Going back to school for alternative art

by Mio Yamada

A first-time visitor to 3331 Arts Chiyoda might be equally intrigued and confused. To the left of the entrance, there’s a wide open space with only tables and chairs; in the center, a small booth with shelves stuffed with toys; to the right, a stylish cafe; and, around the corner, huge photos of expressionless faces.

“This is a new model for alternative arts,” says Mitsunori Sakano, one of five artists who together conceived 3331, a community-based multidisciplinary arts center housed in a converted old school building. Sakano, along with Yuumi Shishido, Takuma Ishiyama and Tonomi Ohzone is a member of Command A, a company headed by artist Masato Nakamura, famous for his installation work and art projects through his nonprofit organization Command N.

The “new model” to which Sakano refers is twofold: 3331 is all about creativity that goes beyond conventional art, but it is also a new business model. Unlike many community-based projects, 3331 is not government funded; while it rents space from the city government, it is privately run.

“Basically, Chiyoda Ward is our landlord, and it offers us a low rent because we are running a community-based project,” Sakano explains. This allows Command A to lease exhibition space, meeting rooms, office space and galleries, even the rooftop, to arts organizations and other creative types at a more than reasonable rate. A shared office space, which includes use of meeting rooms and other facilities, costs as little as ¥33,000 per month, a rent that illustrates the project’s emphasis on promoting creativity rather than generating major profits. (Not surprisingly, all those office spaces have already been filled.)

Even though it also offers artist and curator residence programs that include the use of apartments, studios and galleries, 3331 does not lease its space to just anyone, or even exclusively to artists. In its promotion of any type of creative crossover that can contribute to “alternative art,” 3331′s tenants include nonart groups such as the electronics company Switchscience, which offers a workspace and equipment for visitors to fix or modify electrical appliances.

Other community nonart projects include 32 rooftop allotments for local residents; Foodlab, a cafe where culinary experts teach visitors about food; and artist Hiroshi Fuji’s Kaeru Station, the booth of toys on the first floor where kids can exchange old toys for points that they can then use to buy other playthings.

The current exhibition, “3331 Presents TOKYO: Part 2,” is the second of the center’s grand-opening exhibitions (3331 officially opened in March and fully opened all facilities in June), and highlights the center’s unusually wide approach to creativity. Part 1 was a more conventional contemporary art exhibition featuring the work of artists who are either tenants or represented by 3331 gallerists. Part 2, however, includes the work of nontenants and projects that involve social interaction.

In the first-floor main exhibition area is a painting of Mount Fuji, a bathhouse mural that will later be installed in a local Chiyoda sento, created by Sento Shinkousha, a group that promotes the role of bathhouse culture in society. The Hafu project, the series of previously mentioned expressionless passport-like portraits, is the work of photographer Natalie Maya Willer and researcher Marcia Yumi Lise, who were invited by 3331 to display their investigation of nationality and interracial parentage because of their unusual approach to social research. And at the back of the first floor is Ono Shouchi’s ongoing documentation of Japan’s cenetenarians: a collection of heartwarming images that reveal the spirit and energy of Japan’s oldest generation.

These kinds of projects and others at 3331 that actively involve the general public not only make exhibitions relevant and appealing, but they also draw ordinary people into creative processes. Visitors can use the center’s library for research, participate in hands-on workshops (for example, Able Art Studio, an NPO that offers an artspace for the disabled, invites anyone to join its sessions) or simply watch creative types at work.

In fact, one of the criteria for organizations wanting to rent space at 3331 is a willingness to be open about their creativity.

“That’s why on the third floor we have large glass windows at the front of spaces,” Sakano says. “Organizations have to be able to visualize their activities, so that visitors can also watch them.”

A silent auction of artwork donated by over 40 established artists, currently taking place on the second floor, does a good job of highlighting 3331′s emphasis on public interaction. The participating artists, who include names such as Fuji Hiroshi, Kazuhiko Hachiya and Yoshinari Nishio, decide the starting prices, which begin as low as ¥5. But the final price is decided by whoever loves a work enough to submit the highest bid. The proceeds not only go to the artist but also toward the running costs of 3331 itself.

It’s not a new concept, but one that takes on a deeper meaning at 3331. It reminds visitors that art belongs to everyone, can be appreciated and created by anyone, and through projects such as those at 3331, it can be supported by everyone.

“3331 Presents TOKYO: Part 2″ runs till Aug. 29 at 3331 Arts Chiyoda, 6-11-14 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku; nearest station: Suehirocho Station (Ginza Line); admission free; open Sun.-Thu. 12-7 p.m., till 8 p.m. on Fri. and Sat.

Upcoming events at 3331 Arts Chiyoda

Slow Food Art Workshop Aug. 21; 2-5 p.m.; ¥1,000 (free to children below high-school age) This family-fun oriented workshop is led by Chaco Kato, a Japanese artist based in Australia. Learn about fruit and vegetables, make a giant salad and discover the benefits of compost.

Tokyo-DIY-Gardening Workshop Aug. 21; 7-9p.m.; free To create awareness of green city life, participants are invited to collaborate in the creation of a city map of Tokyo’s greenest and grayest areas. Preregister by e-mailing info@en.3331.jp

Dislocate: Mediactions — Artist in Residence Workshop Aug. 29; 2-5 p.m.; free Four artists from Japan, India, China and Indonesia will collaborate in a “3331 Presents Tokyo: Part 2″ event involving performances, presentations and discussions. This workshop asks participants to explore the Akihabara area, tweeting observations with their mobile phones. To take part, e-mail MappingDate@gmail.com with your name, mobile e-mail address and telephone number.

For more information on all the above events and others visit www.3331.jp/en