We know, there was so much memorable stuff at this year’s DesignTide! That is why we pick up one by one and present it to you, beloved reader, in detail: For today, PingMag starts with art unit Gendaibijitsu Nitouhei and their exhibition at the Harajuku design store Detail. This productive group consists of Shane Kagotani (based in Osaka) and Katsuhito Fujiwara (living in Tokyo), both graduates of the Kyoto City University’s sculpture department. Together they inject a ton of Japanese humour into the stuffy world of contemporary art – much to our delight! Enjoy!
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Kevin Mcgue
To start, what does Gendaibijitsu Nitouhei do?
Contemporary art projects a pretty highfalutin, aren’t they? But just as there are fine chocolates and cheap candies, we thought that within this art field there should be something called “cheap art.” We hope to create fun works that people can view without pretence.
The name of your collective, “Gendaibijutsu Nitouhei,” translates into English as “Contemporary Art, Second Class.” Is the “second class” title related to your concept of “cheap art” then?
After we graduated, we said to ourselves “If we ever show some works in a exhibition, we can call ourselves artists” – and we started to collaborate. However, people thought we were not taking art seriously and were criticising us or they didn’t think we would do art at all. We felt that if we were soldiers we wouldn’t be officers, but just second-class soldiers. That’s how we came up with our name.
Let’s get to your works, please: Your blend of a traditional Japanese Kokeshi doll with dumbbells has made it into a retail product. How did you come up with that idea?
It was just an idea, really. Several years ago, we were asked to make the window display for an underground food court with the theme of “21st century.”
…surely a broad theme…
Certainly! (Laughs) I asked myself “What would a 21st-century product be like?” For example, mobile phones are becoming more and more like computers and gadgets have just so many functions. But I think the concept of “the more value is added to products, the better” has gone way too far. If you take something mediocre and combine it with something else mediocre, it doesn’t become better, it even gets grotesque. So, when I saw some iron dumbbells in a book, it struck me that it would be interesting if it had an ornamental face or something completely unrelated on it. It was a silly idea to throw together two completely unrelated things. (Laughs)
You actually do have a concept, more than I thought…! More examples, please…
Katsuhito created a work called “Virtual Swimming:” It is the upper half of a head with a swimming cap that is moved by remote control. If you let it scoot around, it makes any floor look like the surface of a swimming pool, giving people a virtual experience
When Katsuhito went to New York, he took it along with him and ran it around the sidewalks. There were the New Yorkers, completely enthralled while pretending not to care enough to look. (Laughs)
Awesome! Since some of your works are based on a very Japanese sense of humour, they could be hard to grasp for people overseas. What do you think?
We also have some pieces that can only be understood by people of our generation! For example, our “Koshien Boiling Water:” A while back, the Perfect Liberty High School (P.L.) in Japan used to have a really strong baseball team. Once they staged a huge mass game at the Koshien Stadium to show off. However, recently they haven’t appeared at Koshien as their team is no longer any good. This gave me the idea for the “Koshien Boiling Water.” You’d have to know that to get the meaning obviously.
More ironic subtleties! “Yotchan Iruka” by Shane Kagotani parodies the Yotchan brand of bright red dried squid, Japanese “ika,” snacks. Don’t worry, those are not real dolphins.
This J-Horror teddy mixes the ancient legend of Hoichi the Earless with a cuddly teddy bear. Modernised version!
So, ideas like these just pop into your head?
Yes, when I am watching TV or looking at someone else’s work, or when I am really trying to apply myself to my work. Other times, I first come up with a title that I really want to use, and then think of what kind of work I could make to fit that.
What are influences for you?
Katsuhito really loves TV and records – more than he can actually watch. He loves Japanese comedy such as Downtown. Recently, I have really been into the late lyricist Yuu Aku. He wrote songs for Pink Lady and Naomi Chiaki. Practically all of my favourite karaoke songs are written by him. He wrote so many great songs in different genres.
Their book “Cheap Art Gallery” is available from November 29th and published by Magazine House.
Finally, any plans for the future?
Years ago, there was a program about art on Japanese TV on Sundays. We used to say that we are going to break up when we would be on that show, but now I just want to maintain the level of tension I have now about my work and create new things. I would also like to exhibit more around Japan.
Many thanks to Gendaibijitsu Nitouhei for sharing their fun “cheap art” with us today!