Artists who’ll go bump in the night

by Matthew Holmes

Staff Writer

If you catch sight of The Invisible Salaryman, or rather his bandages, dark glasses and business suit, as he loops Tokyo by rail on the Yamanote Line this coming Sunday, you may want to follow him to the “abandoned” hospital hosting the latest ArtGig Tokyo.

This time titled “Mummy I’m Scarrred!,” ArtGig is dubbed more of a “party” than an exhibition — and as much as being an event at which to view art, curator Shai Ohayon hopes it will be a chance for visitors to get “an insight into the head of an artist, and to see the development of an idea.” He doesn’t see himself as strict — perhaps as more a producer than curator — but he does say it’s the “restriction” of a theme that fuels creativity.

Beneath those bandages, strolling through Shinjuku Station and on his way to Tamai Hospital in Hatagaya, will be Scottish performance artist Jack McLean — just one of the creators set to bring their unique interpretations to the event. He sees his art as the perfect vehicle to work from the event’s theme: Ghosts.

“It’s a creative challenge, but my performance persona, The Sad Clown, is like everything I do — adaptable and flexible,” he says. “I want to present ideas on the nature of contemporary art and its development as a form of mass entertainment.”

“But,” he adds with perhaps a dry nod to the relaxed, nonpretentious atmosphere ArtGig has become known for, “unlike some other ‘art performances,’ ours will be very entertaining and funny.”

This is ArtGig’s second staging. In May’s “Dirty, Dirty, Sex, Sex” event, McLean wandered the venue as The Sad Clown making balloon artworks. This time, he’s working with an assistant and has taken visual inspiration from the 1932 movie “The Invisible Man,” with some of the slapstick elements of his piece based on Chris Burden’s 1971 movie, “Shoot.” Looking ahead, he sees a bright future for the series of events.

“ArtGig Tokyo represents the perfect solution to blending the mainstream with the independent, and in that sense it will perhaps help create a ‘scene,’ ” he says. It’s this kind of event that can help artists in Tokyo look outward and create more international accessibility, he goes on to explain. “And it will become one of the most important events on the ‘art calendar’ of Tokyo.”

With an emphasis on performance art — the musical angle coming from acts such as electro-pop-fused trio Trippple Nippples, electro-experimental James Bingham, and other promised “surprise performances” — the event will be 12 hours of the unexpected. For Nippples’ Yuka — whose planned performance piece she’s keeping secret — working in a place that is not strictly a gallery or a live venue is particularly intriguing.

“It is interesting to get out of the niches that exist in the art/music/performance scene in Tokyo” she explains. And as well as wanting to see artists such Chim↑Pom and Ollie Eales, she says she is “looking forward to hanging out with ghosts.” She adds, “Hopefully, my 107-year-old grandmother, who recently passed away, can make a visit.”

ArtGig is also free, and so the crowd should be as mixed as the works. There will be a bar and a come-and-go-as-you-please attitude to the day. As proved at the May event, which included an installation from Yoko Ono, pulling in big art names attracts a far from exclusively “arty” crowd.

For this Ghosts event, the lineup includes internationally renowned 2005 Turner Prize nominee Jim Lambie; street artist ZEVS; wacky and controversial Ken Kagami; politically aware Chim↑Pom; and photographer Matsukage Hiroyuki. Lambie, who’s piece was designed in his Glasgow home and is being fabricated in Japan, says he was impressed to see the organizers “making things happen, and not hanging around waiting for a gallery to knock on your door.”

The artists’ site-specific installations and wide-ranging interdisciplinary work will make use of the hospital’s walls, its CT scan room and crematorium, and the decaying tatami mats running through the basement.

“That there will be no lighting and only flashlights being used by visitors, adds to the sense of an operating theater,” says Lambie, who was inspired to use neon text for what he calls his “intervention in the space.”

“The serious nature of the hospital is offset by a slightly tongue-in-cheek and humored approach to the show itself,” Lambie continues. “It seems to have an almost B-movie approach to the whole idea of crematoriums and operating theaters.”

Though “Mummy, I’m Scarrred!” has a spooky approach and creepy venue, Tokyo-based Ken Kagami says that won’t necessarily influence his artistic contribution. But, he says, “It could become important as part of the event’s atmosphere.”

Kagami has exhibited his image installations — many of which he says “already have a ghost-like quality” — around the world, and he has collaborated on live shows with set design for experimental-rock band Deerhoof. When it came to ArtGig, he jumped at the chance to participate. “I’d never seen an event quite like it,” he says. “It just seemed like a fun thing to do.”

Of course, the ghost theme does deliberately coincide with upcoming Halloween, and in the spirit of audience participation there will be a costume competition.

To document this and help with the judging, The Impossible Project will be taking instant snaps in a special studio space to create a mural of the costumes for guests to check out the ghoulish and the gory and vote for their favorites.

The instant-film manufacturer was conceived in 2008 by 10 employees of an old Polaroid plant in the Netherlands, who have since created a team to fight off the extinction of such instant prints with exhibition and gallery collaborations from Vienna to New York.

Other international players have come together to support ArtGig, with the core sponsorship being from Swedish appliance-maker Electrolux. In-kind sponsors, including Roppongi’s Mori Art Museum, the MOMA gift shop, art-space WUT Berlin and Tokyo Art Beat, have also supplied prizes for the winners of the costume competition and the event’s free raffle.

Though big-name artists are a draw, ArtGig also offers a space to mid-range artists who have few opportunities to exhibit in Tokyo. This mix of different kinds of art, with collaborative efforts and audience participation, makes art, in general, appear more accessible. And though the theme is ethereal and ghostly, the excitement which seems to buzz around all the artists involved is tangible.

Interview translations for this article were provided by Chisako Izuhara. “Mummy I’m Scarrred!” takes place on Oct. 30 from 12 noon-12 a.m. at Tamai Hospital, 1-4-1 Honmachi, Shibuya, Tokyo. Admission is free. For more information, visit (Make sure you read the “Important Information” section).