tomotosi. We have to be more beautiful

tomotosi. We have to be more beautiful

Gendai Eye (Viktor Belozerov)
Author's illustration

Our interview with the Japanese artist tomotosi logically continues the theme of our conversation with Yoshinori Niwa, despite different approaches to the topic, both authors are true to their interest in the social aspects of art. As I wrote in my review of the Image Forum program, tomotosi works are very effective in their variety of ways to reveal the habits of society. This tendency, which continues to persist and exist in Japanese art for the past ten years, shows or tries to show that, after all, the lessons of many collectives from the 1960s and 1970s have not been forgotten, which means that beyond the visuality of 2000s art is preserved and got the potential for a new generation of artists.

In this interview, we'll talk about tomotosi's previous experiences with urban environments, his recent projects, the irony of the Hi-Red Center, and how the consequences of covid affect the work of independent institutions in Japan.

My special thanks to tomotosi for his time and efforts in preparing the answers.

Gendai Eye: To what extent did your experience with the urban environment and your first education lead you to become interested in artistic practices related to the city and its inhabitants? How did you decide on this transition?

tomotosi: My involvement in architectural design and urban planning has greatly influenced my current activities. After realizing that it is impossible to design perfectly, I have been creating works from the perspective of how to use cities that are originally imperfect.

Mobius Reunion. Courtesy: tomotosi /トモトシ

GE: I looked at your earlier projects and really liked the concept of “Mobius Reunion”. It seemed to me that this idea is very close to Shusaku Arakawa and his notion of living architecture. Can you tell us a little more about this project and how interested you are in planning architectural forms at present?

The project was dedicated to housing, which will be intended for married couples of retirement age. The concept of housing implied that the housing would be divided into living areas for husband and wife, with only the central common room becoming a common point of intersection. The spatial composition of the building affected relationships, with the power to bring couples together.

t: I was influenced by Shusaku Arakawa's work, especially his theory of connecting spatial form with human life. However, my reference for this project may have been more to the architect Jun Aoki. I referred to his concept of a corridor extending and having the function of a room. If the client does not want perfection, I think I may design architecture again.

GE: Is it possible to create an ideal design of a personal space or a city? And will the rapidly changing circumstances and desires of individuals always hinder this?

t: I believe that a perfect design is impossible. Things and information are stationary, but humans (living things) are destined to change. Even if you can create a room that is perfect for someone, one second later the room will not be perfect.

A Goal for Germany / The neverending ceremony. Courtesy: tomotosi /トモトシ

GE: I want to say that you are amazingly able to find some national moments, and not only in people, but also in some kind of everyday feeling. You also had projects outside Japan, in Germany and India. It's one thing to work with the national context and be a representative of your country, and another thing when you work in other regions already in the status of a stranger. Do you feel this difference for yourself during the project implementation? What about the attitude of the foreign audience to your person?

In “A Goal for Germany”, tomotosi, under the guidance of the homeless and migrants, try to define the boundaries of refugee, they teach the artist the anthems of their countries and together they try to reproduce them in public places. In “THE NEVERENDING CEREMONY”, tomotosi goes to Varanasi (India), where thousands of pilgrims go every year, the artist tries to mimic and pray like a local, recording all this on camera, while other people could pass in front of him, sit down and interfere in every possible way.

t: My career as a creator started when I moved to Tokyo. It was my first time in a big city. Ever since then, the idea of myself as an alien to the city has been the basis of my work. Whichever city I work in, I start by looking at the city from an alien perspective.

逆パノプティコン / Reverse Panopticon

GE: Some of your projects were about the Olympics. “Japan, the Beautiful, and Ourselves” and “The Great Event” each used this theme in their own way, but what was the end result? How is this topic ultimately resolved after the end of the Olympics?

In "The Great Event" tomotosi carries a pole for athletes around the city, hoping to carry it from its starting point to the stadium, along the way asking for help from the city's residents. The mobilization of random people becomes an allusion to the very event of the Olympics, which requires a lot of resources from different people. This is an adventure without an end goal, from which attention and participation is required. In "Japan, the Beautiful, and Ourselves" again addresses the citizens of Tokyo, delivering messages to them: "the Tokyo Olympics is coming soon", "A lot of foreigners visit Tokyo", "So we have to be more beautiful". A series of these messages, coupled with the Olympic merch on the artist, once again invades the familiar space of people, imitating eventfulness and a call to action.

t: The Olympics was interesting in the sense that it revealed a potential divide in the population. I wanted to use the Olympic event to create a form of communication that would otherwise be impossible.

The Great Event / Japan, the Beautiful, and Ourselves. Courtesy: tomotosi /トモトシ

GE: It will soon be nearly 60 years since the Hi-Red Center “cleaned out” Tokyo during the 1964 Olympics. What do you think of this cleaning campaign? To what extent is it possible for artists in the present to realize this level of critical exposure to the problem?

In 1964, the Hi-Red Center, armed with white coats, masks and toothbrushes, set out to clean the streets of Tokyo ahead of the Olympics. The members of the group were completely unhappy with the changes in the city on the eve of the arrival of many foreigners, not to mention the obvious spending and all the social and political events of the 1960s. Cleansing the city, they infiltrated its structure, the inhabitants of Tokyo or the police were not surprised at their actions, but perceived their painstaking work as part of reality, which means that the ironic invasion worked and did not arouse suspicion, but only acted as a critical tool for hacking everyday life.

t: The Hi-Red Center is one of the artists I admire the most. I don't know of any other artist who sublimates irony into expression as well as “cleaned out” Project. I think that as a next generation of artists, we need to update our methods to fit the times rather than repeating the same thing.

フルーツとしてお金を売る フルバージョン / Selling money

GE: You are also, as far as I understand, concerned about consumption and consumer preferences. You then referred to the topic of garbage value, then there was a project with apples, furniture from IKEA. Is it connected again with the fact that such things regulate our life and space?

In “TOPSHOP, We Are Missing You”, tomotosi says goodbye to a famous brand by creating a shirt-like shape from a group of shots and leaving it on the door of a closed store. In “Portrait of IKEA”, he asks the question of the configuration of the living space, experimenting with the contents of the room using furniture from IKEA as an example. And in “True Recycle”, tomotosi collects the tidiest items from garbage cans and distributes them free to Tokyo residents during the day, trying to track down the value of the garbage.

t: Just like cities and architecture, products define our lives. In many cases, what we think we are choosing is actually being chosen for us. I think it is one of my roles as an artist to relativize this violent structure.

セブンイレブンで、セブンイレブンを買う / Buying a 7-Eleven at 7-Eleven (2018). Courtesy: tomotosi /トモトシ

GE: “Buying a 7-Eleven at 7-Eleven” ended with the police intervening in the project and asking to remove the sign and other trim elements. How do you feel about the forces of law in this situation? Is it a hostile element or the same part of the city that sets its own rules and enforces them?

In "Buying a 7-Eleven at 7-Eleven" tomotosi draws attention to the store opposite the gallery, where his solo exhibition was held. He decides to make the same store from the gallery, goes to it and prints all the visual elements necessary for this on a printer, and then applies them to the facade of the gallery, thereby giving rise to twins from the world of stores.

t: I believe that the police, who embody an easily understood norm, are not the enemy, but one of the elements of the work.

トモ都市美術館 / tomotosi Museum of Contemporary City. Courtesy: tomotosi /トモトシ

GE: How difficult was it to open your own art space in Tokyo, where rental prices are high, not to mention the coronavirus epidemic? Are you able to support such projects at the present time and how lucky are they in their survival? I would also mention that I really liked your crowdfunding campaign, in which one of the lots was a brick, which was then laid on the floor of the gallery, a great idea.

In April 2020, tomotosi, along with a number of other persons involved, opens the tomotosi Museum of Contemporary Art, by September the museum was forcibly evicted, then changed its name to the TOMO City Museum of Contemporary Art, and by April 2021 it had acquired a new space. The artists managed to avoid decades of waiting and build a private museum for themselves, without waiting for gray hair or, worse, death.

t: I opened my own space after my own exhibitions were cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. I share the space with a co-manager, so the rent is not too expensive. As public museums and galleries were closing, we were operating with the idea that it was important to keep it open in order to consider our public nature. We wanted to make a statement that the space is supported by many people.

GE: Is the name “tomotosi Museum of Contemporary City” also an attempt to merge with the urban environment?

t: Yes!

GE: How is the museum currently managed? Do you have some kind of hierarchy or is it more about horizontal management?

t: Except for the management of tomotosi's permanent exhibition, many other members are involved in the project. Basically, I never say no to a project.

GE: Could you name any special features of your museum that would significantly distinguish it from other independent institutions?

t: A permanent exhibition of artists who have not yet been established. They are working on the theme of the city. It is open until the last train.

GE: How does the situation with coronavirus in Japan affect the collectives of young artists and private institutions?

t: The government asks us to refrain from our activities, but does not compensate us accordingly. Therefore, there are institutions that continue their activities at their own discretion and others that stop their activities. The situation is also such that both sides are criticizing each other.

GE: What plans does your institution have for the future?

t: I want to create a network with institutions overseas so that people and information can exchange.

GE: If there were no financial constraints or circumstances that hinder the implementation of a particular project, what would be the most ambitious project of a tomotosi?

t: It is to invite artists from abroad and support their production and exhibition.

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[1] Shusaku Arakawa (1936-2010) was a Japanese artist, architect and theorist. Together with his wife, American poet Madeline Gins (1941-2014), he created a variety of architectural spaces and theoretical studies aimed at expanding the experience and prolonging the life of the person living in the architectural space.

[2] Jun Aoki (1956) is a Japanese architect whose fame dates back to the 1990s and 2000s. He is especially successful in projects of residential architecture and shops. His project for Louis Vuitton in Ginza is impossible to forget if you've ever seen it.

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