This exhibition is, in the best possible way, not an show of concept-driven Fine Art. Rather, the works shown here all seem to cheerfully invite the visitors to participate in the artists’ practice. Indeed, there is no mystifying high technology involved in any of the pieces: they demonstrate somehow that they can be recreated relatively easily at home in a DIY style. Is art undergoing a revolution in cheapness? Most importantly, this group show conveys feelings of liveliness and vitality that are not often seen in the typically institutionalized, white cube art spaces.
Exonemo (Yae Akaiwa and Kensuke Sembo), active since the mid-90s and undeniably one of the most prominent artist duos in the global field of new media arts, have always been drifting on the borderline between the real world and cyberspace. Their “Road Movie” project which received the Golden Nica Award (in the category Interactive Art at the Ars Electronica 2006), consisted of a bus in which they traveled all around Japan, disseminating experimental projects. Using massive origami PDFs of the vehicle, they turned it into a mirrored sculpture that reflected the constantly changing landscapes they went through.
In their 2006 project “Object-B”, they exploited the open-source 3D engine of the Massively Multiplayer Online Game “Half Life 2” to create a surreal installation of a First Person Shooter (where guns generate objects instead of firing bullets). From within the center of a large box about 2 meters square, four projectors were projecting images onto each of the four walls; three of the avatars on three of the screens were controlled by self-moving electric drills and other contraptions randomly touching the keyboard, while the control of the 4th avatar was left to the viewer.
However, this time they have opted to work purely in the real world by extending the limits of circuit-bending. Circuit-bending, initiated by the American engineer Reed Gazala, can be considered an introductory form of hardware hacking: it is a practice whereby you ‘bend’ the circuit by breaking it apart and connecting different points that are not supposed to be connected. If you did this to a Furby, for instance, it would start to make weird noises and screams when you press the button. There you have your circuit-bent musical instrument, reborn as a unique creature of your own.
Exonemo, with all due respect to the cultural field of circuit-bending, pushed the idea further by making it a kind of platform for commons-based peer production. The commons, here, consisted of hundreds of old and sometimes broken electronic gadgets that were collected from volunteers especially for this occasion: cheap toy synthesizers, speaking dolls, calculating machines and so on. They organized a workshop where participants bent these dead toys and the artists created several reconstructions out of these living-dead. All the more, they left the results unpacked and open to interaction with the visitors (which is against the orthodoxy of traditional circuit-bending, which calls for you to open up a toy and rewire it, and then restore it to its initial appearance). In the show, visitors can witness the evolving processes of the whole work space (see a video of it here) that now looks like a garden of burgeoning devices, mutating little by little through the constant intervention of the duo.
Tochka, a collective that focuses on drawing animations with light sources in the dark, captured by long-exposure photos compiled into stop-motion videos, have occupied the second floor of this exhibition. In all of these videos, you see about a six to a dozen people holding LED lights or fluorescent sticks, freely ‘drawing’ shapes, frame after frame. Some people quite skillfully create images of bouncing balls within less than 10 frames, while others prefer to write messages that scroll horizontally. What makes these videos interesting is, in the first place, the interaction between ‘painters’ who constantly move back and forth, from right to left, in front the camera that also moves its position (making the video somewhat similar to Takashi Ito’s masterpiece SPACY,  ). This ultra-simple method succeeds in capturing visitors’ attention not only with the visual comfort of the optical flux and the matching minimal use of music (reminiscent of Steve Reich’s clapping music), but also with the diversity of shapes and forms created by each participant. Here again, anyone with a decent camera can reproduce the same method at home and create their own version of Tochka’s project.
Finally, on the third floor, an intriguing space set up by assistant. The imaginary dining space – filled with saturated color, textures and patterns and yet empty in three-dimensional terms, with only a few tables and chairs – seems as though it has been deliberately left up to the visitors’ intervention for the space to be completed. Looking at these moving wall patterns there is a real sense of the dynamism of life: you come away feeling that we do not necessarily need expensive ubiquitous computing equipment to sustain our social infrastructure, but rather assistant’s brand of affordable playfulness would do much more to make us feel good about our daily lives.
The show may be tiny, but it shows far more liveliness and affordance of practicalities than some of the other megalomaniac endeavors proliferating elsewhere in Tokyo these days. In relation to my previous post, I would finish this review of this excellent show with the same conviction: art should not tame us with expensive outlets and concepts, but rather support our everyday lives with affordable means. It is really encouraging to see that such capable artists are working to open up their work to the imagination and ability of the general public and not fall into the trap of self-mystification.