Enjoy an art night out in Roppongi

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

Spring finally returns and with the change of weather comes a flurry of activity in and around Tokyo, as this year’s Roppongi Art Night is welcomed back. Running from 10 a.m. on March 23 until 6 p.m. the next day, the festival hosts a diverse collection of new and established artists, some showing for the very first time, and some participating from abroad.

Starting in 2009 and briefly canceled in 2011 following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the event has gone on to become an important date in the creative calendar of Japan and East Asia.

Straddling a number of sites throughout the greater Roppongi area, the venues include The National Arts Center Tokyo, 21_21 Design Sight, Tokyo Midtown, Suntory Museum of Art, Roppongi Hills, Mori Art Museum and Roppongi Shopping Street.

In The National Arts Center Tokyo there are workshops by Takamasa Kuniyasu as well as an open-air exhibition, animation screenings, an open-air performance titled “Fureru Hikari” (“Touch Light”) and the exhibition “20th Century California Design,” along with a lecture by exhibition curator Wendy Kaplan.

21_21 Design Sight’s current exhibition is worth a return visit. “Design Ah!,” continues along with a special “talk event” in collaboration with the PechaKucha organization, simply titled “PechaKucha x Design Ah!” The event will see designers and creators present their work in the tradition of PechaKucha talks, each person showing 20 images for 20 seconds each. The morning will also include a children’s version of the PechaKucha event. Both will be held at 21_21 Design Site as part of the Design Ah! exhibition and promises to be light and entertaining.

Meanwhile, at the Mori Art Museum the hugely successful Makoto Aida show, “Monument for Nothing” continues, along with Okinawan artist Chikako Yamashiro’s work — a unique mixture of landscape, film, photography and performance. With a successful show at Yumiko Chiba Associates at the end of last year, she is definitely an artist to watch out for in the future. Special screenings of Yamashiro’s film work will take place during the Art Night, along with a special performance of “Gekidan * Shiki” supporting Aida’s show.

Tokyo Midtown plays host to G-Tokyo 2013, the contemporary Art Fair established in 2010, showcasing leading art galleries in Tokyo and the latest and most interesting artists currently working in Japan. A selection of satellite events will also take place in Midtown, including “Blanche Neige,” a full-size installation of various Snow White characters appearing in multiple scenarios, featuring French artist Catherine Bay.

In Tokyo Midtown Gardenside, the Suntory Museum of Art is extending its opening hours for its show celebrating the opening of the fifth kabuki theater in Higashi-Ginza. The exhibition traces the development of kabuki performance spaces from early modern history to present day.

Roppongi Shopping Street’s Fujifilm Square, also in Midtown, is featuring a photography exhibition of selected works, while the actual street will sport special flags designed for a national competition, under the theme of “flower.” The winner of the contest will be announced at the end of the Art Night.

At the heart of Roppongi Art Night are two works that directly reference the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. “The Trip Project” by artist Katsuhiko Hibino involves the construction of a giant lighthouse, titled “Trip→Witness today transform into tomorrow,” that will literally light up the event from a site at the Roppongi Hills Arena. Hibino visited the hard-hit city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, in early March to recover cryptomeria trees that were damaged by saltwater. Once collected, the dead wood was kiln-baked in Iwate, and turned into charcoal that will be used as fuel for the lighthouse throughout the event.

The other major work, known as the “Art Boats,” or “Seiryu-Koyomi-Bune” (“Clear Stream Calendar Boats”), were originally made in Gifu Prefecture for the National Sports Festival ceremony in 2012. The boats will be paraded around the festival, acting as temporary stage sets for more than a dozen different performers and performances. They will travel to various locations throughout the event to give a tangible sense of connection between the disparate works on show.

The festival’s original aim of establishing “Tokyo as a city of global cultural creativity” is still at the forefront of the agenda, and Art Night will no doubt continue as an influential force in Asian creative culture. But how that influence is realized in scope and range of what’s on is embryonic and still up for grabs

Let’s hope subversive artists such as Chim↑Pom will feature more prominently — I can easily imagine the group as future festival curators. For now, at least, Chim↑Pom have created an event space “The Tripping Arrow” alongside BABOT and Akiyoshi Mishima at Tokyo Midtown’s Mid-Space, where musicians Yohei Miyake and Ido Hidefumi will perform, among others.

With Roppongi Art Night’s attention rightly turned to reflect on the events of March 11 and how Japan continues to recover, the event’s vitality and the relationship to Japanese contemporary art as a whole has never been so important, which is something the creative talent here duly recognize. Roppongi Art Night will, I hope, showcase artists reacting passionately, without simply lamenting the past.

Roppongi Art Night 2013 runs from 10 a.m. on March 23 — 6 p.m. on March 24. At present the program and scheduling are subject to change. For more up-to-date information on events and locations visit www.roppongiartnight.com.