi rolls shaped into hearts or animal faces. Chichibu Denki Building 2F, Sotokanda 3-12-15, Chiyoda-ku.
  • Café Rotten-Meier: As part of Festival/Tokyo 10, photographer " target="_blank">Miwa Yanagi has dreamed up a concept cafe for lovers of performance art. Visitors will be served up tea and cakes by a coterie of grandmothers and over the final weekend one of the grandmothers will be played by Yanagi herself. There’s no age limit for those who want to perform as grandmother maids, but applicants must have an interest in performance and food. Rotten-Meier is the severe grandmother maid character from Heidi, so we’re not sure whether service will be delivered with a smile, but even if your tea is poured with a sneer, it’s bound to be an entertaining experience. The space will be decorated by Yanagi so expect to enter an enchanting if slightly unsettling fairytale world. The cafe will be located in front of Tokyo Metropolitan Art Space in Ikebukuro and will be open weekends only from midday till 10pm, from Dec. 30 till Nov. 28.

Japan by the numbers (08.21.10)

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Toy cameras use digital to keep it analog

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Hot on the heels of the toy camera trend, which saw photography buffs embracing cheaply made vintage cameras like the Lomo and Holga for their blurry over-saturated aesthetic, comes the toy digital-camera (トイデジカメ) boom, in which hobbyists bypass the expense of developing film while still achieving the same analog effects.

Although purists may turn up their noses at such inventions as the Digital Harinezumi, whose shape recalls a old-school film cartridge, the camera has been a such a big hit in Japan that its maker, Tokyo-based SuperHeadz, has released the Harinezumi 2++. Shots can be framed the old-fashioned way by using the square, plastic viewfinder above the lens, and pictures and film can be shot in monochrome or Super-8 style color. Because the image is deliberately grainy and fuzzy, image quality is not a priority with these types of cameras: Harinezumi 2++  shoots its nostalgic pictures at only 3 megapixels. And, in case you were wondering, harinezumi means “hedgehog” in English. Go figure.

SuperHeadz has also cannily promoted the toy-camera trend by publishing photography books via its publishing arm, PowershovelBooks. Titles include books such as “Toy Camera Zoo,” which is filled with bright, fuzzy images of animals captured by toy-camera enthusiasts. To further fuel the fire, SuperHeadz will be putting on a special Harinezumi photo fair, Aug. 20-29, at Laforet’s event space in Harajuku, where new colorful versions of the Harinezumi will be available to buy and a new product is set to be unveiled.

SuperHeadz isn’t the only Japanese company producing toy digital cameras. Vistaquest recently released the waterproof VQ8950, the latest in their toy digicam range, which includes the VQ1005, a miniature 1.3 megapixel camera that clips onto a key ring. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the big-name camera manufacturers throw their hats into the ring?

While the charm of these cameras is undeniable, we do have to point out that it’s possible to achieve the same toy-camera effects on iPhone apps or with image software such as Analog Color, so it’s hard to say what edge the lo-fi digicams have, excepting, of course, their cool retro designs.

Toy-camera enthusiasts hungry for more info on the Japanese scene should visit the Toikamera (トイカメラ) website, which is filled with camera news, forums and photo galleries.

Pulsations (07.29.10)

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are . . .


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