Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Symposium: knitted landscapes, iPhone "guns", Fab creations… and more!

Over two days on April 27th and 28th, Nico Nico Douga, Japan’s popular video-sharing website, held the second Nico Nico Chokaigi fan event at the Makuhari Messe event center. Although the name translates as “super meeting”, you can forget about old guys with furrowed brows staring at bad PowerPoint presentations. Official tallies for the two days were a whopping 103,561 participants at the venue, joined by an incredible 5,094,994 peers watching the proceedings online.

PingMag went along to one of the events over the weekend, the 4th Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Symposium, and selected a few highlights.

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Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Committee Chair, Koichiro Eto

Koichiro Eto, head of the Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Committee Chair, says that Nico Nico Gakkai is made up not just of university and corporate researchers, but also spotlights niche yet interesting research being done by more minor industry people. It is a conference for facilitating a new future through interactive and participatory research, a new type of academic meeting for spreading the word about pioneering research that ordinarily would not get publicized. It got part of its funding for the event via crowdfunding, which indicates its eagerness for experimenting with new models.

The Nico Nico Gakkai Beta is just that, a “beta” version of a conference. It’s not meant to be perfect or ready to be used, but something that is eternally heading towards completion, always being re-made and revised by trial and error. It’s in a state of constant evolution through listening to everyone’s opinions.

Soft monozukuri

Maker Faire, the Maker Media event, was held in Japan in 2012. Now you can also get your hands on 3D printers and laser cutter equipment at comparatively low prices, which has seen the rise of places like FabLab and FabCafe where ordinary people can also use the tools. All in all, these days there are lots of creative monozukuri (“making things”) environments getting attention.

But as opposed to the rather rigid image of the monozukuri of metals and plastics, wood or electronics, this time the focus was on softer materials, with guests such as “knitting master” 203gow, Kosuke Tsumura from survival wear brand FINAL HOME, and Kao Kanamori of apparel brand THEATRE PRODUCTS, introducing uses of cotton, wool and fashion accessories.

“Knitting master” 203gow

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Watch 3D movies with knitting
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Household plug and adapter sockets made from knitting. Not actually usable!
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Clips for bread bags and a can pull-tab

203gow sees all the things in the world as knitting, creating realistic everyday landscapes. Other than ones in the photos above, she has also made such seemingly un-knittable items as graduation certificates, and models of the space probe Hayabusa and asteroid Itokawa.

Another one her activities is “guerilla knitting”, where knitting twines around places where you wouldn’t expect there to be any, such as bicycles, benches, clothes stands and so on. 203gow held a workshop and in it knitted around a chair. She even demonstrated what she meant by knitting around a notice in the venue in just a few minutes.

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Knitting around a notice board

Kosuke Tsumura (FINAL HOME)

FINAL HOME is a fashion brand that presents the eponymous “final shelter” for when you have lost yours, such as nylon coats and other products born out of the concept of protecting humanity.

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FINAL HOME’s most representative product (Photo: FINAL HOME)
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The coat features multiple pockets that you can use to carry things. (Photo: FINAL HOME)

A regular fashion designer does a fashion show twice a year and creates clothing for daily wear, right? Well, Kosuke Tsumura decided instead to start FINAL HOME’s range of nylon coats, one of which he was wearing at the event.

(Tsumura) This coat is entirely pockets. If you unzip it you can put all kinds of things between the outer and inner materials. You can put emergency items in the pockets and also use it as an emergency rucksack. It is warm if you scrunch up newspapers and you can put the things that are important to you inside it.

He is also developing new kinds of fashion items as well.

(Tsumura) I made clothes out of “air cushions” for the last Roppongi Art Night. I wondered if I could make a fashion item out of something used to protect freight, and I called it “air cushion”. I never said to make clothes, just a sculpture, so after I’d made it I wondered just how it could be worn. It’s a different shape to regular clothes, and this made it unexpectedly interesting. You decorate to protect yourself. It’s a new concept for fashion. But not just clothes, you decorate to protect things. Protecting and decorating. I’m working as a designer not to present a final form but rather asking if making something freely is effective.

He is also taking part in the ‘All You Need is Love’ exhibition, which started at the Mori Art Museum on April 26th.

‘All You Need is Love’ Exhibition
April 26th to September 1st
Venue: Mori Art Museum


Kao Kanamori (THEATRE PRODUCTS)

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Kao Kanamori, of fashion brand THEATRE PRODUCTS

THEATRE PRODUCTS was founded in 2001 with the principle that “fashion creates a theatre wherever it goes”.

(Kanamori) In our CUT & SEWN workshops we have made patchwork and dress pattern stencils to make clothes in Indonesia, Iceland and in university classes. It’s a project where everyone can actually get close to dress patterns and try to make them yourselves. First you choose the pattern and then the material; it’s like dressmaking, and the project is trying to go back to that kind of thing again. There are many things you can learn from the workshops but people in the fashion world worry if it’s okay to make your dress patterns public. They are thought of as a corporate secret, so many people were surprised that we are exchanging dress patterns so others can make things. In the workshops I want people to understand what is good about a ready-made product and a handmade one, and why a ready-made product can have this quality and yet at this price.

WRAPPLE WRAPPING & D.I.Y. is, as the name suggests, a shop themed around wrapping and DIY.

(Kanamori) There are workshops almost every day. Art directors and people from the fashion industry come and do workshops using craft materials. Even though fashion and dressmaking seem close there is this gap between them. You can choose the print on a computer and the dress pattern, and then make the material. The material then arrives at the customer’s, and they then do the sewing themselves. It changes the angle of what is a product, it’s a new experiment.

You can also post layouts you like for t-shirts and bags online at WORK SHOP STORE, as well as buy things, such as cloth, patterns and other necessary materials. It’s good to create an environment for creating.

Hardware Madness

Shikomi iPhone (Shota Mori)

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Shota Mori and his Shikomi iPhone

This was extremely popular over the weekend, a ‘Taxi Driver’-inspired “gun sleeve” device by Shota Mori so you can pull out your iPhone super fast. Unless you hear his explanations it’s likely impossible to understand his seriousness and calculated nonsense.

Hugging Jacket

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Here we saw research that went in the strange direction as imagined by university students unpopular with girls: a device created by pipe and headphones that is automatically controlled to resemble a girlfriend’s arms hugging and her voice calling to you from behind.

Battle with the Ultimate Self-Switching-Off Robot

A contemporary version of the Ultimate Machine developed in the Fifties by mathematician Claude Shannon, this machine automatically switches itself off if turned on. A gloriously, utterly pointless machine.

Six String Sonics, The (Gil Kuno)

A six-string guitar is played by six performers, one string each, creating a new instrument impossible to perform alone, and with video art visualizing that performance.

Mad Science

This section of the event featured ten presentations of “obsessive” research.

Almost visible but not (Yuki Koyama)

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In the CGI world they often talk about the so-called “bunny problem”. In Japan this is like Suneo Honekawa’s hair or Astro Boy’s wig: whichever direction you look at it, it always looks the same shape, so how do you then show that it is 3D? Koyama introduced a ground-breaking way to resolve the problem with a skirt that you definitely cannot peep under.

Sound System by Abstract Art, Using the Eye Lines of People Looking at Art

This device measures the line of sight for people looking at a picture and then produces sound from the co-ordinates of where they are looking. There is the sensation of synesthesia where if you hear sound you see video images, and if you see video images you can hear sound. The painter Kandinsky could feel this kind of sensation and is said to have projected it into his art. This system is a way to recreate an experience close to synesthesia for people who cannot feel it.

2.5 Dimension Video Editing Software (Ryuya Kurihara)

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This software allows you to composite video just by drag-and-drop. You can also freely set camera angles after shooting. http://ddm25.blogspot.jp/ (Windows 7 only)

FAB 100: 100 kinds of Fabrication

This was a distinctly Nico Nico Gakkai-esque segment, where several presenters introduced 100 different projects in a short period of time. Although it was easy to get lost in the flood, there were also plenty of new ideas to be discovered. The presenters were the heads of FabLab Kamakura, , FabLab Tsukuba, FabCafe and f.Labo.

FabCafe’s Kotaro Iwaoka & Daiki Kanaoka

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FabCafe donuts
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Following a brainstorming session with colleagues in Copenhagen about new materials, they came up with Christmas tree ornaments that can be replaced and produced by a 3D printer.

FabCafe is a space for monozukuri (making things) and for new people to get together. Currently it is located on Shibuya’s Dogenzaka as a cafe where you can also make use of a laser cutter and 3D printer. They plan to open othe spaces in Taipei, Barcelona and London to spread the FabCafe concept around the world. In the middle of the cafe is the equipment like the laser cutter. When someone is doing work with it the other people in the cafe having a drink will get interested and gather round, and an event is born naturally. By setting up equipment and a place to make things, the fun of creation is communicated to lots of people, which then leads to a sharing of know-how. One of the recent activities at FabCafe has been to turn the laser on the OSORO crockery used in the cafe.

(Iwaoka) At FabCafe we always have special food for these kinds of creative events. At a regular party, you start eating and you can’t concentrate on work, but at FabCafe that never happened. Everyone was a designer so they would just do work and not eat. (Laughs)
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(Iwaoka) For Valentine’s Day 2012 we tried this experiment where girls could get a 3D scan of their faces and then make it into chocolate. Everyone from around the world said it was “creepy”!
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​(Kanaoka) We held a tower contest using paper. You could only use one sheet of A2 size paper and without any adhesives, and see how high you could go. Everyone did so brilliantly, they even reached the ceiling. It was impossible to call the winner!

360°book snow white (Yusuke Oono)

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’360°book snow white’ by Yusuke Oono (Photo: fabcafe.com)
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Handbooks on fabcafe.com

This book is truly three-dimensional, each page opening up to form a 360-degree circle, and made using paper and a laser cutter. It creates a diorama of Snow White.

f.Labo (Shigeru Kobayshi)

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(Kobayashi) You can get hold of equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters quite cheaply now, but there is then this large hurdle between understanding things a bit and being able to actually make something yourself. When you are up against a brick wall you can take leaps into new areas through taking part in workshops.
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Customized PET bottle caps made by 3D-scanning your face
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A workshop for making chandeliers using a laser cutter
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A touchscreen pen made re-using industrial waste materials. Nakadai collects industrial waste, organizes what they collect and then considers ways to re-use and re-market it.

There were many, many other projects introduced during the other parts of the 4th Nico Nico Gakkai Beta Symposium, which in total featured eight different sessions. The main Nico Nico Chokaigi has already been announced for 2014. Nico Nico Gakkai Beta is also planning to hold sessions on August 17th and August 18th looking at the future of tech and creative research in Japan.

Nico Nico Gakkai Beta