[From Craig Mod...
Before we get to our posts, we must define the Rules for the Fruitful Production of the Book Art Space Tokyo so you have a context of where we're coming from.
The rules are as follows:
- Rule Number One: Ashley and Craig will sleep eight hours a night no matter what
- Rule Number Two: Ashley and Craig will shower daily
- Rule Number Three: Ashley and Craig will not eat McDonald's (or equivalent) or pizza more than one night a week
- Further Clarification of Rule Number Three: Excellent food will be consumed and enjoyed by Ashley and Craig at a reasonable pace, daily
- Rule Number Four: Much fruit will be purchased by Craig and eaten by Ashley and Craig
- Rule Number Five: Good coffee will be brewed (usually by Craig)
- Rule Number Six: The bread, it will be fresh
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Imagine a 150-square-foot room with a tatami floor, covered in books and printouts, papers and inks and brushes and laptops and fruit and discarded coffee mugs. In the corner is a giant wooden bookcase, overflowing. Against the wall, a printer, scanner, small tables.
Then insert two young men sitting on the floor working back to back (the only way to work in a 150-square-foot space) and you'll begin to get a sense of what the final throes of production of Art Space Tokyo looked like.
If you consider the fact that Westerners comprise only 0.01% of the Japanese population (136,000) ? and that those living in Tokyo are a subset of this (and then native English speakers a further subset!) ? the chances of two other Westerners, in the same style room, performing any remotely similar activity is a near impossibility.
Bleary eyed and dusty ? as if emerging from a literary coal mine of desktop publishing software, or a cafe in Park Slope ? we worked 16-hour days and each night would fall asleep on the very straw-woven floor we had been sitting on ? pushing aside the detritus of the day's work ? satisfied. But just before sleep came, the smallest pinhole of doubt always poked into our otherwise impermeable confidence: Shouldn't we be doing cancer research? Or buying and selling stocks (to make money to do cancer research)? Or designing extremely useful prosthetic limbs for amputees? Or something with an immediate and tangible benefit to society?
The final month of production turned us both into hermits. Cell phones were off, emails unanswered, parties left unattended, trains unridden, and neighborhoods beyond Shibuya's Higashi 4-chome unexplored. Relationships were forged with the local 7-11 cashiers, fruit-stand owners, and the occasional transient. We imposed a loose prison sentence on ourselves: there was a certain radius of land in Tokyo beyond which we couldn't leave, or else. Or else what? We never found out. Short of GPS-embedded exploding ankle shackles (of which Tokyu Hands was out) there was a brooding sense of doom in the idea of letting ourselves indulge in breaks or social interaction. Well, that and a tight deadline.
And so now, many months later, on the eve of our U.S. launch, we can look back, casting a nostalgic eye over these "lean months." Months of production and love poured into this humble little book of ours. No, we didn't engineer a new leg, or cure some horrible disease, but we'd like to think we brought something unique into the world. Both useful and beautiful. Inspired and, we hope, inspiring. And maybe that in and of itself is tangible enough.
Over this next week we will offer you some insight into what we learned along the way. Ashley will be bringing you posts introducing you to the Tokyo contemporary art world. And I'll be going over some details of book production and design. We hope you enjoy it.
This stint on the Powell's blog marks the launch of Art Space Tokyo in the U.S. We'll find ourselves in New York starting on September 14 with the Brooklyn Book Festival and then on September 23 we'll be hosting a Japanese contemporary art symposium at Kinokuniya next to Bryant Park in Manhattan. We're both nervous and excited and very much looking forward to connecting with you, beautiful international lovers of art and books.
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[From Ashley Rawlings...]
What, or who, do you think of when you hear the words "Japanese contemporary art"? Takashi Murakami's psychotic anime-inspired characters? Yoshitomo Nara's brooding, scowling children? Hiroshi Sugimoto's tranquil black and white seascapes?
Even though this holy trinity of contemporary giants made their mark all over the world in the late 1990s and early 2000s, somehow people have not flocked to Japan in search of the younger generation of artists who have succeeded them since then. One reason for this? China! Just after Beijing was awarded the Olympics in 2001, its contemporary art scene started to take off. For the past seven years, the price of work by Chinese contemporary artists has continued to shoot up into the stratosphere and Beijing's 798 (Dashanzi) art district is commonly called the center of the Asian contemporary art scene.
But what of Tokyo? Visitors who come here tend to be baffled when it comes to rooting out the city's contemporary art galleries. Tokyo doesn't really have a Chelsea, a Lower East Side, or a 798. Typical city guidebooks still tend to push Ginza as the center of Tokyo's contemporary gallery scene, and sure you can still find a few, but for some time now the area's astronomically high rents for relatively small spaces have deterred young galleries from opening there and have pushed them far and wide across the city.
That's not to say that Tokyo is starved of art, though. In fact, it's quite the opposite: there are some 800 art venues in Tokyo, encompassing everything from commercial galleries, rental galleries, public museums, private museums, art universities, cultural institutes, and non-profit alternative spaces, to more ambiguous art spaces, such as corporate buildings, community centers, bars and shops. And yet there are still painfully few English-language resources dedicated to helping people find their way to these spaces and make sense of the art they encounter. So Craig and I decided to make Art Space Tokyo, a guide that would cut through the vast, nebulous maze of Tokyo's art world and highlight 12 of the city's most architecturally and historically distinctive contemporary art spaces.
Over the summer of 2007, we spent six months taking on Tokyo, area by area, visiting over 200 venues, gradually drawing up a shortlist of 12. We spent the next few months having meeting after meeting with the people running these spaces, as well as a variety of other Tokyo art world figures — collectors, art fair directors, media figures, and so on — whose activities would complement the different outlooks of each space. After I had spent the winter interviewing them, in January 2008 Craig and I finally got started on four months of non-stop production madness...