Today’s Levitation and Roppongi Art Night

So for one reason or other I found myself at a couple of art events in the more stylish areas of Tokyo over March.

Yeah, I think it’s weird, too.

First, the more recent one: Hayashi Natsumi’s Today’s Levitation

For those not in the know, Hayashi Natsumi is an artist known on the web for her self portraits that feature her “levitating” in various different settings and situations. Her site, Yowa Yowa Camera Woman was updated quite frequently until about two years ago, when updates mysteriously stopped. As such, it wasn’t through the site that I found out about this event, but the Facebook page.

The exhibition ran between the 26th and 30th of March at a venue called the Spiral Garden in Aoyama, with a rather cheap entrance fee of 0 yen. That said, situated right in the middle of the exhibition hall is a typically Tokyo-chic restaurant–basically meaning that the menu is small and the menu items are expensive–so it’s not exactly a free date. The pot pie I ordered was good, but not quite enough to fill me up. The placement of the restaurant is quite clever, as patrons are surrounded partially by the art, making for an inspired atmosphere in which to dine. As per the name, the main area in the building is a spiral ramp that allows patrons to view artwork as they work their way up to the ever-so-cleverly located gift shop, also containing all manner of stylish, and naturally, expensive stuff.

As for the work, Hayashi’s levitating photographs have an ethereal and dreamy atmosphere about them. Hayashi herself is a uniquely beautiful woman, whose flowing hair, outfits, poses, and at times moments of playfulness make for a particularly creative body of work. Hayashi poses expertly in mid-air, in a number of beautifully shot settings, making for a collection of photos that all share a similar phantasmagoric quality. Works on display are obviously the cream of Hayashi’s crop, with the center piece featuring her airily floating through a room where people are hard at work making women’s underwear–a piece that perfectly embodies the quirky yet beautiful nature of her work. The opposite side captures Hayashi’s naked feet as they leap off the ground. Other standout pieces feature her flying in front of a carousel, passing between two vending machines, and one poignant photo has her floating through a field with her deceased cat.

The exhibition was composed primarily of smaller framed prints punctuated by giant ones. The larger photos were blown up very cleanly, and looked great at sizes of eight to twenty feet high. There was a small gift shop with a number of goods on offer, including a thick photobook filled with even more photos of Hayashi floating in a variety of places. I ended up getting the book later at Village Vanguard, but I should have bought it at the exhibit, as it came with a nice bag, but after paying for lunch I was in no mood to spend money any further.

The book is a collection of works posted on her site between January 2011 and March 2011. Since it’s more or less everything that was posted on her site within that period, there are a few too many duds, and the book cuts off right when her work is getting really good. That said, there’s still a number of fine photos in this collection, and they all look really nice, especially compared to the lower resolution versions on Hayashi’s site. The best parts of the book are the photographs she shot in Taiwan, and a transcript of an interview she had there. The interview–along with the book’s forward–are both translated into English, albeit of the broken variety. That however doesn’t keep the interview from being a neat look into Hayashi’s process and why she started Today’s Levitation.

…and here’s the second thing I went to: Roppongi Art Night

On the night of March 23rd until the morning of March 24th I was wandering around Roppongi hoping to see many strange and interesting works of art as part of the annual Roppongi Art Night. However, what was presented to myself, my companion, and the leagues of attendees was less than substantial. But it’s not all the show’s fault, as there was also a lack of research on the part of myself.

While it bills itself as an all night event, it’s best to actually see what’s open until when, because there are things that close early. Also, the various display spaces are a good walk from each other, so it would have been nice to have a bit of visual continuity while going from place to place. I understand this is difficult, given these are city streets, but at least some performance art in the streets would have helped to keep the atmosphere consistent. There were a couple of pieces that utilized open lots and buildings, but they were few and far between. There was a disco laundromat that I wanted to see, but it was closed by the time I decided to check it out. It was meant to be an all-night thing, but it was cancelled early.

The theme of the event was “trip”, which was constantly reinforced by the presence of boats. The opening ceremony itself was some strange abstract performance sending off a little boat (propped up on a car) that went around the neighborhood. While it’s nice to have a theme, the event should have been more loose in its interpretation of it. While all the boats did look different enough, it got a little old by the tenth or eleventh one.

The amount of work on display in general felt a little on the low side, which is most likely because the event was split between different venues. I understand their reason for splitting the venues–lots of people come to this thing–but more works and more variety of works would have really driven home that “city of art” image that the event seemed to be aiming for. As it was it felt a touch flaccid. Similarly, there were a few artists working on pieces live, but not nearly enough to project the image of a city teeming with creativity for one special night. During the early hours of the event, the lack of content was made up for by other events taking place simultaneously, like a sakura festival, an elaborate whiskey tasting setup, and that Kyary Pamyu Pamyu exhibit. It was even discounted that night!

And this was also there…

The biggest problem with the event is that it doesn’t need to be all-night. The amount of work on display could be seen in a number of hours, and the parts that closed early didn’t leave much to see for the rest of the night. There were some live performances that continued until morning, but by the time the clock struck 3:00 am, lots of people were sprawled out on the floor sleeping.

There was however some good stuff at Roppongi Art Night. There were a fair amount of non-boat works, a few works in progress, interactive works, and performance art. Among the interactive works, there was a setup where people found themselves in a long empty hallway with one other person approaching from the opposite side, and the idea was to exchange a few words with them. I simply introduced myself to the other guy, but gave him a phony name for kicks. There was another one where participants rode a bike to generate electricity that charged an electric guitar, which was used in a performance during the event’s ending ceremony. There was one video piece that featured children in different parts of a zoo singing and dancing unenthusiastically to a haunting Russian song which captivated anyone passing by, creating quite the crowd around it. There were two bits of performance art that I caught as they roamed the halls, the first featuring a number of people, all of varying sex and race, wearing black suits and holding umbrellas. They made a number of curious formations with the umbrellas, and at the end brandished long hollowed out rods, placed them against people’s ears and whispered. The best bit of performance art–and the best thing at the whole event–was a group of women all dressed like Snow White, holding guns, and marching around militarily to the orders of their commander, also dressed like Snow White, but noticeably older. Of course, the problem with the children singing and the Snow White pieces was that they’re not originally Japanese! I personally don’t think it’s too much for the stand out pieces at a Japanese event to be Japanese-made.

The event had a nice lively atmosphere to it, so the organizers should probably think about increasing the amount of works on display for next year’s event. There should also be encouragement towards the regular attendees setting up and creating their own work during the event. These are, of course, wishes that are difficult to make into reality, but as it is, Roppongi Art Night feels a touch weak.

Further photos from the Today’s Levitation exhibition and Roppongi Art Night can be found on my Flickr here and here respectively.


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