Tokyo Art Beat makes audience artists


After two years as the city’s best source for museum and gallery listings, Tokyo Art Beat (TAB, www.tokyoartbeat.com) is now getting involved in the production of exhibitions. In conjunction with Mozilla, creators of the popular Firefox browser, TAB and their associate entity Gadago are organizing a series of “open-source” art events based on creative commons public licenses.

The first manifestation of the new, so-called DIVVY/dual scheme is “Project #1 Type-Trace.” This includes the release of a new bilingual word-processing software program and a five-day installation allowing people to experiment with the software in a gallery environment.

The exhibition is being held at Space Kobo & Tomo, a spot scarcely 3 meters across and about twice as deep. The installation itself is straightforward — three seats, three keyboards, three video projectors. Visitors can sit down and experiment with the software, watching as the results are projected onto the wall in front of them.

The Type Trace software’s debut version assigns variable font sizes to different portions of a text document depending on how long the user pauses before or during the inputting of specific characters. So for example, if you type the phrase “I like this software because it is interactive” at a regular rate, but pause briefly to consider which adjective best describes the software, then the word “interactive” would appear on screen in a larger font size than the rest of the sentence. Not terribly exciting, but I suppose the idea is that the current software is the seed from which something more sophisticated will eventually grow.

All the text that is input, whether it takes the form of a short story or keyboard doodling, is saved as a file that can be accessed and played back by other visitors.

The exhibition and the program are being quite ably curated by the talented new media researcher Dominick Chen, and the creator of the software program is an artist named Takumi Endo.

“Usually we think and then we write,” says Endo. “I want to visualize what happens in between thinking and writing. Especially we Japanese, who start by writing in Roman characters, which switch to hiragana, and then to kanji. With this software, you can see the process more clearly, and it can be played back later.”

The software succeeds because enhancing a text’s content with the form in which it developed in time adds another dimension to our appreciation of a piece of writing.

Off-topic somewhat, another interesting thing about this exhibition is the host gallery and building. This is an old brick-and-stone structure, with irregular floors, dank staircases and strange nooks and crannies — more suggestive of a Lower East Side New York walk-up than a Tokyo address. There are a number of small galleries located throughout, so if you visit you could allow an hour or two for exploring.

Actually, it’s a good thing the building is cool, because moving one’s body to a brick-and-mortar location to work with software is way inconsistent with most contemporary notions of participation. The show itself is more of a chance to do the face-to-face for a few days, as clearly the development of this software program will largely take place via the Internet.

And that’s the really exciting thing. For example, there is presently no way for users to edit an existing file — this, like color, is something that will surely emerge as users add and build future versions of the software. In many ways, what we have here is the ultimate work-in-progress, with users around the world participating (although on opening night, an Internet connection had yet to be established in the gallery). It will be interesting to see what the software looks like in, say, six months time.

Explains TAB’s Paul Baron, “Our mission is to open the art scene up to the people, and this new series is about opening up the actual artwork to the people. All the elements of this project — the software, concepts, organization, technology and so on will be put in a repository on the Web and be available under an open creative license. We want to push the dialogue around open source and art, we want people to see more art — and ultimately make more art.”

In the project’s next installment, Dominick Chen moderates a symposium on open-source art at the ICC on Sunday, Sept. 24.