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:

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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.

4649ing

Well, I’m feeling like a proper 4649 veteran now, but it’s actually only 3 weeks today that I was first invited to join Kissa Hanare‘s project!

Taking part has raised all sorts of interesting questions: not least about my own lack of political awareness of what’s going on in my own country. I haven’t got anywhere close to answering those, but in the meantime I wanted to note down a few thoughts about my photographic contribution.

going for the chat jugular

In the introductory post I challenged you, dear reader, to take some images of the 4649 stickers that would stimulate a chat. Having already challenged myself to do likewise I had previously gone into Birmingham’s city centre and headed straight for two obviously very charged locations: the Hall of Memory and the Peace Gardens.

Yikes! Red poppies everywhere! Giant red poppies. hmmmm, not sure what I feel about that, think it’s possibly crossed a line somewhere…. (Oh, and by the way, Happy Christmas Birmingham)

Happy Christmas Birmingham

Heading off somewhere equally disturbing in the opposite direction, I also suddenly became aware of how noble and, well, perfect the statues around the Hall of Memory are.

sculpted

What exactly are we saying here?

… and how do I want to use the stickers to respond to it?

After a fairly predictable set of images involving statues and red telephone boxes I headed off down past the Mailbox towards the Peace Gardens – a distant memory from first-uni days and the number 44 bus up from the Vale.

public notice

This is when I started getting a bit more creative and started incorporating parts of existing signage into my images. Sod possible language barriers, this was much more interesting. I also loved the ambiguity that came from me not actually knowing what the text on the stickers says, or in what tone it says it.

What happens to 九条死守夜露四苦 when you put it next to a sign that says “For how long?”?

Anyway, I felt using the stickers to react to more subtle details in the city landscape was a lot more interesting.

Article 9999-999

round-up

I probably spent about an hour and a half taking photos and have whittled the results down to 39 which I’ve uploaded to a Flicker set.

Which ones are most successful and why? (How do you judge success for something like this?)

meanranch, while at the back…

down the pub

I just want to say a big thankyou to everyone who responded to the mailout and have requested stickers either from myself or directly from Hanare.

There’s not much time left before the Monday-night event, but you can still print off a few if you’d like to contribute.

Of the original batch of stickers Hanare gave me I’ve given away 11 to people who wanted to join in and I’m now left with just one. Where should I put it? Should I go for a good photo, should I stick it somewhere it’ll get left up for a while, or should I seek out somewhere where it’s likely to be seen by people who can read the text?

Kissa Hanare and the 4649 project

Every Monday (but not holidays, they don’t like to work on holidays!) Naho, Yufuko and Sakiko transform a Kyōto living-room into Kissa Hanare – something I like to think of as Café Independence (…but I’m now told the detached-ness I was inferring from dictionary searches is just an architectural reference). Not only does Hanare provide a menu of, where possible, locally-sourced, organic food, but they also work hard to create an atmosphere in which they and their guests can freely address a range of pertinent social and political issues.

In my limited experience, I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface of Japanese culture, but I have a small sense of how difficult it must be to create this type of space. (Hell, I can’t even really imagine it happening here!) What’s more, judging by the blog, I believe they’ve managed to make it sustainable to the extent that the project’s been running for at least 18 months now. Impressive!

Regular café nights are interspersed with lectures, workshops and larger projects.

4649 and Article 9

4649 (representing “yoroshiku” – a Japanese term I’m not even going to begin to try and translate, let alone the significance here) is Hanare’s latest project and they’d like to ask you for your support.

Since 1947, Japan has had a pacifist constitution arising from Article 9.

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized. wikipedia

Its exact origin is disputed, as has been its interpretation by successive governments. As you can imagine, there has recently been increasing talk from various Japanese politicians of revising this article.

I’m not going to start passing judgement here based on a few articles I found on the internet, however what I do feel strongly about is that there should be a space for Article 9 and the potential consequences of amending it to be highlighted and discussed freely amongst people who are not politicians.

I’ve exchanged emails a few times with Sakiko recently. Here’s how she introduced me to the 4649 project (slightly edited, my emphasis):

…we are planning to have a t-shirt silk-screening party on November 12th, in which we will print images of a Japanese gangster with the statement written also in the gangster style font that opposes amendment of the Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which prohibits Japan from possessing any military force and use it to solve international conflicts.

Additional Information about Article 9

Article 9 is, in a way, an apology for neighbouring countries for what Japan did before and during WWII, as well as a promise that we will never become a militaristic country. The Japanese government has been attempting to transform the beautiful part of this constitution for a long time, yet have met huge opposition from Japanese people. Since Koizumi, though, the danger of the article being amended has been greater than ever, and we want to do something about it.

Here is what we are planning to do for the party. Prior to the party, we will print tons of stickers with the same image and send to those of you living abroad and outside of Kyoto. And I want you to put the stickers out on the street and take pictures of them and send to us, which we will project as a slideshow at the party and upload to a Flicker site. People attending the event are able to see the image in other parts of the world, and hopefully feel that we are not alone. Showing the photos is really critical because based on my experiences in Japan, we are so isolated from the rest of the world, physically, and mentally.

By showing the pictures, I want people to have a sense that what we are fighting matters, and is supported by people abroad, NY, SF, BCN, Pula, London, etc. plus, Japanese people living abroad might see the image too!

Here is an idea behind the image. In contrast to the States and Europe where there is a very sophisticated visual resistance culture, Japan lacks it so badly that young people here have a hard time getting involved with political activity. By taking the aesthetic of Japan’s gangster culture and twisting its violent and rather nationalistic representation, and saying goodbye to the conventional peace movement images like the dove, we are hoping to encourage Japanese young people that there are many creative ways to express their opinions.

Sakiko

Here is the image she’s talking about:

4649

A challenge to you

There’s a nice quote I came across whilst Googling stuff earlier:

To reach consensus in democracy, it is necessary to guarantee a free space where even the oppressed can express their opinion without concern for logical consistency and truth. The fact that chats have been neglected as the fundamental element of democracy shows that past democracy has been only for the few who could speak logically and consistently.Polylog

It doesn’t bear close scrutiny, but there’s a few nuggets in there that resonate strongly with how I perceive Hanare. My challenge to you is to use that graphic above to make an image that stimulates a chat at Hanare (or beyond).

Remember the aims are a) to have the sticker on the street and preferably somewhere that is obviously not Japan and/or b) to demonstrate the potential of creative techniques to express an opinion.

You could be provocative:

click for provocation

You could be subtle:

click for subtlety

You could be surreal:

click for surrealism

You could be terribly, terribly British (or whatever):

click for red phoneboxes

Useful bits of information

  • The event at Hanare is on Monday the 12th of November, so that’s the deadline to aim for.
  • To get some stickers you can contact Hanare at kissahanare[AT]yahoo.co.jp, they’ll take about a week to arrive.
  • To get some stickers you can contact me, I’ve got a handful spare.
  • To bypass the stickers and get started right away you can print the image from this file.
  • Email your photos to Hanare to add to their Flickr page. (Don’t forget to tell them where the photos were taken.)
  • Follow what’s going on on the Kissa Hanare blog

Can’t be bothered?

Here are some suggestions for some low-energy ways of showing some support for Hanare:

  • Forward this post’s link to people you know and spread the word.
  • If you have a Flickr account, add 4649 Project as a contact.
  • Subscribe to the Kissa Hanare blog feed: http://cafekyoto.exblog.jp/atom.xml

I’m sure you can think of others – be creative!

update: I wrote a little about the photos I took in this later post.

the pictures are better on radio

Still working my way through the backlog – this time another attempt at documentation that doesn’t involve sticking a video camera or a telephoto lens in anyone’s face. Including mine. urgh.

Here I walked with a voice recorder in the side pocket of my rucksack and a camera on interval timer just held in my hand as I walked. The result is some fairly snap, crackle and pop audio and some blurry photos…

…I think it works quite well!

The images [portrait format, distorted horizontally to fit the video’s dimensions – apologies to the woman in the brown dress] appear at minute intervals so there’s a long gap in between them where you only have the audio. Initially I was planning to have the images on screen for longer, thinking that visual = interesting. What I actually found was the images became something of a distraction. Ideally I’d just plug myself into my headphones and settle back with my eyes closed, but here I have to stay mindful of the screen and a minute is a really long time

Instead we have flashes of imagery to act as sort of orientation for the sounds, but not until you’ve had a while between photos to imagine up your own images to accompany the noises. In this way I think I regard the white as a blank canvas to paint your own pictures onto. Maybe not being able to understand what the people are saying is another aspect to this too?

There comes a point when you just have to back off and leave space for people to make their own meaning.

The full walk lasts for over 1 hour and is not for the faint-hearted, so here is a 10 minute extract. I really recommend headphones; whether you keep your eyes open or not is up to you.

Oh, and I was also hooked up to a galvanic skin response sensor at the same time, but that’s another story.

call and return

Yesterday I posted a few YouTube videos of work from SoPG:Yamanote.

Looking at the post later, I happened to set both players off at the same time and was struck by the effect of having two narratives running side by side.

The videos are definitely much stronger when taken as part of a group, so this is something I’ll be investigating further.

In the meantime I rattled off a quick side-by-side rendering as a test of concept. I like the way there seems to be a call and return between the two tales. Imagine what this would be like with 29 stories running at the same time!

The resolution of the video isn’t very high at all, so if you want to actually read the text, you can watch slightly better quality versions on the original post.



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