[From Craig Mod...]
Outside of my temporary abode here in Brooklyn, what sounds like a fog horn blasts through the morning air. This is followed by the horns of cars. The yelling of men. More fog horns — fully awake now I realize this is actually the toot of a semi.
I make a quick phone call to an institution in Manhattan — I want to attend an event but their website says it's full. Is it really? I wonder. The woman on the line takes a deep breath and says, "You know, many RSVPs won't come. And there's always room to stand — come on over, you'll definitely be able to watch."
Speaking with Kosuke Fujitaka, one of the founders of Tokyo Art Beat and now head of New York Art Beat, he shows me a list of art openings happening in the city. Wow, that's a lot of openings for September, I remark. "September?" he says. "That's just for tonight... last Thursday there were over 100." I wonder to myself, are there even 100 openings a year in Tokyo?
This has been a surreal week. One that began in a small apartment in Ebisu and ended up with me sitting here in Brooklyn, waiting desperately for the Internet man to hook things up and provide a digital lifeline to the world. Ashley is somewhere over Alaska right now, probably watching Sex and the City on the headrest in front of him while sipping orange juice.
Each time I make this cross-cultural transition I'm hit with a blast of shock. My body, jet lag aside, doesn't know what to do with itself. I forget how to walk straight, how to read properly, how to order. I asked for a "sausage and bacon" bagel the other morning. "You sure you don't want egg on that?" the cashier asked, raising an eyebrow. Oh, yeah, by "bacon," I meant "egg."
These things, these people... they don't exist in Japan — the cacophonies of angry car horns, the breaking-the-rules slip of insider information, the impossible deluge of art events. And each time I re-encounter them I'm thrown to the ground. Tokyo is a huge, sprawling city but it's contained, focused, wrapped in layers of rules, with almost no one breaking character. There are no inside winks, no angry outbursts, no 'grit', for the most part. (I can hear all the Tokyoites groaning — of course there's grit, but even the grit in Tokyo can feel calculated, like it's part of an elaborate, and most importantly, very safe theater production.)
But these contrasts are precisely why hopping back and forth is so invigorating (and exhausting!) and, I think, important as a creator. Tokyo is full of wondrous, beautiful things, but stay too long and you lose your edge. New York forces you to get your edge back, but can also grind you down with it's oppressive costs of living and constant go, go, go. Being able to straddle these two worlds is a supreme luxury, of course, but it's also not as difficult as it may sound. I know several people, none of whom are ultra-wealthy, who manage this dual-lifestyle between Tokyo and New York — drawing constant inspiration for their writing or artwork or design.
For all the exhaustion and trouble that comes with traveling back and forth, I wouldn't trade any of it for the chance to meet and potential to work with those I run into along the way. It's hard 'work' but rewarding. And I'd like to think the end result — the collaborations, books, designs and art works that emerges from it justifies the personal investment.
Thank you all who tuned into our little posts this week. Posts that were written in closet-like rooms in Tokyo, on airplanes, in friend's apartments in Harlem and cafes around Brooklyn. We had an extraordinary amount of fun crafting these little missives to our invisible digital audience. Ashley and I will be — physically — at the Brooklyn Book Festival this Sunday (the 14th), rain or shine, so stop by if you're in the 'hood and want to pick our brains. And just to complete the circle of self promotion, we'll also be hosting a Japanese contemporary art symposium at Kinokuniya (Manhattan, Bryant Park store) on September 23rd starting at 6:00pm sharp.
Before signing off, I just want to leave you all with one more suggestion for a 'literary object' that came to mind last night. It's called VAS: An Opera in Flatland. Designed by Stephen Farrell and written by Steve Tomasula, this is a book of contrasts. It's a book that has drawn inspiration — both visually and lyrically — from disparate fields of study and culture. There are echoes of the natural sciences and maths and of social sciences and poetry on each spread. It's complex, sprawling, sometimes obtuse, but always beautiful and, despite being experimental, always maintains a tangible thread of narrative, no matter how thin. Mark Z. Danielewski attempted a similar sprawling, typographically daring narrative in Only Revolutions, but Farrell and Tomasula, in VAS, maintain a coherence Danielewski fails to deliver. VAS was produced in limited edition, so getting your hands on one might prove difficult (Amazon tells me you can have a used copy for $175.00!), but if you happen across it, grab it. [Editor's Note: Powells.com currently offers two used copies at $14.00 apiece.] Take it home and spend some time getting to know this world Farrell and Tomasula have constructed — fog horns, rule breakers, grit covered spreads and all.
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[From Ashley Rawlings...]
The New Face of the International Art World
You can't be in all places at one time. As I'm waiting to board my flight to New York, the international art world is flocking to the Yokohama Triennale, starting tonight in Japan's second largest city, right next door to Tokyo. The Tokyo art scene has been gearing itself up for the occasion, with many galleries opening new shows over the past week: among them, Taka Ishii Gallery is holding its second solo exhibition of Slater Bradley's photographs, while Hiromi Yoshii has installed a chaotic video installation by Taro Izumi. One key museum show that visitors should take the time to see is "Trace Elements," a group exhibition that explores issues surrounding the body and memory in photography and video work by a Japanese and Australian artists, at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery in Shinjuku.
The Yokohama Triennale, which has taken the enigmatic title "Time Crevasse" as its theme, has put up a very impressive line up of artists from all over the world this year, many of whom produce performance based work. The line up of artists is an outstanding array of international figures, with Yoko Ono, Paul Chan, Joan Jonas, Saburo Teshigawara, Terence Koh, Shilpa Gupta, Mario García Torres, and Rei Naito among the dozens taking part. It's frustrating to me that I will have to wait two weeks to see the show, missing many of the performances in the meantime, but the Brooklyn Book Festival on Sunday beckons. And, as one editor colleague of mine in New York put it in a typically blasé NY fashion, "Relax, there'll always be more art."
And that there will! In fact, the Yokohama Triennale is just one piece of the increasingly large jigsaw puzzle that is the Asian contemporary art world. There are roughly a dozen giant events taking place across the region over the next couple of months, including the Busan and Gwangju Biennales in Korea, the Guangzhou and Nanjing Triennales in China, and a couple of major art fairs in Seoul and Shanghai. And of course, only last month, the phenomenal visuals of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony — the masses of pixel like performers choreographed by film director Zhang Yimou and the stunning firework display masterminded by pyrotechnic superstar artist Cai Guo Qiang — bedazzled some 4.7 billion television viewers.
For me, this regional razzmatazz is potent evidence of how much the face of the contemporary art world has changed in the past thirteen years. Witnessing the sheer scale and ambition of the work of the Abstract Expressionists at MoMA in New York as a fourteen-year-old in 1995 was the turning point that inspired my interest in contemporary art; the unabashedly filthy sensationalism of the Young British Artists in London of the late 1990s and early 2000s sustained it. But it is telling that when I finally ventured behind the scenes of the art world and became a part of its workings, it happened in Tokyo, and that my first business trips to New York are for the promotion of a book about the Japanese art scene at a time when the world can't seem to get enough of Chinese art. Of course, it's hard to tell at this stage how sustainable this global art explosion is, and what it will all look like in another thirteen years from now, but what's clear for all to see in 2008 is that the map of the international art world that has for so long been pivoted around the United States and Europe is being redrawn as we speak.