…further adventures in Japan

 

Fuji from the plane

Having got as far as Tōkyō to take part in the Playable City lab, it would have been a shame to have turned around and gone back home again after only a week. So I didn’t.

What I hadn’t really planned for was my explorations to start with a trip to hospital, but there you go; it’s all good learning.

hospital

I learned that there isn’t really a GP equivalent in Japan and so if you’ve caught a lurgy you join all the hundreds of other people being herded around the hospital in an efficient manner. Somewhat bewildering without enough of the language, but with some supplementary pointing, and after being politely relieved of some money, I got some meds and was eventually on my way.

First stop was Hakone, where I’d decided to treat myself to two nights in a ryokan.

ryokan

ryokan meal

ryokan

The wikipedia article starts by describing ryokan as “a type of traditional Japanese inn that originated in the Edo period (1603–1868), when such inns served travelers along Japan’s highways. They typically feature tatami-matted rooms, communal baths, and other public areas where visitors may wear yukata and talk with the owner”. Having gazed longingly at the clear blue skies from my hotel room window when I was too ill to go out and play in Tōkyō, in my chats with the ryokan staff we joked that I was a rain god. Yup, you’ve guessed it: I’d planned to do some walking around Hakone and, for the two days I was there, it was pretty miserable weather.

Armed with my kagoul, a sense of humour and slightly inadequate maps, I set off to walk along a well-preserved section of the old Tōkaidō highway that used to be the main route between Kyōto and what is now Tōkyō. My ryokan was close to the Hakone Sekisho (security checkpoint) so I had a look around there first before setting off up the steep wooded slopes along the ancient cobbles.

Hakone Sekisho

old Tōkaidō highway

Pretty mind-boggling to try and imagine what this road was like 400 years ago with volcanoes and earthquakes adding to all the usual human-powered perils.

Apparently, around here is the re-routed section that was built to make the going less steep. No wonder it was travelled by foot and not by wheeled transport…

I only walked a few miles, but was grateful when I reached the amazake chaya serving its cups of warm, sweet, fermented rice drink. The room was dim and full of slightly biting wood smoke from the fire, but check out the size of that brass kettle between the table and the counter in the background for a sense of how this place has traditionally provided a welcome haven for the travellers that stop off here!

amazake chaya

From the tea house I opted to make use of my Hakone Free Pass and take the white-knuckle roller coaster bus ride over to Hanone Yumoto and then the Tozan Railway and Cable Car (funicular railway) up into the mountains. Unfortunately the Hakone Ropeway (cable car) wasn’t operating by the time I got to Sounzan station, so I retraced my steps back to Yumoto through the drizzle and failing light and then braved the bus once again to return to the ryokan.

The next day was even wetter, but I still had the Free Pass and I was determined to use it so I attacked the mountains from the other direction: taking a ferry boat mocked up as a replica HMS Victory across the lake and then the Ropeway up to Ōwakudani.

Ashinoko

Ashinoko Victory ferry

Ashinoko

Wikipedia informs me the name Ōwakudani (大涌谷) literally means “Great Boiling Valley”, which makes perfect sense: steam rises from countless fumaroles as you reach the upper slopes.

Ōwakudani (Great Boiling Valley)

The combined effect of the vents, the strongly sulphurous smell, the scree slopes and the Geomuseum finally brought home to me how volatile the landscape around here is.

I returned to the ryokan, collected my bags and headed off to a friend’s house and significantly more snuggly surroundings …even if I did have to contend with bears and interlopers in my bed.

Bear Hunt oyasumi

A few days later my JR Pass kicked in, so it was time to hit the road shinkansen.

I arrived in Kyōto around lunchtime along with a light snowfall and a reminder that it was indeed December. I’d originally planned to hire a bike, but opted for a walking instead. I popped in on the garden at Konchi-in as the shadows were lengthening and climbed the sanmon gate of Nanzen-ji as golden hour illuminated a pretty good view of the city.

Konchi-in

Nanzen-ji

That afternoon I was mostly fixated by the many amazing rooflines I encountered, so the taking of photos happily continued as dusk fell and I started to make my way down Tetsugaku-no-michi (The Philosopher’s Path), arriving at Ginkaku-ji well after dark when everything was shut.

Nanzen-ji

Tetsugaku-no-michi

Ginkaku-ji Ginkaku-ji

The next day was mostly about trains; travelling the 460-or-so miles between Kyōto and Kumamoto, almost – but not entirely – successfully managing a series of very tight transfer windows at 4 or 5 busy shinkansen stations.

shinkansen view

YCAM

I stopped off en route to meet up with a producer at Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media who gave me a very interesting tour of the building and the various activities going on there, followed by a slap-up sushi lunch and then a bike to go off exploring with for an hour or so. I was so ready for that bike ride after having been sat on trains since early morning!

My somewhat circuitous route took me over to Ruriko-ji where I had a super quick look at the pagoda and then sprinted back in order to be in time to catch a few more trains.

Ruriko-ji

Ruriko-ji Ruriko-ji

After a minor embarkation error and a bit of on-the-fly emergency plan B-ing, I eventually made it to Kumamoto, in position and ready to make the most of the following few days staying with a friend and her family on the outskirts of the city.

Daylight hours included being taught how to play shogi, making splatty sweets and establishing the level of mime required to communicate (we don’t have much language overlap, but it seems to mostly work out okay). After the youngest young ‘un had curled up and been hit several times with a horizontal rolled up newspaper, we set off into the sunset to the village temple…

inaka sunset

kane

…where we were to watch the 6 p.m. ringing of the bell.

…except it turned out that my friend had been at school with the obõsan so we ended up not watching his wife ring the bell but climbing up and giving it some welly [religious technical term] ourselves. I particularly liked the stone system for keeping count of how many times the bell had been rung. The bell was impressively loud and reverberant from that close, so I can well imagine it would be easy to lose count.

We also learned that the 6 a.m. bell ringing had been ceased after complaints from the locals…

kane counting stones

It then turned out that, whilst we’d been ringing the bell, the obõsan had been inside getting changed into more formal attire and we were then allowed to accompany him into the inner part of the main hall where we got to peer at all the ornate carvings and he explained the significance of various things. Again we didn’t have much language overlap, but I probably learned more about Buddhism that evening than I had done in several visits to Kyōto and all the massive temples there.

local temple

The young ‘uns were back at school the next day, so my friend and I joined a class of 5 year olds (almost as loud as a temple bell!) for a miso making session. It involved some very large bowls, some satisfyingly hands-on mixing of squelchy stuff and then punching the resulting mixture into those bags you can see the background, hopefully with no air trapped inside.

making miso

making miso

I couldn’t take much of our miso back on the plane with me, but a lunchbox full is currently quietly fermenting away in the cupboard underneath my kitchen sink. It’s got to do this for the next 3 months or so and then I suppose it’ll either be green and furry or I’ll need to find someone who actually knows what miso’s supposed to taste like to declare whether it’s ready or not!

What with the miso and the amazake, I’m becoming more and more curious about all the different Japanese foodstuffs made from variants of fermented rice. I’m pretty sure there’s a project in there somewhere, but failing that I bet there’s loads of interesting traditional processes to learn about and wonder at.

blue sheets

After the miso punching we had time for a quick look at Kumamoto Castle. Kumamoto was hit by a large earthquake in April and driving through the city had already been a sobering experience seeing all the signs of the damage done: blue tarpaulins on many of the rooftops (as shown in the Google maps screenshot above); gravestones all akimbo; and occasionally an apartment block with a ground floor missing. Well, not missing, just very compressed.

I’d been around Kumamoto-jō on a previous visit, so I had reference points for before and after. Even without these, the large rocks strewn about the place, the collapsed walls and the dishevelled tiles all brought home the power of the quake. They’re still getting aftershocks, so there’s not yet much that can be done in the way of tidying up, though I dread to think how long it will take to try and reassemble everything once they do get started.

Kumamoto-jō

Kumamoto-jō

On the return of the young ‘uns from school that evening we went for a stroll around the local area.

Kumamoto inaka view

My friend was worried that I would be bored in such a small, quiet place (let’s face it: everywhere’s going to be small and quiet after Tōkyō), but I really enjoyed hearing about the personal stories related to the area, including short-cuts back from school along the bamboo road (don’t tell her mum!).

take no michi

Also more shenanigans on a bike that was way too small for me, but much fun nonetheless!

 

 

bike fun

Back on the shinkansen again…

Fascinating watching how the population puddles in the flat areas, right up to the foothills of the mountains, and then how the cloud sneaks down and gathers on the upper slopes almost as if it’s poised ready to take the place of the buildings if given half a chance.

Shinkansen view

Next was a couple of nights staying at the Wasyugama pottery near Okayama.

tunnel kiln

As soon as I’d learned about this place I’d wanted to make sure I got a chance to visit. Next time I’m going to have to make sure I stay for longer.

On arrival I got a quick tour of the workshop and I grilled K on the firing process (there are a couple of videos on YouTube if you’re interested) and how the different decorative effects were achieved. Then we made a dash across the city to the Fukiage Art Museum to look for a power drill.

I very much like the act of shedding your outdoor shoes, stepping up onto a wooden platform and then padding around on immaculately polished floorboards in a pair of slippers. [I’d love to try to recreate a similar process of crossing a threshold and entering into a different frame of mind/body for engaging with art/ideas back here in the UK. I wonder how it would be received…]

Here the light switches were located in distant corners, so we did a lot of our slipper-shuffling in the dark using our phones for light. That and having the place all to ourselves was really rather magical.

Fukiage Art Museum

I didn’t have a plan for Okayama other than to relax and soak up as much knowledge as possible. With my host’s comment that most people came to stay there because it was within day-tripping distance to the island of Naoshima I hit some sort of threshold for people suggesting I should go there, so that’s what I did.

Naoshima is a small island (I walked across it in about 30 minutes) in the Seto Inland Sea that somehow manages to be home to a massive mining operation …and several contemporary art museums and installations.

A late start and a series of extenuated transfer times for trains, ferries and buses meant I had limited time to actually look at the art, so I opted to forgo the big museums and instead hunt out the Art House installations dotted around the port of Honmura. Here empty buildings have been transformed into artworks, containers for artworks, and things that blur the boundaries between the two.

art house bath

Above: the 200 year old Kadoya house

Below: a former dentist’s office

art house dentist

There are 7 locations in all, and entrance for 6 of them is charged at about £7, with staff at each location stamping your ticket/leaflet. I’m incredibly curious about how the project came about (it seems the first installation was in 1998, and the latest three in 2006) and where the different sorts of value are perceived to be.

I often find myself working in contexts that have a regeneration agenda attached, so to see an empty buildings project that appears to involve a string of established (presumably well-remunurated) artists, and that can support admission charges and associated costs of staffing and marketing, raises lots of chewy questions. Is it purely seen as a commercial undertaking? Was it a grass-roots project that just evolved, or was it masterminded and commissioned by someone? How do the locals feel about having their small town overrun by tourists? How has the art-ification of Naoshima improved the quality of life for the residents (if at all)?

What I was hoping to see was signs of art happening in the margins – of a critical mass of activity that helped to attract and support emerging artists with more experimental practices – but I didn’t really see any. That’s not to say it isn’t there, of course, I only saw a tiny amount of one area before the sun started to sink and closing times were reached.

Instead of walking back over the island to the ferry terminal I opted to walk along the coast and admire the sunset before taking the bus back.

Naoshima view

I’d mostly been inside my head all day, existing in the space behind my eyes as I waited for transport or passively viewed art, so the stand-out experience of the whole day for me was a series of interactions with a young girl who was playing with a football in the car park outside this ramen restaurant and who found the courage to come up to me at the bus stop to say hello. (Something she couldn’t convince her little sister to try!)

jyouzu

It got me thinking about the Playable City lab and how, on an island of flagship museums and many invested art dollars, someone venturing a few steps and offering the exchange of a few sentences was the most profound thing. ありがとうございました、竹下さん。

Back at the pottery I had just enough time to make use of the fruit I had carefully carried from Kumamoto and take my winter solstice yuzu bath.

The following day I upped the ante on my rucksack-slugging journeying and once more set off for multiple train journeys, except this time with rather a lot of fragile handmade ceramics with me.

That evening, in a university art department somewhere towards the west of Tōkyō, I dined on traditional Japanese cuisine such as oden, onigiri, sushi and honey and ginger flavoured KitKats.

oden

I was the guest of an artist/lecturer there and, having met various members of the department and given a presentation about my practice, in the morning we then set off on a mission to explore Tōkyō.

Nakano Broadway

First was our induction into ‘Deep Tōkyō’: Nakano Broadway. This building has evolved into a centre for anime and manga otaku; something neither her nor I are, so we nervously explored different floors and a few of the tiny, crammed shops before escaping back outside into the relative fresh air and serenity of the city.

Seeking an antidote to Deep Tōkyō we headed up, up, up to the 45th storey observatories in the Metropolitan Government Buildings in Shinjuku where the weather was on good form, giving us a reasonable view of Fuji-san and strikingly dramatic shafts of sunlight lighting up swathes of the metropolis stretching out endlessly all around us.

Tokyo

fujisan

We finished up by spending about 3 hours poking around in the wonderful Intermediatheque museum. Photography wasn’t allowed and the website doesn’t give much of an impression of the place, so you’ll have to imagine somewhere that’s a cross between the Pitt Rivers museum and the Lapworth geology museum at the University of Birmingham, with something of the curatorial feel of the V&A.

The highlight for me was the man at the desk at the back of the 2nd floor trying to piece together a jaguar skeleton whilst happily chatting to visitors and challenging people to correctly match the articulating surfaces of a deer’s leg. He said it takes him about 2 weeks to prepare a skeleton and armature – you can see why!

The next day we went to see a group exhibition of some artists who work in metal and then I managed to convince my companion to join me at the Bicycle Culture Center [English language article] by telling her a bit about Kat Jungnickel’s Bikes and Bloomers research project and showing her my photos of the Bloomer Ride.

Bicycle Culture Center

Bicycle Culture Center

By this stage it was Christmas Eve and I relocated back to Yokosuka for more bears and also a second yuzuburo, although this time with more juggling and plastic turtles.

Yuzuyu two

For our Christmas party we took the Japanese’s adopted fried chicken, and added raw octopus, sushi cake and a kind of summer fruits pudding.

taco

sushi cake

Christmas cake

Our special guest of honour seemed to approve, and I have to say I also really enjoyed the blend of familiar and completely alien ingredients to the afternoon! We did however keep to the universal truth of the empty cardboard box being played with as much, if not more, than the present itself.

merii kurisumasu

I flew home a day and a half later.

~~~~~

I’m not really sure how to conclude this blog post – writing it has been a good way to remind myself of everything that happened, but I feel its only just the start of the process of digesting and reflecting upon it all. Maybe check back in with me in a few months’ time to see what is still in technicolour and what has faded?

In the meantime, many, many thanks to everyone who hosted me, taught me, laughed with me, or just took a chance on saying hello.

The photos here are all released under a CC by-nc-sa license, with larger sizes of the originals (and many more) to be found over on Flickr in this album. If you want to skip the Playable City workshop photos, then start about halfway down this page.

 

Playable City Tokyo

Playable City Tokyo

I was recently one of four British participants selected to take part in Watershed’s Playable City project in Tokyo. Working alongside 7 Japanese counterparts and an awesome support team from the Pervasive Media Studio and British Council Japan, we spent a week exploring the theme of playful welcomes:

 

In 2020, the world will focus on Japan for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In the run up, the construction period and during the games themselves, thousands of people will visit the city who have not been before. With the theme of  a ‘Playful Welcome’, seven Japanese and four UK participants will collaborate and develop playful ideas to connect visitors and local people to each other and to the city, during this exciting time.

…The Playable City Tokyo 2016 Creative Lab and Forum programme is part of the trial research project for the governmental “Basic Policy for Promoting Measures related to Preparations for and Management of the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo in 2020”.

Further details about who was involved can be found on the Lab’s page on the Playable City website.

It was an intense week with a lovely group of intelligent, observant, generous people all riffing off each other and their surroundings; poking at gaps in language and disjoints between cultures, asking many questions and exploring even the smallest of details alongside the big questions.

Some of the very many things we packed into that too-short amount of time included some of the following…

Looking up

A map-making exercise of the area around the WIRED lab in Ark Hills where we were based. These maps led us to complete creative activities, to seek out the deity hidden in plain view and to chase after leaves. The one I made was effectively a prompt for people to slow down and to look up: a sort of treasure hunt of details and views.

Looking up

We also concocted small games for each other. Jo and I were set the Chopsticks Challenge which comprised several tasks that had to be completed working together elbow-to-elbow to make a pair of chopsticks with our forearms. I’m quite impressed with our portrait of Hilary!

chopstick drawing

As the week progressed we were allocated to different teams and we began the task of a more focussed critique of Tokyo and the processes of interaction and integration we might like to see happen as visitors start to arrive as part of the upcoming Olympic Games.

group sharing

We filled many ginormous sheets of paper with notes and diagrams like this:

thinks

(I can assure they all made perfect sense at the time!)

Gradually the concrete room we were colonising became covered in the traces of our thought processes and we began to distil out key themes and assemble them into a proposal for things-that-might-be.

With limited time and resources, prototyping was very lo-fi …but fast, and full of energy. Also little magic moments like this demonstration of a restaurant queue enlivened into a collaborative dance routine by responsive light panels in the floor!

magic moment

Other experiments took place outside.

We only got into trouble with the local security guards twice in the whole week…

trouble

As our ideas got bigger they also started to ask more questions about the types of interactions we wanted to nurture, the places we wanted these interactions to happen and how we wanted to mediate these.

Our group repeatedly grappled with the ideas of gateways, rabbitholes and entrances, so when it came time to take our prototyping outside to include real people and places, we chose to take things right back to basics and to do some experiments questioning how the very first invitation might work. What does it take to bring someone over that line between playing and not playing?

To focus in on the invitation we had to choose play that was familiar enough that we wouldn’t need to explain the rules. One thing led to another and suddenly we were armed with a selection of signs and an escalator in the nearby shopping centre.

pick one

Our aim was to use the fixed space and timespan of the journey up the escalator as a space in which to recruit people to playing a game of Rock, Paper, Scissor (or Janken Pon) at the moment that they reached the top.

janken escalator

We tried different signs in the approach to the escalator and also on and alongside the escalator itself, but without much uptake at all. It wasn’t until we ‘rebranded’ the escalator as The Janken Escalator that things started to turn around.

Perhaps not at all unsurprisingly, the real change came when we had a person waiting at the top of the escalator, ready to start throwing shapes. Up until then we’d had a poster with a pre-made choice that the player ‘played’ against by making their choice – and grabbing a piece of paper representing it – on the way up.

Playing with a real person is just loads better!

(c) British Council, photo by Kenichi Aikawa

© British Council, photo by Kenichi Aikawa

Again I think we raised as many questions as we answered, but that’s when you know things are interesting. Alas we were out of time, though, and the following day we were presenting our research to a room full of people before wrapping up and saying our goodbyes.

traces

Also traces

You can see my Flickr album of photos from the workshop here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nikki_pugh/albums/72157673973684273

It was a wonderful, challenging, stimulating workshop to have been a part of and it’s left me hungry for more of the same. It’s also been interesting to have had the work flow structured by someone else – making me reflect on the processes I would normally work though and highlighting aspects that I find more or less important to me in my practice. For example, in particular I felt the lack of having a specific place to be designing interactions for. What was interesting though was that I also felt the lack of having a technological system to work with too.

Normally I’d be reciting a mantra of “don’t start with the technology”, but Playable City is ultimately about being playful with the infrastructure of a place (rather than just being playful in a place) and it felt like that was missing a bit from the ideas we explored.

I wonder both how I would approach the brief if I tackled it by myself, but also how we would build on what we did in that one week if we tackled it again as a group.

I think even if I did do a solo project I’d be carrying the Playable City cohort with me: my perception of Tokyo is now mediated through the eyes and experiences of everyone in the group and the things that they shared.

 

29 Not-Quite-Random Walks Around Tokyo

I’ve been a bit slow in posting this one, but the audio and slides of the talk I did for Pecha Kucha Night Coventry in October has been put on the main PK website:

The explosion during slide 13 is courtesy of the party poppers left behind by an earlier speaker, Laura Elliot!

Follow @PKN_Coventry on Twitter to keep up-to-date with what’s happening with future events.

Coming up: Yamanote Stories at Pecha Kucha Coventry

Tomorrow I’m one of the presenters at Pecha Kucha Night Coventry, this time in turn part of the Japanese Cultural Festival being run by The Tin Music and Arts.

This means entry is free and there’s karaoke afterwards should you so fancy it!

Using an edited map to navigate around Tokyo

I thought the Japanese theme would be a good excuse to look again at a project I did back in 2006: Sites of Potentiality Guidebooks: Yamanote Line. 29 not-quite-random walks in Tokyo looking for Interesting Things.

PKNCov regulars may remember the Invite Boredom presentation Paul Conneally talked about a year or so ago:

Pecha Kucha Coventry | Vol 8 | Paul Coneally from MINDRIOT PRODUCTIONS on Vimeo.

This is very much a precursor to the Invigilator project and probably sets the scene for most of my practice since then!

See you at the Coal Vaults at 7pm.

Tying together faint fragments

I recently made a “What others say” page for the nice things that had previously been on the (too busy) home page. I also wanted to include some of the descriptions of my work from the old Japanese language profile page …which meant I had to ask for help for an accurate translation.

With many thanks to the completely-unknown-to-me Claire Wilkinson, and the online intermediaries, I received these two translations of descriptions from two Japanese artists:

小さな欠片を見つけては集めていく。微かな断片を探しては繋いでいく。彼女はまるで解れた糸を紡いでいくように人と人を、街と街を、繋いでいきます。- こうあみ

Finding and collecting small fragments. She searches for faint fragments and ties them together. It is as if she is spinning threads which have become loose and frayed, from person to person, town to town, tying them.” – Ami Ko

彼女は人と人とのコミュニケーションを図るイギリスのアーティスト。様々な方法を駆使した表現で展開しています。自己の体験や記憶を他人と共有した時に起こる可能性や、そこから生まれる心のつながりについて思考しています。場と人と時間、この要素がそれぞれの境界を曖昧にすることで、つながりを持ちはじめます。そのつながりは、人と人との言語コミュニケーションを超越したコミュニケーションとなるのです。 – 井上 織衣

She is an English artist attempting interpersonal communication. Her expressions are developing making full use of various ways. She is thinking about times when her own experiences and recollections are held jointly with other people, and the possibilities arising and mental connections born from this. Places and people and times, by blurring the boundaries each of these constituent elements, connections begin to be held. These connections become a form of communication which stands above verbal communication between people.” – Orie Inoue

I love the image of wandering from town to town, tying fragments into new connecting threads. Also of blurring boundaries between places and people and times.

A special mention also to Minkette for her software translations and appreciation of the poetry found within:

@ Minkette will find a small piece collected. We are looking for a piece by connecting faint. And people like her who will spin a yarn like Reta, city and town, we are holding hands.

natsukashii ne

Recent doings (including badges and a hard drive Spring clean) have left me very nostalgic for Tokyo’s rather marvellous and iconic Yamanote Line, missed friends and projects that haven’t yet been realised.

Here’s a quick scrapbook of Yamanote Sen related stuff…

“The Yamanote Line is one of the busiest train lines in the world. Running in a circle around the heart of Tokyo, it carries 3.5 million passengers a day.”

東京 • Tokyo

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ll assume it is a bank.
銀行でしょうか。
7 or 8 workmen shuttle between a fire hydrant and their van parked some way down the street.
His entourage is ready with clipboards, and walkie-talkies.
Yellow collapsible bucket.
黄色い桶。
As soon as the hydrant has been wrapped, a man comes out of the building and lights up a cigarette.
消火栓の隣で喫煙者が
飛び出します。

The stations play different melodies. Also, I think there are different melodies depending on which platform you are on (which direction you are travelling in). This one from Meguro:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

and this one from Shinagawa:

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.

“A little song to help you remember the stations on the JR yamanote line.”

新橋 • Shimbashi

ステンドグラスや
エスカレーターや…
I leave the station only to find myself in a large underground shopping centre.
At what stage do I start following the map?
I walk past a truck full of ice.
装飾的な噴水と
ややこしい階段は
あります、でも
遺孤の葉っぱが
のほうが顕著です。
Amongst the fancy fountains and KerPlunk staircases, it is a solitary leaf that shouts loudest.

One of the 29 stories that came out of my SoPG: Yamanote Line project:

Akihabara from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

Artist Orie Inoue‘s interpretation, early explorations for what might one day be Yamanote Stories:

Akihabara: man carrying a large plant

Akihabara: man carrying a large plant

浜松町 • Hamamatsuchō

From the walkway I see a beautiful garden laid out below me.
“Excellent!” I think,
the map must take me there.
とても奇麗な公園をみました、しかし入ることができません。
But there are no gateways into the garden and after crossing several lanes of traffic I end up underneath a monorail.
払い物。
街灯の上にボータイがあります。
A different route back,
I cannot afford the entry fee.
Lunch eaten on a fencepost.

Badges and postcards at the Created in Birmingham shop

As well as being able to buy Uncertain Eastside prints at the Created in Birmingham shop, I’ve also put together some special badge collections that you can only get at the Created in Birmingham shop and in very limited numbers.

SoPG: Yamanote

Back in 2006 I spent 4 intensive days walking around Tokyo. Rather than using my Lonely Planet Guide, I used a map cut from a postcard advertising an exhibition. With all the labels cut off.

Tamachi from nikkipugh on Vimeo.

You can read more about the project here; suffice to say that it was something of a pivotal moment in my practice and is what kicked off the whole genzaichi identity/ethos.

Where will you go and what will you see there?

Where will you go and what will you see there?

The pack available at the CiB shop will give you both the appropriated map and the genzaichi/you are here symbol from the Yamanote railway line in badge form. You are invited to use them to instigate a random walk from a railway station (or alternative) of your choosing.

Use them to go somewhere you wouldn’t have otherwise have considered going to and then take some time to get to know that place. See if you can find what the point of special interest is.

Perfect for the latent psychogeographer in all of us!

Counsel for the Artist

At the end of my time at art school, I gathered together all the notes I had made from lectures, conferences, seminars and the such and searched through them picking out phrases that resonated. I found quite a few.

From these I selected the 8 really pertinent ones that I wanted to keep at the forefront of my mind when making work in the years following graduation. These became Counsel for the Artist and they are still cornerstones of my practice nearly 4 years later:

  • Make exchanges with spaces
  • Strive to achieve modest connections
  • Set your own agenda
  • Add to a culture of learning and experimentation
  • Get the message across
  • Meet a new network
  • Resist the ascribed role of witness
  • Circumnavigate predictability

You may have noticed these statements on my CV, in the tags I use for my blog posts and also about my person in various forms.

Buttons

Buttons

The thing with these though, is I quickly found that people from other professions were finding the statements resonated strongly with them too. Hence I’m using “artist” in its broadest of terms: “A follower of a pursuit in which skill comes by study or practice”.

Is that you?

You can get a selection of 4 statements to wear on your sleeve (or other location).

Counsel for the Artist badges

Counsel for the Artist badges

Postcards and more

The Yamanote and Counsel for the Artist badge collections are very limited availability, but fear not if you are quick enough to get one before they sell out.

The genzaichi and map designs are available on T-shirts from my online shop, and there are Counsel for the Artist postcards available at CiB and online. Buying some is as simple as getting in touch.

London and Tokyo, via Bournville village green.

Since doing an exchange visit there in 2005, my contact with Joshibi University of Art and Design and its students has included: helping to host their exchange students coming to Birmingham; effectively working there as a technician for a month; countless days just sort of hanging out there; keeping in contact with several pupils and alumni, including visiting their homes and having them stay with me in the UK; and hearing from alumni friends their tales of working as artists post-graduation and their encounters with graduates from other universities. As a result, I have a pretty well-formed idea of some of the things I would like to do to shake things up a bit, beyond my low-level “So, have you ever considered showing your work, outside of a gallery context” vibrations.

In 2006, 2007 and 2008 I also coordinated and delivered the social programme as part of the annual Joshibi Summer School. This involved sorting out all the pastoral and evening/weekend social stuff for the 30-or-so students who would spend a month based at Bournville Centre for the Visual Arts (BCVA).

We’ve had many conversations about how the Summer School programme could be improved. The main problems from my point of view are that the students arrive as a group; take over a block in a halls of residence as a group; are the only group studying at Bournville over the summer; have an interpreter with them the whole time; and have negligible contact with anyone outside of the staff and the other Summer School students. They may get to experience something of a different way of approaching art education, but there’s a lot missing in terms of cultural exchange and development of language skills.

I decided I didn’t want to work on the social programme this year, but was later invited to provide a day’s teaching for the Summer School. Based on last year’s werewolf success, and my recent work with BARG, there was no doubt that a game would be involved.

dead pikachu

My contribution was to form a starting point for a larger project where the students would go on to develop work that contrasts London and Tokyo. I ran two workshops in the morning where we compared the places in Japan they recommended I visited to the places that actually had meaning to them in their day-to-day lives. This got us from guidebook staples such as the Emperor’s Palace and Kiyomizu-dera to stories of favourite ice-cream shops, overheard sounds of children playing in campsites and stars as seen above car parks.

We also looked at the landmarks that we give significance to in our journeys through landscapes that we are very familiar with. Taking our journeys to university as an example, we drew maps and uncovered more stories. I’m familiar enough with the bus ride to the Joshibi Sagamihara campus that I could recount my personal map of that journey and compare it to theirs. This experience lasting only a few seconds is so completely and vividly on my map that I’m genuinely shocked to realise now that it’s a memory from 4 years ago.

As expected, the smell of the chicken farms featured prominently in the cycled versions of the journey…

question card

For the afternoon, I’d prepared a scavenger hunt around Bournville Green and the surrounding area.

This was designed as a team game, but with significant components where each student would be very much working alone (…unless they plucked up the courage to ask passers by for assistance!). Use of the Japanese language was, of course, banned throughout.

consultation

The students randomly selected a question to tackle and then had some time to discuss it with their team mates. The questions were worded to avoid typical Japanese constructions of English. I also tried to avoid making them so simple that no discussion was needed to fully understand them.

Examples include.

  • There is a car park at the Western edge of the park. Around it, with one end in the ground, are wooden “dragon’s teeth”. How many dragon’s teeth are there?
  • Stand between the Porter’s Lodge and the church. Look at the church. Can you see the carved wooden panel? How many flowers does it have? What is the man holding in his left hand?
  • Go to the chemists and find a lilac-coloured dog hanging up by a door. What colour is his collar, and how many diamonds are on the front of it?
  • In the alleyway between the chemists and Louise’s, there are some old style posters. What is the name of a UK city written on one of them?
  • Go to the butchers shop. What is the name of the sheep on the counter near the window?
  • Go to the Wyevale garden centre. There is a scarecrow near one of the doors. How much did his hat cost?

There were a range of strategies employed in designing the questions. Some of them, such as the sheep’s name question above, could only be answered if the student asked the appropriate question of the relevant shop keeper. Others would be made infinitely easier if they asked a member of the public for help in explaining what a particular word refers to (e.g. dragon’s teeth).

The other major aim was to get the students out and into parts of Bournville that they would never normally go to. This had the intended bonus of meaning that I had to seek out these places first. I was a student at BCVA for 5 years, and yet there were so many places in that tiny area that I had never been to until the planning stages of this game. I had lots of adventures and conversations: so much of Bournville is hidden away in a secret second-layer-back, and there are some truly class acts working there.

I was also determined that I would work with what was already in situ, and not parachute in any foreign bodies to plant for the game. The sharks, Iggle Piggles and Bill Oddies were all there already, waiting to be discovered and played with.

Right, so we had the basic mechanism of having to go to places and find answers to questions. The other aspect of the game design was about how to make this an intense, sometimes visceral experience.

tech amnesty

Prior to explaining the game rules, we’d confiscated (in a nice way!) all their mobile phones, electronic dictionaries and phrasebooks. This was originally done to ensure that looking things up didn’t replace discussion, but I think it also had quite a wrenching effect, because this technology is usually very heavily relied upon.

maybe the man with the plant knows where the garden centre is

I deliberately made it so that, after the initial discussion phase, each player then had to go off independently to find the answer. This took away another safety net of group decision making.

The other thing to do was to add a magic vest in the form of some hats for the players to wear whist they were out and about.

consulting the map

This covered my usual criterion for having an element of silliness involved in order to break down a few barriers, but as Holly Gramazio pointed out at Hide and Speak, your players look like criminals and, if the students were going to be in the bank counting CCTV cameras, I wanted it to be clear that they probably weren’t dangerous! The “help me find stuff” labels on the hats were intended as an invitation for people not involved in the game to approach the students and initiate conversations.

The weather was drizzly, the students were extremely tired after spending a long weekend in London (not to mention the jet lag!), energy levels were low, and I had to tweak some stuff on the fly to increase the pacing, but it all worked! It worked a treat!

magic hat and green

run

It was great to see the balloons bobbing around on the green and in front of the parade of shops. It was fun to see the teams playing jan-ken-pon to decide the next runner, but substituting diddle-diddle-dum lyrics so as to avoid the 50 point fine for speaking Japanese. It was satisfying to hear small groups of students with nothing to do standing around and chatting in English. It was worrying to hear that one girl hadn’t been seen for 25 minutes, but heart-warming to hear from the search party that she’d been found in the park with a gang of kids around her trying to help her solve her clue. We giggled to hear the story of people offering to help count dragon’s teeth. It did nothing less than warm my cockles to hear someone describe the hats as being magic, a comfort, and to thank me for making them wear them.

relocation of the Bournville factory, as explained through the medium of leaves

thinking hat

changeover

All three teams did really well and the rain mostly stayed away until we had finished playing. The final scores were in the region of 120 points (average 10 points per question) with only maybe 4 failed questions per team.

I finished off the day with a more formal presentation about the use of mechanisms and rule sets to instigate interactions with spaces; how presenting something as a game contrasts with presenting it as a piece of performance artwork; the importance of stories; the importance of magic vests/hats; the importance of silliness (and how it’s easier to be part of a large group doing silly things rather than being by yourself doing silly things) and how doing projects in public spaces confers ownership of that space to you (in the sense of responsibility and empathy, rather than of power).

Anyway, it looks like I may yet end up doing some social stuff with the group on Saturday: I may take the opportunity to quiz them on how the game has affected their perception of Bournville…

Art and Regeneration; Koganecho Bazaar and Digbeth

So, you’ve clamped down on the prostitution, human trafficking and violent Yakuza gangs and now you’ve got 150 vacant shops and a vacuum in the community. What are you going to do about it?

Some people in and around Yokohama decided on building some new artist studios and holding an event lasting nearly 12 weeks – the Koganecho Bazaar – as a means towards reconstructing a sense of place in a small river-side area that had previously had a national reputation for being a hotbed of illegality.

…If our efforts can lead to the revitalisation of the area, we will have taken the first step in a longer process. We will have also provided an example of city revitalisation that is unprecedented in Japan. The Koganecho Bazaar will not be successful if only the event itself is successful. Rather, it has the greater goal of being the first step in recreating the area. As director Mr. Yamano has pointed out, a relationship between art and community is not quickly created in a short amount of time, but slowly over a long period of time. For the future of this town, I would like to make the Koganecho Bazaar the first step in that process.
Nobuharu Suzuki, Organising Committee Chairman

I find the openness of the Bazaar’s organisers towards the shortcomings and limitations of their actions very refreshing. In an essay that also describes the importance of having lived in Koganecho during the planning of the event (something the event’s director also chose to do), Kazuki Saito reiterates an ethos of changing the area from the inside out:

we don’t intend to reshape the town, we can only hope to gain the attention of the various people gathering here and to mold that attention into a certain form.
Kazuki Saito, staff

I spent a few hours with the curators of one of the venues involved in the event; an afternoon exploring the area; and have also been reading various articles relating to the project. My knowledge and perception of Koganecho is sparse and highly mediated (not least through translation across languages and cultures). That said, it instinctively feels that there is much here that is not only worthy of mention in itself, but that also resonates strongly with various conversations going on here regarding the regeneration of Digbeth (Birmingham, UK).

Geography

map

Koganecho area, Yokohama
[click on the image above for a link to Google maps and zoom in!]

I suppose the comparisons inevitably start with the two geographies: Koganecho and Digbeth are comparable in size and both located just outside of the main focus of the city centre (although I find this concept is less applicable to cities in Japan and I imagine Yokohama is on a much bigger scale). Is it worth also mentioning here that both Yokohama and Birmingham are/were/might be second cities? Not sure…

Where Koganecho has seen the decline of its, um, ‘entertainment’ industry (the area is cited as having hosted some 250 brothels in its heyday), Digbeth is home to many empty factory units caught between industrial decline and the promise of better property prices ahead in the wake of the area’s transformation into the Cultural Quarter.

back street

Both are, to their own extents, suffering from a decline in their economies and the loss of the communities that thrived off these. What generally remains are people without the links to, and vested interests in, the infrastructures and interactions going on within the area. Given the population density of urban Japan, that’s a lot of people that don’t really care that much. Imagine if you could mould just even a tiny fraction of that attention!

apartments

There are exceptions of course, and, not surprisingly, artists and entrepreneurs started to move in and take advantage of the available space. It’s my feeling that in Digbeth’s case, this has come down more on the side of the entrepreneurs and large institutions (the Custard Factory empire, colleges, universities and media companies) and artists have found either the rents or leasing terms to be difficult to work with. (Again, a mediated perception…)

My major concern about the regeneration of Digbeth/Eastside is that it always seems to be so incredibly top-down: funders specify what they want in return for their money and the appropriate components are parachuted into place. I’ve already highlighted that my perceptions of Koganecho Bazaar are highly mediated, but I came away from it with the overriding feeling that it was very much bottom-up in its approach. It felt like it was providing spaces for people to get on with their thing, rather than shaping and controlling what that thing might be.

Space to be

The flagship venues for the Bazaar are two brand new studio buildings built under the arches of the railway line that runs down the axis of the redevelopment area: Koganecho Studios and Hinode Studios.

Kogane studios

Kogane verandah

Kogane corridor

The photos above show the rather lovely Koganecho building (more about Hinode later). Here there are 5 small ‘studio’ spaces linked by a spacious corridor and verandah. There is also a central café area. The building can be accessed from a number of different doorways, from either the road or river sides.

I’m not sure how practical this would be as an actual working art production space, but this is a seriously nice piece of architecture and it seems to work well as a combination of both showcasing and social spaces. It even looked good in the edges of a typhoon when I first encountered it!

Kogane studios at night

Returning a few days later, in more agreeable weather conditions, I gently quizzed one of the resident artists (Ayumi Fukumoto) to try and find out more about the space and the way it had been set up.

Ayumi Fukumoto - nani mo nai mono

From Ayumi we learned that the artists, projects and designers in the spaces had been curated in some fashion (I don’t know if people had to submit a proposal or whether they were approached by the curators). She didn’t have to pay any rent on the space for the duration of the Bazaar, although she was presumably having to man it every day.

Ayumi’s work was predominantly ceramics-based (a museum/shop of plausible, yet completely useless, objects) so I asked her where her actual studio was. She told me it was in Yokohama and this led me to wonder what balance the curators had struck between locally-based artists and those from elsewhere. For reference, the others in the building were: THE GOLD Arts & Designing (design), Katsuko Ishigaki (artist), Tetsuro Kano (artist), Wit Pimkanchanapong (artist) and Shichoshitsu ver. 2 (food and drink).

One group involved in the Bazaar very obviously not originally from Yokohama is O.F.F. – the O-sotoria Freespace Foundation. O.F.F. is a multi-purpose space “based on the idea of art- and knowledge-transfer between Japan and Europe”.

Georg Russegger took part in Dislocate and a few of us from the symposium braved the weather to visit the O.F.F space one evening.

O.F.F. is one of the 4 venues in the 2-building Hatsune studio complex, each venue comprising of what used to be two properties combined into 1. Sounds grand, but as you can see from the photos below we’re still only talking about a couple of rooms about 2 metres wide. (…or, as one article puts it, just wide enough for a double bed!) O.F.F. is located in the front part of the front building, with an okonomiyaki restaurant in the rear part. Behind that is a second building housing a shops and what can perhaps be best described here as a site-specific installation with plug-holes and showers.

Hatsune

Hatsune

I think I’m correct in saying that these spaces are rent free for the duration of the bazaar and then the rent is incrementally increased over the remaining 3 years of the lease.

Whilst the size might be small by UK standards, they’re fairly typical for what I’ve come across in Japan and the lack of space certainly didn’t seem to be cramping anyone’s style or ambitions. Bringing the 4 venues together into one ‘studio’ group also helped to amplify what was going on. Again, here was the strong impression that people had been provided with space to conduct their projects as they see fit.

Commerce

Commerce forms a key part of Koganecho Bazaar, indeed part of the reason for naming it as a Bazaar was to seed the idea of lively trade.

There are two Bazaar shops selling artwork, art books, the Bazaar’s own brand and locally made goods. In addition to this, the second of the new studio buildings – Hinode studios – houses some more obviously commercially orientated tenants, including a collaboration with me ISSEY MIYAKE.

Just as a minor digression, the architecture of the Hinode building is similar in feel to that of the Koganecho building, although the design is quite different.

Hinode studios

Again housed under the railway arches, rather than the different spaces being linked internally via a corridor and verandah, here the public can go up one of several stairways to a promenade that winds around the different shops and cafés at just below ceiling level.

Hinode studios

Hinode studios - steps up to the promenade

View from the promenade into one of the shops

This forms an interesting inside/outside space where you are essentially still in the open air, but also in the enclosed space between the promenade walls (glass, so you can look down into the public and private areas of the shops below) and the railway arches just above.

As you can just see in the second of the photos above, this space is currently being used to show a video work on several large screens located across the rooftops. (Try that in Digbeth!)

The final thing I want to say about commerce here is to point out how the Bazaar has linked with other local businesses.

The Koganecho Bazaar is running a ‘coupon collaboration program’ with about 20 local businesses ranging from restaurants and cafés through to barbers, toy shops, book shops, paint shops and paint shops. The Bazaar’s map/leaflet acts as a giant coupon you can take to any of these places (all marked on the map alongside the art venues) in exchange for free side dishes or discounts etc. My favourite is a 50% discount on selected dog clothing!

I’m choosing to read this as a sign both of cooperation with the existing businesses located within the area (thought to self: I wonder if any new businesses have moved in to take advantage of the footfall from the Bazaar?) and of the huge amount of leg-work the organisers must have done to build relationships with them.

Maps are always very useful (read: necessary) for finding places in urban Japan’s maze of streets and the Bazaar’s map also shows a range of establishments not connected with the event. This could be interpreted as providing navigation marks for visitors, but if you look carefully at what has been chosen to go on the map you can see that they are all places with cultural connections (bookshops, shrines, designers), more cafés or practical things such as convenience stores and the post office.

This is a really nice, subtle way of underlining the cultural wealth of the area and presenting it as a vibrant place to be.

I’m aware that the issue of lack of mapping and signage around Digbeth has come up a few times recently and I’m curious to see what a cultural/art map of Digbeth would look like, not to mention these other ‘value-added’ shops and services. Do any exist and whose culture is it aimed at (art venues? music venues? design venues?)?

Kogane Cider

Oh, and at the café we stopped at, we both had a bottle of the locally-produced Kogane Cider! (Non-alcoholic, sorry but that’s just the way cider is in Japan!)

Publicity, Marketing and Tying it all Together

As I’ve just indicated, I thought the mapping of the Bazaar worked very effectively, but can I just point out here that it worked very effectively in two different languages at the same time. Although English was the secondary language used (and that’s how it should be) I did not feel that I was being starved of information and found it very easy to navigate the contents of the Bazaar, both in terms of the literature and interacting with the works and venues.

This has got me wondering if I’ve ever seen any bilingual publicity for art events in Birmingham, where I can imagine there’s also a strong argument for text both in English and Asian languages.

The Koganecho Bazaar website is the one place where for some reason I feel I might be being short-changed on information, although in reality there’s all the information required for visiting and quite a lot of background information too. I notice that there is also a blog run by the staff that looks very active (although it’s in Japanese so I can’t really comment on what the content is like).

Contact with the staff also comes from the centrally-located Bazaar office and an information centre located opposite one of the train stations (there’s a station at either end of the Bazaar area). Both of these also house artworks and, in the case of the office, this goes a long way towards helping to identify the nondescript building!

bazaar office

bazaar office

Another signifier for the venues were the many banners around the streets (you can see them in some of the photos above). I think these were mostly being used as general decoration in the area (and, I have to admit, they did kind of brighten the place up a bit!) but were useful to mark out the more remote venues. The use of banners and pennants like this reminds me of some open studio events I’ve been to (site in Stroud, Hampshire Artists) and it seems like a simple but effective way of declaring venues spread around a large area. In the case of Stroud’s Site event, it’s also worth looking at their use of different routes to link places together.

Is there anything Digbeth can learn from this to highlight venues down different alleys and hidden in different warehouses, or am I fooling myself about the number of small, independent spaces in the area?

More on mapping…

In addition to the area maps in the leaflet and on the website, the studios had their own maps too.

niceries - studio plan and stamp

There are various clusters of studios around Birmingham, but do they have maps or alternative signage that you can use to see at a glance who is there and what they are doing? Maybe this only applies to the sorts of studios with public access, and I’m not sure if we have that here?

The photo above shows a map of the Hinode building, but another thing worth mentioning is the chair in the background. On the chair is a friendly note and a rubber stamp. These stamps were available at several of the Bazaar venues and it’s something you see at practically all tourist spots (and sometimes even railway stations!) in Japan. I think the core idea is you go around and sort of collect the different stamps/places in a sort of (postage)stamp-collecting/trainspotting/I was ‘ere hybrid. Once you’ve got someone to one of your venues, how can you actively encourage them to stay on the trail and visit other venues?

At several of the places we went to – and I think we pretty much went to them all in the afternoon we were there – staff and artists apologetically explained to us that since it was a weekday not many people were about. I don’t know what sort of visitor numbers they have on a weekend, or whether they were concerned that the artists weren’t all there to talk about their work, but we still saw a pretty impressive number of people wandering around the Bazaar area with their leaflet guides.

Not bad for a former red-light district…

Practically all the publicity for the Bazaar starts off with a sentence that includes the phrase “former red-light district”. At first I thought this was too gimmicky and that the Bazaar should be selling itself on its artistic merits rather than on the seedy history of the area, but eventually it dawned on me that what they were really saying was “FORMER red-light district” and what they’re actually doing is planting the message in everyone’s head that it no longer is a red-light district! Regeneration by NLP?!

I don’t know what the area looked like when it was a fully operational red-light district, but the Koganecho of today is not an overwhelmingly pretty place. Neither is Digbeth.

back street at night

I have however seen a few pictures of Koganecho in the Springtime when the cherry trees along the river blossom. Very popular, apparently – there’s even a festival to celebrate. On the map, the river is also included within the Bazaar area. I’m trying to imagine a cultural map of Digbeth that includes the canal.

A bit of green in Digbeth would be nice.

poster in the window of a local convenience store

The photo above is the last photo I took in Koganecho before hopping on the train and heading back to the central area.

It’s just one of the festival posters in the window of a convenience store. As I rounded the corner and climbed the steps to the ticket gate I saw three more A1 posters on the hoardings in front of some construction work.

I don’t know if any local residents or businesses are going to see the art, but it’s clear that they are making a contribution that will help promote the event.

In addition to all of this, Koganecho Bazaar has produced a guidebook and textbook that contains several essays on the festival and the history of the area alongside pages outlining the different participants and the buildings involved. ¥1000 (roughly £5) and utterly priceless at the same time. I bought a copy as soon as I saw it.

Koganecho guidebook and textbook

A really nicely designed, informative book about 150 pages long. That’s how you ensure your project has a life once the banners have been taken down and packed away. I also like the way they have documented the history of the area before coming in and trying to regenerate it.

Money and/or Success

Here’s a list of the main organisations that have supported the event: (taken from the website)

Co-organized by : 150 Anniversary of the Port Opening and Creative City Headquarters, Yokohama Arts Foundation
Patronized by: Kanagawa Prefecture
Sponsored by: Keihin Electric Express Railway Co., Ltd. , Morimoto Co., Ltd.
In cooperation with: Kogane-X, BankART1929, Kyunasaka Studio, etc
Granted by: Asahi Beer Arts Foundation,
Program to support ‘Creative Towns through Culture and Arts’ (Agency for Cultural Affairs), Fukutake Foundation for the Promotion of Regional Culture

Note that there’s no equivalent to the Arts Council in Japan!

I don’t know how the organisers of the Bazaar will judge whether the event has been a success, or on what timescale they will measure its effects. Likewise for the driving forces behind the Eastside transformation, although it seems likely it’ll be related to property prices.

Next year sees the big celebrations marking 150 years of the opening of the port of Yokohama to trade, so maybe it does just boil down to a public relations exercise in trying to shift the red-light district label? Maybe it’s just a bunch of artists wanting to cash in on the current Triennale? Having read the texts in the guidebook I sincerely doubt either of these are motivations for the organisers of the Bazaar. For what it’s worth, and going by whatever arbitrary internal scales I’m using to measure it, I certainly rate the event as a big success.

The Digbeth Bazaar, anyone?

Anyone could write a text on “why is art necessary in this town-restoration?” and while I agree that a project like this would also be useful in other places, unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. If the venue of the art and town were different, everything that would be produced would turn out differently, and no individual place could maintain its own identity. But, while proceeding cautiously, we can see the momentum of the town’s change as well as the art’s change, and finally we can make the argument of art’s necessity and the usefulness of art.
Shingo Yamano, director

Emergent Game: Call and Return

A few months ago, myself, Ana Benlloch, a swathe of other collaborators and a posse of participants designed, shaped and played Emergent Game.

This was an amazing experience in itself, but to turn it into Learning we are doing it again.

Next month Ana and I will fly out to Japan where we will be contributing to the Dislocate08 festival.

Dislocate is an ongoing project examining the relationship between art, technology and locality. Exploring the impact of new media upon our experience and expression of place, Dislocate08 examines the creative potential of the technologies which surround us to heighten our awareness of our locality, transforming our encounter with our direct environment and the manner in which we attempt to communicate this to elsewhere.

There’s a pdf overview of intent and participating artists here.

Being in Japan also gives us the opportunity to work with hanare: a sort of artist-led space/meeting space/café space in Kyoto. (You may remember the 4649 project.)

On the 8th of September we’ll be doing a workshop at hanare, and on the 13th of September we’ll be doing a workshop as part of Dislocate. We’ll be using these workshops to shape the Japanese component of a long weekend of Emergent Gaming happening on the 19th, 20th and 21st of September. Why? Because Emergent Game has also been accepted as part of igfest (Interesting Game Festival) in Bristol.

So, coming up is the second iteration of Emergent Game in which we’ll be investigating what happens when you have two groups of players exploring places separated by differences in language, culture, geography and timezone.

As some of the players will be in the UK and some in Japan; some having online access and some not; there will be variations in what is possible: part of the game experience will be how your avatar negotiates this. Perhaps you will make friends with a player in another country and barter things with them by post; perhaps you will be a ‘lone avatari’ with a mission of your own; perhaps you will find new spaces online where participants can interact.

We’re still negotiating the starting points for these activities and, of course, the eventual shape of them will largely be determined by those who get involved. But for now the initial instructions from the first game apply to the one coming up in September.

We’d quite like players based in the UK (or elsewhere) to get involved (online) in the two workshops on the 8th and 13th and we definitely want you guys involved in the weekend of the game itself (19th-21st) which is when we’ll be running the mission challenges. The way we see it working is that you now have a few weeks to find a toy to represent you, set up a Twitter account for it and to start some conversations with other players. Be sure to set the location in the Twitter settings to “emergent game” and to follow the likes of @yohmoh and the other soft toys located in emergent game. The rest will take care of itself.

This headstart will substitute for the workshops we’ll be doing with the players in Japan, so use this time productively…

The Ludogeographic Society

During the course of the first Emergent Game, a new collaborative group was formed between myself and two other artists I worked very closely with to realise the project: the aforementioned Ana Benlloch and also Stuart Tait. The Ludogeographic Society will be an identity we will use for future collaborations that explore similar territory to Emergent Game so this upcoming game will be realised as a project under the name of the Society, rather than under my name alone.

We’ll let you know when The Ludogeographic Society’s website is up and running, but in the meantime announcements will be made here and via the usual channels.



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