Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Artists Over Art

“Art” is a topic that is thrown around like a trending word in the business world. What can we do to take advantage of the growing interest, not make it a temporary thing, and aim for a future where culture, economy, and society are more connected then comes Artists Over Art?

In order to address this question, Forbes JAPAN launched the “Art & Business Project” in earnest last fall. This time, we will deliver three interviews with experts who have been appointed as advisors. The first installment will feature Yuko Nagayama and Junya Yamamine, two of Japan’s leading players in the respective fields of architecture and curation. What is the world that these two people, who often work on the same projects, are currently seeing?


Current status of development and art business

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Junya Yamamine (hereinafter referred to as Yamamine ) : My job is curation, planning, and consulting for art-related projects, and the projects I handle are about 50-50 split between government and corporate projects. Even if we were to do the same thing, if the Tokyo Metropolitan Government were to do it, we would do it in a public manner, but if a company were to do it, we would think about the circle of things, such as where to monetize it and how to ensure sustainability as a business. There is a need.

So, first of all, we need to break down the mission of the company or organization, go back to the business diagnostic stage and ask, “If your company were to do an art business, wouldn’t this be the case?” and then proceed with the proposal. There are many.

Yuko Nagayama (hereinafter referred to as Nagayama ) : As an architect, I am often involved in work related to urban development, and I am required to add new value to the architecture itself and create a new look for the city. .

For example, I was in charge of the exterior and interior design for Tokyu Kabukicho Tower, which was completed in 2022.The location was once a swamp, and it was Japan’s first entertainment-specific skyscraper without any offices. We designed the building with the image of a fountain in order to express a different appearance and appearance from the office buildings in Shinjuku. As expected, art is here as well, and works by Artists Over Art curated by contemporary art gallery ANOMALY in line with the unique location of “Kabukicho” are exhibited at various locations within the facility.

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

As with Kabukicho Tower, when developing in a National Strategic Special Zone, it is essential to foster the culture of the area. Given these circumstances, developers everywhere are now looking to incorporate Artists Over Art into town development. I think one of the reasons behind this is that Artists Over Art‘ production locations are being pushed outside of cities and becoming far removed from general society affects Artists over art. Therefore, this leads to a negative reaction of “I don’t really understand what art is.”

Akira Fujimoto, an artist and my husband, is running a project called “Sono Aida,” which utilizes vacant properties or properties scheduled for reconstruction as artist residences, and is continuing to develop the project in Yurakucho and Nihonbashi.

There, Fujimoto is working to bring Artists Over Art‘ activities back to the city. During these activities, the developer side tends to imagine that the works are lined up neatly, but since the people who create the works are artists and real human beings, there is bound to be friction or conflict.

Artisan Artists Over Art Cycles

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

For example, I couldn’t accept the noise and smell that comes with the production of works, and the fact that unknown Artists Over Art were working at night. When such actions, including conflicts, occur, small changes can be brought about in the city. While architecture creates changes over a period of 10 or 20 years, artists can create changes over a period of months or years. I like that the cycles are different. It would be great if we could create a cycle in which they make use of the city as they create, and their experiments and outputs help develop the city, giving rise to hints for the next generation of city development. 

Yamamine: In the “KOBE RePublic Artists Over Art Project” that I worked on with Mirai Moriyama, we were initially given the task of creating public art, but we felt there was no point in creating monuments that had no connection whatsoever. Based on this story, we aimed to rediscover the originally interesting places and people of the city through the eyes of artists who came from outside, create communication, and enhance the endogenous power of the area. Also, when we developed an art space called ANB Tokyo using an abandoned building in Roppongi, building a community was one of our themes, so one good example we used as a reference was the art space PS1 in New York.

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Although it has now merged with the Museum of Modern Artists Over Art (MoMA) in New York, it was originally an elementary school that artists renovated and created as a place for community development. Creative people flocked to the area, attracted by unknown expectations, and the entire city was gradually rebranded, increasing the value of the area. There are actually many examples where art has demonstrated such social efficacy.

On the other hand, even if an artist’s creative activities produce a piece-like effect, it is difficult to convert that method into a method. Businesses inevitably want to create evaluation designs that aim at the impact of the artwork itself, but in doing so, they end up creating artworks that match the indicators. Artists are not people who act according to predictions or evaluation indicators, so asking them to do that is putting the cart before the horse.

We don’t have a social system that can accept “artistic thinking”

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Yamamine: I think that the Artists Over Art thinking that is talked about in the business world is similar to “unlearning.” I think it means that the existing, habitual and fixed methods no longer work, so let’s break away from them and explore “possibilities other than…”, but when it comes to doing it… They refused, saying, “I don’t know because I’ve never done that before” (lol). I should have been looking for something I had never seen before. In other words, I feel that a system that accepts artistic thinking is not yet in place.

Nagayama: To put it bluntly, it also has something to do with Artists Over Art education from childhood. Cultivating culture is not something that can be done in two to three years; it must be viewed from a long-term perspective.

Yamamine: That’s right. In terms of education, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Artists Over Art, Kanazawa, where I was working, had a kids program that accepted local elementary school students. Although it was a scary situation with children moving around among the precious works, it was a really good initiative. However, Japan still does not have the same level of tolerance as museums in Europe, where children are free to enter and are free to sketch and copy.

 This also applies to the design of urban systems, and Japan is a country that is increasing the number of prohibited items. I once heard from Motoichi Terai, who is involved in urban development in Matsudo, that when he looked into the city’s regulations when he was working on Shibuya, he found an incredible number of regulations. He suggested that if we wanted to make the city more interesting, we could create an open district without regulations, which was very stimulating. 

Nagayama: Today’s Japan is a controlled society, and those in charge decide the rules. This will make the person being managed extremely uncomfortable. The opposite is true for 52-ma Enwa, a day care center for the elderly in Yashiro City, Chiba Prefecture, which won the Grand Prize at the Good Design Award last year. Generally, these facilities are locked to prevent elderly people from wandering around, but they are open spaces and local residents can come and go as they please. There is no securely closed gate, so residents can come in and out.

To this end, we are building good relationships with local people on a regular basis, and creating a system in which people can ask, “Mr. ____ was outside earlier, are you okay?” Rather than being bound by management rules, we base our rules on the happiness of the people there. The same goes for the town’s Artists Over Art business. Artists don’t come to cities that are too controlled. When it comes to commercial space, if you want to attract interesting shops, the simple answer is to lower the rent. When designing, you will inevitably end up with a space that is difficult to sell due to its size and shape.

It should be possible to strategically design such “surplus space” and rent it out at a low rent as an incubation space to stores that are looking to take on new challenges. If that makes the city more interesting, it’s a win-win. It is necessary to create rules with a long-term perspective that shows the inside out.

Yamamine: While listening to what you just said, the words agility, resilience, care, and well-being came to mind. A resilient society is one in which there are many people with agility, and in that state, continuous care can be provided. And I think this will lead to well-being, or happiness.

architecture and business

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Yamamine: This time, we are involved in the Artists Over Art & Business Project as an advisory board, but what is the relationship between architecture and business now?

Nagayama: Architecture and business are directly connected, aren’t they? Capital is invested, space is created, and business is developed. It is an inseparable relationship. Recently, I feel that there has been a change in values. For example, when building a building, architects want to increase so-called “unsellable spaces” such as terraces and green areas in order to design for affluence, but before the coronavirus pandemic, most of these spaces were removed. Nowadays, however, there is a trend of valuing such extra space.

What is more important for a store is a store that can convey the message rather than a store that sells. All you have to do is visit the store and buy online. In other words, how do you create an experience? In fact, what we should be thinking about more than that is how to ensure the happiness of the people who work there. A good space increases staff motivation, which directly affects customer service. Buildings don’t sell to people, people sell to people, and that’s actually the most important thing. 

Now, after the coronavirus pandemic, there is a growing desire for things that cannot be obtained virtually, and I think we are entering an era in which we are carefully proposing places that match the structure and architecture. Architects are also becoming more involved in the early planning stages. 

Yamamine: It all depends on where you can intervene. If we just do what we’re told, we often won’t be able to achieve the mission our clients are aiming for. That’s why I get involved from the stage when I can draw the scheme. I think this will also lead to having more resources that you can go back and check when you are faced with a difficult situation.

Japan’s strength in supporting local issues

Artists Over Art: Why architects and curators talk about

Nagayama: Last year, when I was involved in the Good Design Award as the vice chairman of the judging committee, I started thinking about how the Good Design Award differs from overseas awards, what position it stands in in terms of the world, and what possibilities it has. I was reconsidering what one of the overseas judges said and it made sense to me. In the Good Design Award, there are very few entries that mention global issues, such as climate change and poverty issues, and they mainly respond to local issues and micro-issues in a very thorough manner. . Perhaps that is a characteristic of Japan.

The same thing happened with Maki Onishi’s O+H work in the Japan Pavilion at the 18th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition last year, and while every country mentioned global issues, the Japan Pavilion featured Takamasa Yoshizaka. The purpose of this project is to carefully reconsider the Japan Pavilion, which was designed by the Japanese Pavilion, and create a new community there. It actually stood out and was very interesting.

Yamamine: I went to see it too, and it was a very detailed exhibition.

Nagayama: If we seriously face micro-issues that are relevant to us, they will eventually become the key to solving global issues… By becoming conscious of this, we can help Japan communicate more to the world. I think I can go there.

Yamamine: We have not yet reached the point where unconscious politeness and qualities come together one by one to become something big, and that is a challenge. However, I have finally realized that both Artists Over Art and architecture are currently in a period of transition, and the world will not change just by competing with each other.

What we should do then is to connect people who share a future that lies beyond small actions and create a movement like a small wave. Today’s talk made me realize that Artists Over Art and architecture are now thinking about such grassroots-like cultivation methods. I think there is potential for Japan there.

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