Rubicon Crossing 2010


It’s time to wrap up the year. Roll out the Ox, and roll on the Year of the Tiger.

2009 can’t end soon enough as far as I am concerned. I’m sure a lot of people feel that way. Also in Japan. I read the Financial Times and it is never anything but gloomy news these days about the land of the rising sun. Big businesses are going bust; poverty is growing; the economy is going back into its post-bubble slump; the government can’t seem to do anything about it. Plus everyone is looking elsewhere in Asia – anywhere else but Japan, it seems – for something exciting to happen, and for something profitable to invest in. Japan just seems in terminal decline.

All of the doom and gloom applies to art as well, I suppose, if you continue to look at art in terms of the art market, art values, and the ups and downs of art trade. But viewed in other ways, opposed to market forces, what has been going on in art in Japan in 2009 seems to me to point towards some of the most interesting developments going on in art anywhere in the world today. A lot of it is linked to the big problems of social and economic decline that form the backdrop for creativity in this country – not least because abandoned schools, factories, houses, and public buildings provide some of the best locations for making art and being an artist. So, in making my roundup of the year with a selection of blogs that you might have missed, I’d like to restate some of the central messages that I’ve been pushing this year.

The big plastic commercial “pop-life” of 1990s art is over; we have seen more than enough manga, anime, cosplay, techno-orientalism, and post-Warhol neo-japonisme to last a lifetime, thanks.

see my blog (09/10/12): "Cute Ambassador: Takashi Murakami"

This tacky vision of touristic “neo-Tokyo” is unfortunately still the only thing most people in the West now think of when they think of Japan – if they think of it at all. What observers outside of Japan have to start recognising now is the very different art coming out of the new and younger generations of artists in Japan today, art and art practices that are aesthetically sensitive, intellectually rich, politically aware, and above all sustainable, with an emphasis on craft, labour, renovation, community, and technique – the kinds of things (ironically) that are only taught nowadays in Japanese art schools, while the rest of world teaches artists how to read critical theory, position themselves in art history, and talk about art more than doing it.

Echigo Tsumari for me was one of the big highlights of the year, for its expansive ambitions, its obstinately inefficient natural setting, and the consistently brilliant use of old buildings and rural sites for inspiring new art. It is worth taking Fram Kitagawa’s philosophy seriously...

see my blog (09/07/24): "Echigo-Tsumari: The Fram Kitagawa Philosophy"

This sensibility and use of space has also been seen at events such as Akasaka Art Flower (in late 2008); in a series of events organised over the months in Sumida ku by the Contemporary Art Factory and other groups concerned with the destruction of the area by the new Tokyo Tower; in the current show at the soon to be demolished French embassy building in Roppongi; and at the atmospheric Tokorozawa biennial, one of the most interesting group shows of the year.

see my blog (09/10/08): "Komazawa or Tokorozawa?"

Its also a sensibility expressed in the hopes invested in the upcoming opening of the innovative Chiyoda Arts Centre.

see my blog (09/10/19): "Low Life: Real Art in a Material World"

2010 might then be the year when some of these developments start to get recognised internationally. That’s the Rubicon that needs to be crossed, by curators and funders of art exhibitions alike. Signs are good. The “Twist and Shout” show, curated by Kenji Kubota and Yoko Nose in Bangkok – and which has for me one of the strongest selections of recent Japanese art that I have seen in a long time – points towards a new and boldly political reading of Japanese contemporary art.

Working within a “use pop culture to sell Japan” instruction from the Japan Foundation, they subtly undermine this brief with a “twisted” vision of younger Japanese artists turning away from pop and the market, and using their alienation as “soto komori” to powerful ends (“Shout!”). This is not, as in Midori Matsui’s dreary “Winter Garden”, to withdraw passively into micro-politics and social isolation, but to apply “unbounded creativity and imagination to convey sharp feelings on present Japanese society.”

As the environmental mood of current art suggests, the social and the political is back on the agenda, and we should expect a very different, engaged atmosphere at the one big opening I’m waiting for next year, “Roppongi Crossing 3: Can There Be Art? The Creative Potential of a New Japan”, which Kubota is again one of the curators, along with Chieko Kinoshita, and Kenichi Kondo.

I’ve heard that this show will bring the critical legacy of Dumb Type right into the heart of Neo Tokyo itself – the dark, gleaming Mori Tower, that rises high over the devastated hills of Roppongi. And, as the other new Television Tower starts to cast a shadow over the rubble of another destroyed shitamachi in the plains to the north, it seems the forces of good and light in Japanese contemporary art will have to amass together (in a bar near Ueno) for one last struggle, in the name of “Satoyama”, to preserve what is good, romantic and decent about old Tokyo...

Errmmm.... Sorry, folks, I’ve obviously been watching far too many Lord of the Rings repeats this Christmas. Hey, there’s not much else to do in Denmark!

Happy New Year to Everyone!

Adrian Favell




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Rubicon Crossing 2010
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11/03/19 19:48
10/09/15 11:07
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Roppongi Crossing 2010
10/05/19 12:43
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