Ping Cars Vol.5: Rogues’ Gallery and the “Farming Cars” of Awaji Island

I first came to know the pair from Rogues’ Gallery six years ago when they were about to set out dressed all in black. Even the car was black, a customized Citroën XM that was part of an art project crossing Japan, Gasoline Music & Cruising (GM&C).

GM&C is noise music that uses the sounds recorded by microphones in the car engine and indicators, and plays it through countless effects units set up in the passenger seat, reverberating around the cabin at high volume. What’s really special about GM&C is that the “audience” then sits in the back and drives around with the musicians. They only do this at night so they enjoy the changing night view to the booming noise music soundtrack.

roguesgallery_nouminsya01Gasoline music and cruising performance. The duo from Rogues’ Gallery sit in the driver’s set and front passenger seat, while in the back two audience members would sit and enjoy the night cruising. Due to the high output audio set up in the rear trunk, the whole car cabin is filled with the noise of the drive. Courtesy of Namura Art Meeting.
Photo: Kazuo Fukunaga

roguesgallery_nouminsya02Gasoline music demonstration in Aomori in October 2006. On the left, Yasuhiko Hamachi “plays” the noise from car by pressing down on the accelerator and turning on the indicators, while Yuki Nakase on the right uses the effects unit on the sounds picked up by the microphones.
Photo: Space Lab 2006

Well, the “rogues” have a new project — farming cars! Yes, these experimental guys have now moved on to agriculture. No, they’ve haven’t turned over a new leaf and become organic farmers, it’s a project that tries to create cars for farming. In other words, the artists have become car manufacturers. Ping Cars just had to go and see what was going on…

roguesgallery_nouminsya03

These “farming cars” (Rogues’ Gallery call them nominsha) are self-made vehicles that serve as both cars and agriculture equipment used by farmers in Awaji Island. The island is known for growing onions and come the harvest during the rainy season, mountains of onions need to be transported from the muddy fields, along with lots of water. Compact and powerful cars are essential for covering the ground over the fields and the narrow roads that characterize the island. Recent developments in minitrucks are really impressive, but the people of the island long ago pooled their ideas and created their own farming cars. Although the numbers of cars have gone right down now, it’s still not rare to see these cars being used on farms.

Rogues’ Gallery first heard about the cars when GM&C visited Awaji Island. Everyone’s car had a different size and design, and they rode on the top with no hood. At a glance, they knew they had to be hand-made and customized in some way. The farmers had taken existing cars’ secondhand parts and added them according to how they needed to be used, with local iron factories and mechanics all helping to produce them. The result was that all the vehicles differed per creator. For Rogues’ Gallery, these farming cars looked like the battle machines that might appear in some 1980′s near-future sci-fi movie.

Later, when they perused the entry forms for Media Gym, an event run by an NPO in Osaka called remo, it said that “things produced by yourself aspire to improve the ability to create things by your own hands, the foundational physical fitness of media artists”. And they remembered the Awaji Island farming cars.

Research into Awaji Island Farming Cars

The first thing they did was start to conduct field research into the farming cars of Awaji Island. Going every weekend to Awaji, the Rogues’ Gallery duo interviewed the owners and creators of the cars. There were the places that sold the cars, of course, as well as where the scrap cars or car parts were put; it began from a complete state of cluelessly searching around for whatever was there. The two weren’t especially knowledgeable about how cars are put together, let alone familiar with metal hand-work, such as using welding machines, so they had to learn all this. When speaking with the people who made the cars they were also able to get on and have a ride for themselves.

roguesgallery_nouminsya04A snapshot of Awaji Island farming car research. The Rogues’ Gallery duo ask the owner to get the idle vehicle out of the garage so they can do a full survey. This vehicle is actually used for transporting animal feed for dairy farming. It’s super small — just 1.15 meters wide!

By coincidence, when PingMag was covering the pair’s work, there was also the Awaji Island Farming Car Rally 2013, so we could take a look at the kaleidoscope of cars that had wowed Rogues’ Gallery over the years.

roguesgallery_nouminsya05The Awaji Island Farming Car Rally 2013 saw Rogues’ Gallery bring together a selection from the vehicles they’ve encountered till now.
Photo: Ai Nakagawa

roguesgallery_nouminsya06This vehicle has an engine from a regular car (a Nissan A) and can switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive. From its square seat to the headlight that looks more like a stone, you can’t get a more liberated vehicle design than this. It was made in around 1982.

roguesgallery_nouminsya07The Takashima Farm Car AT.85 Type is thought to have been made in around 1970. The engine hasn’t been replaced in all that time and it is still used in basically the same state as it was originally built. The rather peculiar color combination is also a real highlight — from the blue body to the vermillion wheels, topped off with a yellow engine! The guy driving is Yasuhiko Hamachi from Rogues’ Gallery.
Photo: Ai Nakagawa

roguesgallery_nouminsya08This gasoline engine vehicle wa sused to harvest onions. While it may be small, it has four-wheel drive so can race around Awaji Island no matter how bad the roads. You can really see the hand-made-ness of it in how the headlight is squeezed into a gap next to the engine.

roguesgallery_nouminsya09This vehicle is also intended for harvesting and transporting onions. As well as being able to switch between two-wheel and four-wheel drive, the loading platform can be raised, a function born out of the need to hang the crops up in an onion hut.

The Ups and Downs of Making a Car

The Rogues’ Gallery team weren’t actually aiming to do any farming so what they ended up designing was a minimal and flat car without limits — something with an extremely primitive structure.

roguesgallery_nouminsya10They headed to Awaji Island and Kubo Warehouse every week to learn how to weld. It was a constant struggle to master how to use the semi-automatic welding machine they bought secondhand online.

But making a car is no easy matter, even if you do lots of research. To start with, they had no experience of welding. So for a while they went to Awaji Island just to practice that. And at the point when they were getting really frustrated with the progress of the project, they were rescued by the semi-automatic welding machine they found online. But then they got all caught up in taking apart the base they had chosen for their car, a Suzuki Jimny. Removing the parts and cutting the car up to dismantle it, the pace of their work slowed right down as they got closer to the core elements that form the frame of their farming car. They called in a mentor who had helped them with fitting out the GM&C car and quick as a flash it was finished.

Well, after that they still had to assemble it, yet another big test. Their teacher told them all about the details of the mechanics surrounding a car… the engine, steering wheel, brakes, headlights… but it was still heavy going. It took them three months till they had their car complete. Their design was simple enough but to make a car takes a monumental amount of creativity.

Complete! “The Self-Made Car” by Rogues’ Gallery

roguesgallery_nouminsya11‘Farming Cars Show 2′, an exhibition held at Creative Center Osaka in 2012. The first generation car couldn’t dump its load accurately, but a proper lift function was then added in 2011 for the second generation car shown at the 2012 event.

Rogues’ Gallery’s “battle machine” was finished! Though it was tough to produce the “hand-made” car, it brings together all the unorthodox audaciousness of farming cars they acquired while doing their research on Awaji Island. Okay, let’s take it out of the studio and get a look at it in a brighter location.

roguesgallery_nouminsya12The body color is a tank-like German gray, giving the vehicle a military character. The engine is mounted on the front like many Awaji farming cars, though the rest forms a straight line right to the very end. The only coloration is the red of the engine. The line coming out of it is a wire so you can operate the accelerator by hand along with the steering wheel that is set up vertically off the ground. The minimalism of the design also comes out in the driver’s seat, a piece of rectangular wood used as an engine mount on a fishing boat.

roguesgallery_nouminsya13The deck can now dump its load and with its use of expanded metal it has a real truck-like feel. It’s like a retro futuristic battle machine from a sci-fi flick.

What impressed the Rogues’ Gallery pair the most during this project was not completing their farming car, but the time they first took it out for a spin. And then that moment when they first operated the dumping function they had added on as an extra blow them away even more. Yes, the best thing about a car is, after all, driving it.

roguesgallery_nouminsya14

Rogues’ Gallery called their farming car “The Self-Made Car”. Ping Cars was so impressed we wanted to make our own! So, what shall we make? We are getting excited even just imagining it.

Special Thanks: Kubo Warehouse, les contes, remo, NPO Awaji Island Art Center, RESULT

Rogues’ Gallery
http://roguesgallery.jp
  • Dee

    Thank you Shogo Jimbo and Pingmag, articles like this is what makes me come back to this website.

    The idea of making your own car is pretty exciting, there are endless possibilities here, a mobile tiny house? art gallery? a library? boring ideas, i know :-) but i’m sure many people could come with creative and exciting ideas.