Old art building faces a new ‘Junction’ in life

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

In Yanaka, a 10-minute walk from Nippori Station in Tokyo, a new art center is being constructed in the shell of a 50-year-old house that had been the atelier and residence of students from Tokyo Art University since 2004. Like many buildings of its age, it suffered considerable damage during the Great East Japan Earthquake, and its owner had consigned its fate to simple demolition.

Earlier this year, however, the building’s three-week final farewell event, Hagionalle 2012, attracted more than 1,500 visitors, which became enough of a reason for the owner to reconsider the demolition. Working with a small group of past students, a plan was made to turn the old building into a new cultural center in which studio space, a hair salon, cafe and gallery would help support the local community.

Still under construction and due to open officially in early 2013, Hagiso will go public with an exhibition fittingly titled “Japanese Junction.” Eighteen architecture graduates have hung, installed and decorated the entire building with drawings, models, prototypes and an array of ideas and architectural propositions that represent their travels to some of the most important schools of architecture worldwide.

Projects range from Ryuho Hosawa and Hiroki Muto’s “Anarcity” — animations depicting a future community wrestling with economic indifference and instability — to more formal and realizable propositions that appear wonderfully absurd.

Kensuke Hotta’s project hangs in the double-height gallery space at the center of Hagiso. An iPad is used to control electronic ligaments that expand and contract a canopy that they form overhead. This hovers over a project by another graduate, which reconstructs in miniature form the interior of an English pub, making the British cultural reference in such surroundings an utterly fantastic proposition. These speculations are as much alternative expressions of architecture as they are committed suggestions on how groups of individuals can make and define their own cultural scene and network, even if the end result appears unclear.

Architect Mitsuyoshi Miyazaki, who is responsible for the renovation project and was a past art-school resident, admitted that what happens in the future is anyone’s guess. The hope is it will be self-supporting, allowing free and undiluted activity in a space that is inclusive rather than exclusive, and where gatherings will be as important as a single artist’s show.

In his book “BLDG.”, Japanese artist and musician Shinro Ohtake writes that throughout his travels abroad, the changes he encountered to the physical surroundings mean he now thinks of his images and sounds in terms of the act of building. Typified by a bricolage of borrowed pieces, and materials and signage with an explosion of light and color, his work is combined in a way that, as he says, “no-one has ever seen before.”

Perhaps “Japanese Junction” is an expression of this, where the places these different architectural ideas meet form something unique in a country that wants to do things and rejuvenate in its own way.

“Japanese Junction” runs till Jan. 20; open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Free admission. Closed Tue. www.hagiso.jp.