Roppongi Art Night 2014: Get ready for a 32-hour art marathon

Art Night event's 'Move Your Body' theme shows art isn't just in the eye of the beholder

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

Art needn’t be strictly visual. That’s how Katsuhiko Hibino sees things.

The artist once again serves as artistic director for this year’s Roppongi Art Night, which begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday and runs straight through until 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Moving beyond the visual, Hibino has decided on “Move Your Body” as the theme for this year’s event, encouraging an artistic approach that is decidedly physical.

“Look, eat, listen, touch, move, sit, think . . .” Hibino lists the senses and sentiments he has attempted to thread through all of Roppongi Art Night’s events this year. He says these actions should be interpreted as means of expression in and of themselves — turning the act of viewing art into a physically moving experience.

Visitors to Tokyo’s Roppongi district should be able to get a sense of the artistic celebration simply by being there.

The festival was launched in 2009 and began as a way for disparate museums and retail complexes to connect with one another. Now, Roppongi Art Night draws in shops, restaurants, schools and street performers in what is becoming a real boon to community spirit. Last year, around 830,000 people attended the performances, concerts, installations and exhibitions on offer.

“Art Night is about creating the conditions for art to become part of life,” says Fumio Nanjo, chairperson for the Roppongi Art Night Executive Committee. “Its message has become one of people getting to know about art, enjoying it more and building a society for the future where it is celebrated.”

Nanjo adds that Roppongi Art Night, like many other cultural events in the capital, should always be considered in the context of Tokyo’s successful bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics.

“Viewed from the perspective of the city, the presence of art and culture is hugely important,” he says. “These things will inspire many people to visit, and the city will inevitably prosper from that.”

In other words, the added infrastructure needed to host the huge number of visitors for the Olympics should be planned with artistic events also in mind. Roppongi Art Night has yielded positive results so far, creating a communal distraction from the daily monotony of city life and getting people out and about — even if just for the weekend.

Roppongi Art Night will mainly take place across four key sites: Roppongi Hills and the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo Midtown, Suntory Museum of Art and The National Art Center, Tokyo.

Central to everything will be several works by Yoshinari Nishio and Kim Itoh, who will utilize material and fabric in their pieces, and address how people interact with them. For example, clothing is being donated to Nishio’s works from the community, and dressing-up is part of a street parade that Itoh will choreograph. Both of these works put visitors, rather than any single object or identifiable art piece, at the center of the weekend.

In Nishio’s “The Body in Connection Project,” the artist combines 2,000 or so pieces of fabric, which he uses to create shelter in the form of an inhabitable structure called the “People House.” The clothing construction will be set up in Roppongi for the duration of Art Night. An installation of buttons will also be hung at the National Art Center, while Tokyo Midtown will host other material-based works with a floral theme and will also be used in performances by other artists. Nishio draws on his experience of living in Kenya, which inspired him to work with exaggerated scale and colors. For Art Night, the fruits of this inspiration will be presented in very different and potentially unstable surroundings.

Itoh’s parade, “Float Flow Connect,” will begin with a send-off performance titled “Bongo Bongo Nageela,” originally written in 1988 by American choreographer William Forsythe as part of his award-winning ballet “Impressing the Czar.” The whole project was made possible thanks to the support of other artists and students from Japan Women’s College of Physical Education.

Originally trained as a dancer, Itoh won the Shuji Terayama Award in 2008 and has recently been working with students at Aoyama Gakuin University as well as lecturing as a visiting professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design.

Some of the other pieces to be featured include Taro Shinoda’s “Moon-reflecting communication technology” and Yu Sato’s “gorogoro Roppongi,” a large bamboo ball that will follow Itoh’s parade as it heads through Tokyo Midtown Courtyard. After Sato rolled the same ball down a hill in the Niigata Prefecture village of Azamihira, it became an annual event there during the Bon holiday season.

Other events taking place differ in scale. Some of the more intimate include “Feed Love” at Hills Cafe Space, where the artists and the public can meet and chat. It is being curated by artist Marije Vogelzang.

The artistic director’s own “Hibino Cup” and “Match Flag Project” herald this summer’s main sporting event, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, with a Sunday soccer tournament and the creation of a large flag featuring the countries playing in the tournament.

The Roppongi Hills complex will host installations from teamLab, oxoxo [zero by zero] and Nonotak studio, the latter of which is made up of illustrator Noemi Schipfer and architect/musician Takami Nakamoto, who promise to provide some thought-provoking light installations. Staying with the theme of light is “Resuscitation of Light,” a talk session featuring cognitive scientist Kenichiro Mogi and artist Tatsuo Miyajima. The latter’s light installation, “Counter Void,” which was installed on Keyakizaka Street when Roppongi Hills opened in 2003, has been turned off since the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred in 2011.

Come morning, Roppongi Hills Mori Tower will open its roof deck for a sunrise viewing session, while Mori Art Museum will offer an extended viewing of its 10th anniversary exhibition, “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal.”

Tokyo Midtown will be the place to be for an interesting mix of music and technology, with Atsushi Takahashi from Dragon Ash, Tabu Zombie from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions and Masato Shibata from Tsugaru Shamisen performing together. Guitarist Yuri Miyauchi and artist Akiko Nakayama will demonstrate their improvisational talents during a live-painting session. Media artists Daito Manabe and Motoi Ishibashi will show off their latest works making full use of technology to “hack the human body” and manipulate it — for example, by using myoelectric sensors to turn a person’s face into a human drum machine.

Other highlights include 21_21 Design Sight’s ongoing show “Kome: The Art of Rice,” which will incorporate a Pecha Kucha talk event, and the National Art Center’s image mapping on its outer walls alongside its own show “The Power of Images.”

As with every year, the real challenge will be physically moving everyone from place to place on what is arguably the busiest night of the year in Roppongi. Making sure things go both safely and smoothly for attendees will be a test of the area’s infrastructure, something organizers will no doubt welcome it as a practice run ahead of future major events.

As Roppongi Art Night continues to grow in maturity and ambition, the event will hopefully evolve into Roppongi Art Nights. For now, however, the focus will be on the bustling area’s 32 consecutive hours of people, performances and art.

Roppongi Art Night begins at 10 a.m. on April 19 and runs until 6 p.m. on April 20. For more information on events, visit www.roppongiartnight.com.