Energy multiplies creative potential at Trans Arts Tokyo

by James Jack

Special To The Japan Times

Spanning seventeen floors of a building that was once part of Tokyo Denki University in Kanda, the Trans Arts Tokyo project is bursting with exhibitions, talk events and workshops, open laboratories and artists-in-residence studios. The massive temporary art space is the latest work by Masato Nakamura, the artist and art producer who created the Arts Chiyoda 3331 complex two years ago. Each floor of Trans Arts Tokyo has a unique environment with a distinct ambiance, including many artworks, a number of which draw inspiration from the electronics experiments that occurred in the building during its past as an electrical university.

The Japan Times sat down with Nakamura at 3331 to discuss the aims of this project.

What was the impetus for Trans Arts?

The plan is built on tiers in the community — including people who work in the area, artists, long-term and new residents. On top of this was the benefit created by the participation of everyone involved. This is much more than the sum of the 300 artists and everyone else participating in Trans Arts Tokyo. Energy becomes synergetic when this many people gather in one place. Like preparing for a festival, without the participation of all different types of people it doesn’t work. This is much larger than me as an individual; we are all part of a larger network that makes everything happen.

The concept for this project is “trans,” or “transcend.” What do you mean by this?

It is something I have been thinking about for a long time: to transcend the system, transcend history, transcend self and transcend memory. What this is really about is to think beyond the past.

Which artworks in Trans Arts Tokyo do you feel transcend the past?

I think all of the artists have transcended something in their own way. The independent system created here gives them the freedom to experiment, try something new or to pay attention to something they haven’t done before. One of the important goals here is for artists to think beyond the boundaries of the art system in 2012.

Is this why the project is structured as less of an exhibition and more of a laboratory?

This independent space allows artists to freely experiment with new ideas as in a laboratory. The artists here engage with the community in ways that stimulate alternative perspectives — through workshops, events, talks, music, open studios and exhibits. It’s the same as 3331; the focus is on art that stimulates people so they react with a real response. The artworks push and pull people in new directions, some artworks are loved and others are not, on an emotional level. The function of art is to create new ways of looking at the world, to really stimulate; not just to look at something in a gallery or a museum, but to provoke new ideas that come from experiencing an artwork you feel passionate about, or one that makes you rethink your own life.

Why do you think Tokyo has so few alternative spaces for a city of its size?

Space is just so expensive in Tokyo that it’s nearly impossible to create open laboratories such as this one for young people to present experimental art. I mean look at this room, how much would this cost on the real estate market in Tokyo? At least ¥800,000 rent per month, maybe more. Just for this one room! It’s insane. That’s why there are so few nonprofit arts organizations here.

What is the value of including people who do not normally go to view art?

The interaction between the artists and the community is what makes this whole project work. The number of people who visit galleries in Ginza is so low. There are other ways for the arts of today to communicate. What is taking place now in the former Denki University building is an offering to the community. It will only continue if the developers, the community and the audience support it. That is why the earliest stages of this project are filled with arts programmes that draw upon the rich history and people in this area of Kanda.

Do you think of this project and Chiyoda 3331 as your artwork?

Yes, absolutely. When I make other works it always involves other people in all steps of the process, so either way I work together with many people. My work as a producer here is creating new opportunities for alternative arts to live vibrantly, not to be on the sidelines but on center stage.

What are your hopes after this Trans Arts project ends?

Our goal is to identify leaders in the community who want to engage with us to see the potential of this dynamic relationship. We are proposing to do this kind of arts programming in the community. Now it is in their hands whether it proceeds or not; it is really up to them.

Arts Chiyoda 3331 was an elementary school and this project is in a former university building. What is the artistic significance of repurposing these sites of learning?

At both of these unique sites the memories of each place can definitely be felt. Countless children played here, classes were taught and all sorts of conversations occurred right where we are now sitting. Those memories are infused in the building and can be felt by artists and the community. These spaces are charged with a resonance that newly built spaces may not have.

I feel that newly constructed white-box-type galleries pretend they’re not infused with historical memories.

Yes, it clears the way a bit too much, there is nothing to start from. Artists take in things from the world all the time and that dramatically affects their work. They engage with society more in these spaces because they are not removed, not separated from daily life. The memory of their everyday function in the recent past gives these spaces more creative potential.

“Trans Arts Tokyo” Kanda Community Art Center Project at the former Tokyo Denki University site runs till Nov. 25; 12-7 p.m. ¥500. Closed Tues.