The morning of July 16, 2021. A gigantic face suddenly appeared in the sky above Tokyo. This was completely unannounced. Numerous “mysteries” became topics of discussion on social media immediately afterward and were covered by the news.
This was actually a project called masayume by the contemporary art team 目[mé]. It is one of the Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13 projects being hosted by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture). The large face might look like it was inserted into the photo, but it’s an actual three-dimensional object the size of a six- or seven-story building. With a variety of questions in mind, I spoke with 目[mé] members MINAMIGAWA Kenji and KOJIN Haruka.
(Date of interview: July 26)
The idea of a gigantic floating face came from dream that KOJIN saw when she was a junior high school student. She says, “In the dream, I was riding a train and looking out the window when I saw a big glowing face floating in the air. I was surprised, but at the same time, I realized it was a face made by human hands. Even though I was a junior high school student, under that face, I was very impressed by the fact that so many people had been involved in creating the scene I was looking at. I decided to remember the dream because I thought it was something important.”
Three years ago, they heard about an open call for projects related to Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL, so they applied, thinking, “This is just the project for us!” Amazingly, their application won.
The goal of the project, titled masayume, was to float a face of an actual person in the sky over Tokyo. The face would be chosen from among those who agreed to the project and the application terms, with the final decision to be made by KOJIN, an artist of 目[mé].
目[mé] launched the project with the face recruitment as an “open call”. People from all over the world were invited to submit their faces, regardless of age, gender, or nationality. They also held workshops in various locations around Tokyo in order to recruit faces. In the end, they collected the faces of over 1,000 people.
They even held a “face meeting” to come up with ideas for selecting “the face that would float in the sky over Tokyo” and streamed it online. An important key term that came up during the conference was “rebound face”.
KOJIN says, “We hardly ever take a serious look at people’s faces, do we? But I thought a good criterion for selection would be a face that returned the gazes of people all over the world when they looked at it. When I inserted the faces of ten or so final candidates into various scenes of Tokyo, there was only one “rebound face” that neither blended into the scenery nor made a statement on its own, but simply fit in perfectly.”
Indeed, it has an indescribable presence…. Incidentally, all information about who the person is, including their various attributes, is kept private as a matter of project policy. It’s also interesting to see how viewers interpret it differently. The first outing for this project took place at Yoyogi Park in Tokyo. Why there?
MINAMIGAWA says, “The concepts behind this project were ‘individual’ and ‘public’. In Tokyo, a city that is getting more public attention right now than almost any other city in the world, we are lofting someone’s actual face, which is an extremely private thing. For the setting for this work of art, through careful research I found that Yoyogi Park was a place with uncluttered views surrounded by attractive scenery with a distinctly Tokyo-like atmosphere.”
My first thought when I saw this gigantic face was “mystery”. It raised a lot of questions in my mind, and that very thing, “inspiring people to think more,” seems to be the project's aim.
MINAMIGAWA says, “I think mysteries make people more proactive because they are missing the reason or the answer. There is no reason or logic for us to dream while we sleep at night, is there? This (masayume) was a person’s dream, so providing a reason for it was not part of our intention.
“Why did we have to go through the COVID-19 pandemic? At first glance, it seems like an unanswerable question, but I believe that if we assess the situation proactively and use our imagination, we might figure out its ‘significance’ later on. If we can all work together to create a scene where we can be freed from all rationality and reason, even just temporarily, I think that is incredibly meaningful in this time and situation.”
KOJIN says, “I’m sure there will be all kinds of reactions and interpretations. Including some that we didn’t expect. However, I believe that mysteries and questions are essential to the survival of humanity, so I’m not going to give up.”
Because the project was postponed due to COVID-19 last year, they weren’t able to present their ‘mystery’ until July 2021. They intend to keep at it. I asked the two artists about the future of the project.
MINAMIGAWA says, “Art is more like a folk remedy than a wonder drug. You can learn it in all kinds of places. Why did we do this? Why did the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo, the organizers, choose contemporary art as one of their project? I want to spend some time thinking about the important aspects of this project and how we can use them to make the project more meaningful.”
KOJIN says, “During my junior high school days, this dream stuck with me because I was overwhelmed by the face I saw in the dream and, at the same time, I was impressed by the city and the people who were making it. I hope that when people see this gigantic face, they will realize that it’s okay to do things like this and that there are adults who can create such mysteries. I want them to emboldened by it, and I want it to create new possibilities.”
Following this interview, the gigantic “face of an existing person” again rose into the sky over Tokyo in August—in a different location from July. The location, date, and time were not announced in advance, because KOJIN and her fellow artists wanted “to emphasize the proactive experience that results from chance encounters with the art work.”
I wonder what all those people who suddenly saw an extremely large “Other” one summer morning were thinking.
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13
The Constant Gardeners, a large-scale outdoor robotic art installation, was launched on July 28, 2021 at the Fountain Square in Ueno Onshi Park (commonly called “Ueno Park”) in Tokyo, under a clear sky following a typhoon.
The work was created by Jason Bruges Studio, which is led by British artist Jason Bruges. Founded in 2002, the Studio is internationally renowned as a pioneer of the hybrid space between art, architecture, technology and interactive design.
This is the first time Jason Bruges Studio has presented work in Japan. With the special cooperation of the British Council, it was also one of the main programs in UK in JAPAN, a UK-Japan exchange initiative. The work was exhibited from September 28th - September 5th 2021, concurrent with the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
The idea of this piece is that “industrial robots draw performative illustrations in sand resembling a Zen garden”. Four robotic arm “gardeners” move in sync to create beautiful patterns within a gravel-filled canvas more than 20 m in length.
The robotic arms, which weigh 1.3 tons each, are used robots that were refurbished after finishing their careers at automotive plants. The dark gray gravel, which contrasts beautifully with the white arms, is 14 tons of basalt. Four tons of silvery gray granite surround the canvas like a picture frame.
The entire exhibit was brought over from London. In fact, this was due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan was to set up everything in Japan, but due to travel restrictions and so on, the team could not fly over to Japan for research and testing, and had it put together in the UK, using materials from Yorkshire. As he explained this, Bruges clasped his hands together and said “gomennasai” in Japanese.
I wonder what kind of stone they would have chosen if they had put it together in Japan. I would have liked to see a Japan-UK co-produced version too.
So what kinds of shapes do you think the robotic arm gardeners produce in this artwork?
The answer is that the physical movements of athletes are digitized.
Bruges says that he was “inspired and excited by athletes”, and that he holds great admiration for both traditional Japanese culture and for the way athletes hone and perfect their skills.
This method uses AI to analyze the movements of athletes in various sports, including track and field, and swimming. Athletes’ movements are reinterpreted, using unique algorithms developed by the studio. During the exhibition period, the installation generated about 150 patterns in total with new imagery being produced every day, using a variety of methods to express the passage of time, moments of action, and different perspectives.
The exhibit is a fusion of cutting-edge technology, art, sports, and traditional Japanese culture. This space, created by two seemingly opposite things—Zen gardens and robots—is worth seeing! Lastly, a message from Bruges.
“I’d been looking forward to visiting Japan. This is a really great location. It’s a cultural location with an art gallery and a zoo. It’s also nice that there’s a fountain nearby. Since it’s close to the city center, it’s my hope that many people are able to enjoy this artwork. Please experience a moment of tranquility.”
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13
The Constant Gardeners
The World Performing Arts Forum was held at Hulic Hall Tokyo on Sunday, August 1. Originally, the event was planned as the World Performing Arts Festival 2020 and was going to feature folk arts from six countries on five continents, including some being shown in Japan for the first time. Unfortunately, however, the invitations had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each country’s performing arts were introduced through videos, and a panel of experts explained each historical backgrounds, providing an opportunity for viewers to learn about the existence of unique intangible cultural heritages around the world that have both visual and auditory impacts. Additionally, a talk session with special guests was also held on the day of the event.
The forum got off to an energetic start with “Tokyo no Taiko”（Japanese Drum）.
The heartfelt sounds of drumming and the vigorous shouting were performed by Oedo Sukeroku Taiko and Tokyo Deaf Taiko Club “Koyu-kai”. They got the audience’s attention and were followed by the forum’s main event, the World Performing Arts (Folk Arts) report.
The performing arts featured on this occasion were from the Republic of Indonesia, the Republic of Estonia, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, the Kingdom of Tonga, the Kingdom of Bhutan, and the Republic of Honduras. The selection was based on the performing arts listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists.
The first performance was “Saman, Traditional Dance of the Gayo” from Indonesia, in which men sit in a row with their shoulders together and sing while violently shaking their bodies and heads. This description doesn’t do it justice, but I was actually so shocked the moment this appeared in the screen that I let out a gasp. I was glad to have seen the video, as so many other performing arts that I thought were amazing were featured, and the experience was too intense to be described merely in terms of its variety and colorfulness. All the songs and dances as well as the costumes were unique and worth seeing for their beauty, having been passed down over long periods of time with great care. I couldn’t help but imagine how much more moving it would have been to see a live performance instead of a video.
In addition to the taiko performance at the event’s opening, there was a feature showing songs and dances from the three Tohoku prefectures that expressed their hopes for the reconstruction of Tohoku. There was originally supposed to be a live performance of them, but that unfortunately had to be cancelled.
The videos shown were “Gyozanryu Sasazaki Shishi Odori” (Gyozan School Deer Dance of Sasazaki) from Ofunato, Iwate, “Akiu no Taue Odori” (Rice Planting Dance of Akiu) from Sendai, Miyagi, and “Jangara Nembutsu Odori” (Jangara Buddhist Incantation and Dancing) from Iwaki, Fukushima. All three videos were created for this event, so the words of the high school girls who performed the “Taue Odori” dance, “The rice-planting dance is very important because it is life itself,” and the message from the “Gyozanryu Sasazaki Shishi Odori” performers, “We can overcome the pandemic together,” immediately affected me. The words of the high school students who performed “Jangara Nembutsu Odori”, “We have reunited to mourn our friends who died in the Great East Japan Earthquake,” really tugged at my heartstrings.
Performing Arts, Folk Arts, Travel, and Festivals
The talk session at the end of the forum featured artist H.E.DEMON KAKKA, reporter and mystery-hunter TAKEUCHI Kanae, and writer OISHI Hajime. KUBOTA Hiromichi of the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties served as moderator.
The panelists were asked to give their impressions, and their answers expressed a variety of viewpoints. OISHI said, “Well, it was all really cool. I realized again that the performers must have seen it (the folk arts) up close during childhood and wanted to do it for themselves, so it was passed down from generation to generation.” TAKEUCHI said, “My mind is all scrambled with all the intense things I’ve seen and learned, but what they all have in common is that they were done by people. I could feel the aesthetics.” KUBOTA smiled and said, “I felt so happy.” H.E.DEMON KAKKA said, “I randomly saw these performing arts from countries all around the world at once, and I wonder what it would have been like to get them all here for a live performance. They had been planning to invite a tribe that had never left their village. What an amazing session that would have been!”
During the question-and-answer exchange with the experts, we heard a variety of opinions. One person said, “I think all folk arts have ancestral worship at their root.” Another said, “These performing arts have been adapted to fit their time period. If they had been invented during the COVID-19 pandemic, they would have been designed to ward off plagues.” It was quite a satisfying discussion. Towards the end, the guests called for the event to be held for a second and a third time instead of being a one-time event. The forum really aroused people’s interest.
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13
World Performing Arts Forum
*This information is current as of August 31, 2021. Please see each program’s official website for the latest information.
I love movies and technology. I travel around Tokyo by bicycle. I enjoy the scenes of daily life that I experience while riding, like the smell of dinner.
I love movies and entertainment in general, traditional crafts, and manufacturing sites. I believe that intuition is important today. I like cats and try to get close whenever I see one.
I love contemporary art, movies, and music. I’ve also become interested in traditional performing arts recently. I also have a weakness for good food and watching sports.