February 10, 2009
In the eight years since its launch in 2001 as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government's arts initiative, Tokyo Wonder Site (TWS) has become one of the city's cultural beacons. With a focus on fine arts and music, TWS runs an inspiring multi-layered program encompassing exhibitions, concerts, lectures, workshops, collaborations and artist residences.
The TWS Creator-in-Residence program has brought to Tokyo a wide mix of international and Japanese talents. About 100 creators are invited per year for periods of about two to three months. One third are musicians and composers, another one third are curators and the rest are mainly fine artists, designers and photographers. The artists are asked to produce works that reflect their time in Japan and some are invited to exhibit this work at the TWS Shibuya or Hongo galleries. TWS offers 16 residential units and five studio spaces in their main facility located in Aoyama, in central Tokyo.
TWS offers essentially two kinds of support for its residencies. The more conventional option covers all the artist's costs, but budgeting for this is limited. About 90% is the collaborative option, where artists provide their own funding usually through a grant or support from a private institution or company. TWS provides the space, services, introductions and backup.
TWS-sponsored residencies include the husband and wife team of Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry, who came to Tokyo last year in June and July to do research for their 1968 project that focuses on the student uprisings and civil rights protests of that era. The couple is now producing the work at their studios in Beijing and New York City and will return to Tokyo this year in March for an exhibition. "This is one of our two-tiered projects that involves a residency and research," explained director Imamura Yusaku. "We don't want TWS to be just an exhibitions facilitator. During the artists' stay we encourage them to find issues and agendas that we can discuss. Supporting the creative process is really important."
Imamura cites the newly renovated Cent Quatre or 104 art complex outside of Paris as a blueprint for city-backed art residencies. Although controversial, 104 is attempting to merge art with the local community. Art education is a key part. "They've already invited over 30 artists from all over the world as artists-in-residence, paid all their expenses, while supporting production and process sharing," he explained. "104 is emphasizing experimental education, working with universities and graduate students, merging with the community. It's similar to what we're trying to do at TWS. A new trend."
Reflecting this trend is the TWS Cultural Diversity Program, backed by the Goethe-Institut. Last fall, they invited a group of international curators and artists from Turkey, Iran, Germany, Indonesia, Japan and countries in the Middle East. Their exhibition, What Game Shall We Play Today?, explored the dynamism of cultural differences. "It's been very easy for us to work here as artists because everyone has been so accommodating," said Yanai Segal from Israel. "It feels like heavy rocks suddenly removed from our pockets."
The exhibition and symposiums were so successful that TWS and the Goethe-Institut are planning a similar collaboration this year. "Tokyo is the perfect meeting place for this kind of international dialogue because we don't need to worry about political censorship," said Imamura. "We have so much freedom here." Following this, TWS invited Brazilian-born, New York City-based artist Vik Muniz to choose three Brazilian and three Japanese artists for a two-month residency and curate their exhibition. It was part of the 2008 Japan-Brazil Exchange Year that commemorated the 100th anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil. Muniz chose the well-known Brazilian artists Leda Catunda, Erika Verzutti and Efrain Almeida. For the Japanese he chose emerging artists Nagai Tomoko, Miyanaga Aiko and Kubota Miki.
Their exhibition, Haptic, at the TWS Hongo gallery that ended January 12, was an exploration of the concept of touch – haptic communication. "I chose the six artists based on a certain chemistry, how each reveals materials and the idea of touch in their work," said Muniz.
The artists were grouped in pairs that included one Brazilian and one Japanese. The synergy created some mutual influences. "Tomoko and I ended up influencing each other in some very interesting ways," said Leda Catunda who was paired with Nagai Tomoko. "Japanese are very open to Brazilian art because we've had such a close historical and cultural relationship."
There was some time overlap between the "Haptic" and Cultural Diversity Program residents, which turned out to be a launching pad for future collaborations. German artist Markus Ambach invited Nagai to participate in a project organized by his artist collective in Dusseldorf. "This is exactly the kind of exchange we're hoping for, artists inviting artists to share projects," said Imamura.
In addition to curating the "Haptic" residency and exhibition, Vik Muniz was invited to show an exhibition of his own work. The Beautiful Earth at the TWS Shibuya gallery until March 1 is a fascinating compilation of four different series. His remarkable portraits made with pieces of trash from South America's biggest dump in Rio de Janeiro are his newest works and the highlight of the show. Proceeds from the sale of the work have already gone to a fund that supports the poor who scavenge at the dump.
Japanese artist Ohmaki Shinji, a Muniz admirer, will be the first to participate in a new, environmental-focused collaboration between TWS and universities in Tokyo and London. Backed by Japanese national government funding, the project will launch this April. Ohmaki's work, created with trash, has already been built in China and will be built in Tokyo this summer.
Despite the economic downturn, hopefully TWS will be able to continue garnering city-backed government support for it's groundbreaking efforts to form new creative paths, across the globe.
Original article: Tokyo Wonder Site: Multiform Residence Programs