When curator Shai Ohayon says he’s organizing 12 hours of “dirty, dirty, sex, sex” in Shinjuku, he’s not making a sordid offer.
He’s refering to the title of the first Tokyo ArtGig, a planned series of themed “art happenings” born from his desire to help revive a Tokyo underground art scene.
“I think the art education system in Japan puts less emphasis on cognitive understanding of contemporary art,” he says, as he begins explaining why he thinks Tokyo needs an event like ArtGig. “If you look at the curriculum, it is very skill based, and that part of culture makes some people look at art differently.”
This means, says Ohayon, that collectors in Japan focus on craftsmanship more than conceptualism, and that there’s a reliance on commercial galleries, which can only take a certain amount of risk when it comes to contemporary art. Only the big museums and galleries can offer a wider variety of more daring works, and they, he says, not only tend to focus on major artists but can also be intimidating to visit.
“I started to feel that I wanted to give people the chance to access art in a different way,” he says. “It became really important to me to give opportunities to artists, but also to engage the general public. I wanted them to get to enjoy art without feeling intimidated or uncomfortable.”
Although Ohayon — who was born in Israel, studied art in Toronto and has curated exhibitions in London — has only been in Tokyo for a couple of years, he has managed to assemble an impressive roster of artists for the event. ArtGig, which takes place from 3 p.m. until 3 a.m. in the Shinjuku club Bar Exit on May 8, includes an exhibition of visual arts, performance-art pieces, and music from live bands and DJs. But what is perhaps most surprising about the event is that it’s not designed to make a profit.
“That is one of the core ideas — to present ArtGig to the public for free,” he insists, even though this meant asking artists for their cooperation without any compensation. “Not everyone I initially approached decided they would or could do it,” he says. “But we did get an amazing collection of artists.”
There are some big names on that list, such as Yoko Ono, who has contributed a song track. “She re-recorded her 1980 ‘Every Man Has a Woman to Love Him,’ I think some time in the ’90s, and manipulated the lyrics to ‘Every man has a man to love him,’ ” Ohayon explains. “We’ll be playing that in a segregated space as a sound installation.”
Avant-garde collective Chim↑Pom, whose work has been exhibited in major galleries across Japan, are also offering a piece, and Makoto Aida, whose unusual mix of manga, installation, video work and painting has garnered him controversy and acclaim, will be showing an arresting photograph of a giant cockroach fornicating with a young woman.
Other artists include some that Ohayon calls “old-timers,” such as Canadian performance artist Louise Bak, who was involved in a sex-themed ArtGig more than 13 years ago in Toronto, where the event began as a university project and then successfully ran nine times over three years. Newer names on the Tokyo scene are also being introduced, such as visual artist Beatriz Inglessis, whose digital print of an unusual paper construction of the female reproductive organs was created specially for the show.
“Dirty, dirty! Sex, sex!” has also attracted a number of in-kind sponsors, including The Mori Art Museum, MOMA Gift Shop, Wut Berlin, NADiff and Tokyo Art Beat, all of whom have donated prizes for a free raffle. And, for visitors who do want to spend some cash, in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami disaster, many of the contributing artists have offered additional artworks for an on-site silent charity auction.
“I gave a lot of freedom to the artists in the show,” says Ohayon.”I think that’s what holds the event together. People can get a fair insight into an artist’s mind. And art is not necessarily predictable.”
“Dirty, dirty! Sex, sex!” at Bar Exit, Shinjuku, takes place on May 8, 3 p.m.-3 a.m. For more information and to join a mailing list for future ArtGig events, visit www.artgigtokyo.com.
“As an artist I have always tried to deal with all aspects of the society equally. I didn’t want to lean on its beauty, happiness and its ‘positive’ things in my works. The pain or horror we deal with are just as important as the beauty we find living in this world.
“I was shocked when I saw the news about the Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, but that did not necessarily change my philosophy in approaching art. Both positives and negatives complete the world. And I have since been thinking about even bigger disasters we could face in the future.
“The theme of this exhibition, sex, is a subject that also has a strong contrast of positive and negative sides of human nature, and it’s a theme I have been trying to portray in my works over years. My piece for ArtGig communicates to the viewers emotions dealing with both intimacy and ominousness.”
“The earthquake changed Japan’s mood. It made us rethink the meaning of ‘presence’ and the importance of culture. Sleeping and eating is what we need to survive, but we also need emotion. So even after such a disaster, concerts and artistic events are important, not just as fund-raising activities.
“For ArtGig, we are expressing our interest in homosexual culture. It’s difficult to describe our work in words, but our piece won’t focus purely on the act of sex. We hope to portray the importance of communication and collaboration.
“It is important to actually see our work to understand it. We hope seeing and meeting us will give you hope! We also recommend Yoko Ono’s sound piece. Her work reminds viewers what it means to be a human.”
(Interviews by Jae Lee)