Our focus on east Tokyo fashion and culture continues with a closer look at the largest underground art gathering the city has to offer – Trans Arts Tokyo. To external observers it may seem rather odd for a fashion site such as ours to focus on any culture that does not occur within the west Tokyo hub of Harajuku, Shibuya, Daikanyama, etc, cluster, but there is really so much more to the creative side of the city, and indeed, the perspective you get from leaving it is very refreshing. That issue of urban locale is important too to define anything as truly underground, especially as so many of the well-trodden locales bring with them so much baggage as to stop them from feeling like a truly blank slate. Trans Arts Tokyo gets around this particular issue by holding the exhibitions in either new, abandoned, or even locations scheduled for demolition. Indeed, the majority of the last TAT was held in an old university building that has now been completely demolished, a freedom that afforded the artists the ability to knock through walls, relish real anarchy, and flout a lot of health and safety.
Our journey through the key exhibits this year actually starts in the new foundations of the aforementioned demolished building, and it is nice to think that these painted foundations will remain in place as a new addition to the Tokyo skyline takes shape.
First off we find a continuation of Yoshikazu Yamagata’s work as part of his fashion label Writtenafterwards, the last time we saw this “Space Shuttle” it was as part of a fashion show where boro kimono clad models blasted into space (here if you missed it). Now it appears that the loom shuttle has crashed to Earth, and we can only look forward to where he takes the story next.
It is hard to adequately express the atmosphere of Trans Arts Tokyo for the uninitiated, it is such a constant barrage of disparate genres of art, graffiti on staircases, works in progress, and precious little explanation or titles unless the artist happens to be around. Sometimes it is even hard to tell where exhibits start or end, or whether something is “officially” part of the event of not.
Still, once you are walking around the expansive sites you quickly settle into the right frame of mind, and start to be receptive to the whole inclusive of the location until you eventually walk away beleaguered with information to process at a later date.
This being the underground art scene, a huge amount of the art is very political and some cannot be posted online – it always surprises me when people say that they don’t see a lot of satire or black humor concerning politics in Japan, but maybe they are just not looking in the right places.
Continuing the narratives we picked up at the most recent Design Festa (here) it was interesting to see many artists tackling the issue of kawaii, but today we thought we would have a change of pace and focus on some different ideas.
As someone who teaches about Japanese media I personally loved this piece on the new language constructed by fashion magazines.
The core of the Trans Arts experience is to be had in graffitied squat-like corridors such as the above. Combine this with random sounds, screams and electronic feedback and you probably get the idea of what it is like to walk around – my advice is to go in the daytime if you are easily spooked.
Post Okamoto Taro artwork is now almost a genre in its own right, and who can blame the younger generation for continuing in his brilliant foot steps.
This next room genuinely made me jump,
as when you opened the doors the silent room kicked into life with light rebounding off every surface and the guitars screaming discordantly.
Aside from politics, the Japanese art scene is always adept at exploring social issues with relative subtlety.
I enjoyed this humorous figure of a boy with a Louis Vuitton bag covering his face running blindly towards shop signs urging him to spend. Not exactly subtle, but as part of the shared narrative of the event as a whole it had impact.
There was plenty that was outright disturbing, but with the artists behind the works milling around at random and a generally very friendly crowd, an explantation can usually be found.
The spaces between the exhibits are occasionally the most fulfilling, this surreal stairwell was a pleasure to walk through on the way to the exhibits proper.
Continuing the fine tradition of destruction established at last Trans Arts, a couple of houses found themselves the victim of boisterous artists. Given how standardized many Japanese houses are it was incredibly uncanny to walk through a destroyed home that could so easily be your own.
Speaking of uncanny, this exhibit was particularly strong, focusing as it did on a series of photos showing the previous occupant of the room. You could clearly make out where in the barren room each photo was taken and it felt eerily as if the subject were still there.
Here you can see where the plant pot and wallpaper once were.
On to the frankly terrifying and this room was rendered entirely in yellow and black, and lit with yellow – an effect that the camera failed to record, but one I still remember vividly.
Kawaii meets kowai.
There is still so much more I could show you, but for the sake of a degree of brevity I will leave that here for now. I implore you to visit the next Trans Arts when it is next on, and I promise you will come away feeling excited, stimulated and just a little bit scared.