Sunday, 10 April 2011

Fumio Nanjo, curator


On the 20th of February, 2011, I interviewed Fumio Nanjo by telephone. He is a well-known curator and the Director of the Mori Art Museum. I talked to him for about 25 minutes about Roppongi Art Night, which was scheduled to take place on the night of the 26th to 27th of March, but was cancelled thanks to the Great Tohoku Earthquake that struck Japan on the 11th of March. Mr. Nanjo is a very good English speaker for a Japanese and showed particular skill and mastery in use of y'knows, using an enormous number of them as verbal ballast.


FN: Hai?

CBL: Hello.

FN: Yes?

CBL: Is that Mr Nanjo?

FN: Yes.

CBL: This is Colin Liddell from Metropolis magazine.

FN: Oh, I see.

CBL: And, well, basically I want to get a much fuller picture of what people can expect at this year's Roppongi Art Night.

FN: Yeh, yeh, OK.

CBL: OK, so first of all, can I ask you how will this year's Roppongi Art Night differ from last year's Roppongi Art Night? What similarities and what differences will there be?

FN: Since last time we try to expand art in the town and we spread many small works in the town of Roppongi between Midtown and Roppongi Hills but this time we cannot spread so many...

CBL: Why not?

FN: ...so we make a rather bigger scale works. I mean, y'know, that's a little bit difference but, how can I describe? Um, similarity and what difference? Mmm, main artist is different of course.

CBL: Yes.

FN: And also, em, what can I say? Artists are all different y'know.

CBL: Well, the interesting point is that you can't spread the artworks around anymore. Why did that change?

FN: Well, we do, we do it, but not [coughs] Sorry! – not so many in many spots in the town. We focus on certain [coughs] …sorry…

CBL: You have a cold I think?

FN: This is cedar something, y'know.

CBL: Hayfever maybe.

FN: Yeh.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: Uh, because the small works in the town were not so effective for many people, last time, so we focus on a fewer spot and bring bigger work.

CBL: So, it's becoming more like a show than it was before.

FN: What do you mean by show?

CBL: Like a performance, like in a theatre that kind of style.

FN: Uh, I don’t understand.

CBL: Well, I mean, well, ur, um, Roppongi Art Night, it's concentrated in terms of time – it happens over one weekend – and now it's becoming more concentrated in terms of space, so if you concentrate something in space and time it becomes like a performance.

FN: But it's only for one night. It's same thing.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: Even if it's fewer spots with a little big bigger works, still it's same thing I think.

CBL: Moving on to the artists this time, how do you think, eh, the artists this year will differ from last year? What, what kind of themes or, eh, insights will they bring compared to the previous year's artists?

FN: The main artist is Yayoi Kusama and she made a… She's going to make a huge, um, image of, ur, little girl, which is actually her, herself of the childhood.

CBL: Umhu.

FN: So…And with some dogs.

CBL: Yes.

FN: So, the idea is that she goes back to her childhood and walking around in Roppongi with her dog, her pet dog, so this is like, uh, walking in Roppongi with Yayoi Kusama.

CBL: So it's a kind of nostalgic note?

FN: Uhhh, her strong message is, uh, how can I say it in English, the, um, "Tomorrow is Mine," something like that, so she's really looking forward to tomorrow, I mean the future, a very positive message she brings, so she's not looking back her past. She's trying to capture the moment of children who are always, y'know, expecting the, uh, positive future soon.

CBL: Uhuh.

FN: So she, she said tomorrow is important…

CBL: Isn't that very ironic because y'know she;s obviously very old now?
[NOTE: Yayoi Kusama was born in 1929.]

FN: Ah, you think so?

CBL: I mean physically.

FN: I think that's why she wants to bring… Still she wants to say that still there's the future for her and also for many Japanese who always listen to… who always are talking about, uhrr, the kind of recession and going down, sinking Japan.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: But she wants to say, "no but you have to think positively."

CBL: So it's a kind of symbol of rebirth through a kind of return to nostalgic innocence?

FN: Return? But you have to think about the children, a lot of children now, it's not only her past. She's talking about children, y'know children have a future and tomorrow... They are looking for... at tomorrow, so people should look at tomorrow as a positive image. Y'know, It's not only her own matter, She wants to extend it to many people.

CBL: Yeh. So she want's to kind of live on in the, em, future generations, through her art... The reason I mention this, em, kind of, em, return to innocence and almost naivety is also because of the other, one of the other important artists, Antenna, strikes quite a similar note with his, I think it's called Jappy, caricature.

FN: That's also talking about a kind of utopia, you mean?

CBL: Yes.

FN: Mmm.

CBL: So that's, that's a similar thing. I mean a lot of people will see, ehh, Kusama's art as, nhnn, having a mood of childish innocence and also Antenna's art would have a similar kind of, em, almost manga-esque quality.

FN: Mmm, I don't know if it's nostalgia but both of them are talking about trying to create something positive, I think.

CBL: Mmhh.

FN: Um, last year and the year before, two characters, main characters were somehow monsters, y'know. It’s like a boy's toys.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: One was a robot and the other one was like a huge em how can I say inflated, inflatable balloon, as how do you say [unclear], so this [unclear] boylike image we shifted to a little bit more soft feminine image as well.

CBL: Uhu.
FN: [unclear]...look so much images children and soft and pink and y'know more human and, urh, how can I say, more, as you said, nostalgic maybe but more human.

CBL: More feelings?

FN: Yeh, feelings maybe, and another one is a, mem, of course the story of the character is like that but actually it is very how you say it's kind of mikoshi. Mikoshi dakara sono... How can you say? This kind of chai… This kind of shrine they go round.

CBL: Oh yes. The omikoshi, yes?

FN: Omikoshi dessho, so it's it's really try to make society genki.

CBL: Yeh, the omikoshi's carried round to kind of purify spiritually the area involved isn't it?

FN: Originally yes, but people don't think that it's purifying. I think people just uh… It's like a festivity. People enjoy and participate.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: So we try to design the things for people to participate.

CBL: Yeh, now in Japan, uh, the, the audience that goes to exhibitions tends to be usually a bit older, middle aged people...

FN: Exhibition, I mean, uh…

CBL: Yes, yeh, I'm talking about the, the major exhibitions in Japan because Japan often ranks very high in the biggest exhibitions per, eh, y'know, visitor every year, and so the main audience tends to be a much older audience, but I notice with Roppongi Art Night, because it's set late – or it's a all might event, it basically excludes older people and it, it draws in younger people.

FN: It does not exlude. They just go back. [laughs]

CBL: Uhm?

FN: They just go back because if it's late they want to sleep

CBL: Yes.

FN: Y'know, it's their choice.

CBL: Yeh, it's their choice but of course…

FN: If it's chosen, it's not discrimination or whatever.

CBL: I'm not saying you're trying to exclude them but the result of the timing…

FN: If we choose young people then it's discrimination but we are open to anybody.

CBL: Yeh, I'm just wondering…

FN: It's their choice, y'know.

CBL: Yeh, I know, but I'm just wondering about how young people think because a lot of young people don't want to, heh, go to exhibitions because maybe they see it as a kinda older people's culture.

FN: Oh, but are you talking about… What kind of exhibition y'know. Did you go to the media art exhibition in National Art Center? S'full of young people.

CBL: Mmhh.

FN: It all depends on the contents.

CBL: Yeh, yeh, that's the point I'm making. There are a lot of, em, exhibitions that draw a specific audience so that sometimes, y'know, I feel like a… Also with um, a lot of museums now have very late…

FN: What kind of exhibition you talking about? If it's traditional Japanese art, of course there are many old people.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: If it's Impressionism mainly ladies.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: It's all different.

CBL: Well, look, just for example, now at NACT there's a Surrealism. Now surrealism has got appeal across the board – a lot of older people like it, a lot of younger people like it.

FN: Still, those who have a dream on European art, right?

CBL: Yeh.

FN: So there are maybe that's the majority of the audience but, I don't think we cannot generalize. It all depends on the contents.

CBL: But…

FN: If we design the contents for young people, young people will come

CBL: But, yeh, there are some, em… There is art which is, uh, across the board and y'know, something like Yayoi Kusama could, could be seen in those terms, as something which has a lot of appeal for different generations because she's a very old artist herself but she also has an appeal to young people.

FN: Uh.

CBL: But, but, y'know the exhibition of Surrealism, ewh, the older people tend to go earlier in the day and then a lot of museums have late Fridays now and that tends to be... I think that's an attempt to try to bring younger people into the exhibitions and, y'know, sometimes Roppongi Art Night seems like an extension of "Late Fridays."

FN: Oh, of course.

CBL: Which means, "young people, come here and there won't be any older people around." That is the kind of note I feel that is being sounded.

FN: I don't know if it's only for young people because if older people want to stay they can stay, but usually they want to sleep.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: But we're not designed for, for that purpose. We're trying to be open as much as possible.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: Right. And also there are many restaurants and bars are going to open until late, so if they want to stay they can stay. If... The Mori stay until five o’clock last time.

CBL: That leads me to another question. How conscious are you of the Roppongi Art Night competing with the existing nightlife in Roppongi, because Roppongi's already got a very high profile entertainment nightlife of its own.

FN: Yeh.

CBL: How does that effect the Art Night?

FN: But the contents is different isn't it? So we brought art into the night life of Roppongi. Before there was nothing like that, so your… It is actually, how can I say, Roppongi Art Night core time is from the sunset to the next morning, sunrise, but actually other event, which is good for children or old people or whatever, is also going on in the daytime.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: So it’s actually 24-hour event, not only 12 hours.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: So, ur, if they want to enjoy those things, like workshops with children, they can join. Old people can maybe go for some shopping or whatever.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: We can, we can, em, they can do that, so the point is, I think, urh, Rop… We are trying to open the museum very late at 10 in the evening all day usually.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: But together with other museums, the... Y'know [unclear] were open till the next morning, but the others are just till ten or 11 o'clock, but we open the museum then, ahh, also we ask many shops and restaurants to open it until late.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: So they follow. So, it's only one night. We should get together and enjoy the night life of Roppongi. Uh, it just the beginning of spring time

CBL: Yeh.
FN: ...just the cherry blossom is blooming, so they have, they have been inside, inside the house for long time in the winter...

CBL: Yeh.

FN: ...but now the message, now you can go out, y'know, you come out and stay outside. Enjoy cherry blossom, enjoy art. If you want you can go to some bar to drink with your friends, chat, and stay very late.

CBL: Umh.

FN: So that's a message, y'know.

CBL: So...

FN: If you want to join it, you can join it.

CBL: So, umh, can I ask you personally what are you looking forward to the most and also what are you most worried about?

FN: Worried about?

CBL: Yeh, positives and negatives, so what are you looking forward to the most and what are you also most worried about?

FN: Looking forward is that kind of to view the image of Roppongi not only for drinking place but a place for enjoying art and culture, right? So it's not just drunk people at night. There are young people old people enjoying art, chatting, talking, walking together, even family can walk around.

CBL: So, kind of area rebranding?

FN: I think so.

CBL: So, do you think Kabukicho could use an art night in that case?

FN: Kabukicho should have a different strategy.

CBL: Any suggestions?

FN: The worry of... I think... I guess the people in Roppongi used to live here was worrying about Roppongi becoming Kabukicho.

CBL: Mmh.

FN: But now we have a different business, y'know, office, uh, café, uh, shops and even museums, galleries now, y'know four galleries just opened last week.

CBL: Uhuh.

FN: In the Piramide Building and one gallery in our museum shop opened so five galleries.

CBL: Are those galleries moving from Ginza or somewhere?

FN: Different places. Ginza and also from Shinjuku. They open a new gallery here so now we have business of daytime, y'know, uh, very light café and then dinner spot and then drinking place, bar, but also we have those different things so Roppongi became not only a town for night but also for day – people enjoy – so 24-hours city, so the Roppongi Art Night symbolizes Roppongi changed and you can enjoy daytime to night time and also with the family with your friends, y'know, not, you don’t kick the drunk guys and make a conflict as made before y'know. It used to be only that image but now we have to change.

CBL: Yeh. Yes, so it's moving from a kind of monoculture to a more kind of multiculture?

FN: Multiculture, yeh.

CBL: And of course that can sometimes cause problems because you might have drunk people, eh, fighting with artists for example.

FN: Yeh, yeh. If those people come up to the museum it's a big problem.

CBL: Umhu.

FN: Y'know then we have to shut them out.

CBL: Yeh, sounds like something you have to worry about.

FN: Yeh, we have to, we have to be aware of [unclear] to protect artworks too.

CBL: So, what, what are you most worried about because you've obviously had a lot to think about and to arrange and to organize.

FN: Uh, the logistics, I mean the management of the people like, y'know, if too many people come to one spot it's dangerous so I'm hoping that all the events become, make the things even, the time and the place, y'know, I hope people spread in a wide area and an even way.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: Otherwise dangerous, y’know.

CBL: But, em, the centrepiece will be Kusama's, eh, sculpture. That's going to be very very large.

FN: Yeh.

CBL: How about, well, well, how is it being constructed, what sort materials are being...

FN: It's inflatable.

CBL: Mm?

FN: Inflatable.

CBL: Inflatable?

FN: So easy to carry but it becomes big.

CBL: yeh, uhu, well that makes sense. Very easy to do, No problems there, unless of course it has a puncture.

FN: Well some people might do it but I hope it doesn't happen.

CBL: Yeh.

FN: Yeh.

CBL: Well, that's a lot of information so I'll thank you for that.

FN: Yeh.

CBL: And, ah, well, we'll send you a copy of the article when it appears. Thank you very much.

FN: OK, thank you.

CBL: Bye bye!

FN: Bye.

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