COOL was born in hope of becoming a bridge to let the art lovers all over the world inspire each other, link together as one, and create a new future in arts. The main contents consist of interviews of both New York-based and international artists and creators, special feature articles, art reports from around the world, reviews and column series. We contribute to the cultural exchange through arts and to the development of the art industry so that people in the world can enjoy arts casually and New York and major cities in the world can connect through the media COOL.
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When Fuzjko Hemming, a pianist recognized internationally, plays the piano, it brings tears to the audience with the sound she weaves. In June 2008, she performed with noted young violinist of Salle Gaveau (Paris), Laurent Korcia who has attained Chevalier, conferral of the Order of Culture in 2002. Fuzjko Hemming is a busy person with numbers of concerts around the world through out the year. We had an opportunity to visit her home, in Paris, where she lives with her cats and dogs.

Q. I heard you learned the piano from your mother, pianist Tomoko Ohtsuki. Were you already making up your mind to live as a pianist at that time?

She taught me how to play piano but wasn’t expecting me to become a pianist. You know, it costs a lot of money to continually learn piano and also to become a professional pianist. My Swedish father wasn’t staying in Japan and my mother was having a hard time to make a living as a piano teacher. Since I was a little child, every time people say “Fuzjko is a genius! She will be a great pianist to impress people all over the world in the future,” my mother would make a wry smile. Even as a child I was unable to decide whether I should set my mind on becoming a pianist, in between critical acclaim by surroundings and my mother’s puzzled face. Therefore, when I was little, I didn’t have strong feelings of becoming a pianist.

Q. How did you spend your time in Germany when you were 29, studying abroad at Berlin national university?

Because I didn’t have national identity at that time, I was unable to travel abroad for a long time. As an acknowledged Red Cross refugee, I had an opportunity to study under the condition of studying only within Germany, so I have taken off with expectations. But honestly, memories I have aren’t so great. Besides, I’ve been through a lot of things in my life while I was there, although, there were some great events happening once in a while. A big newspaper published an article about my concert with positive reviews as “an astoundingly talented performer.” Back then, in Japan, I never had an opportunity to be picked up on Japanese newspapers.

Q. How do you feel when you play La Campanella by Franz Liszt, which also is being acknowledged as your masterpiece?

During the practice I imagine a lot of things while I play, but during the performance I am concentrated in playing the piece. I do my best and intend to have an impressive performance for the audience. Though it is said that La Campanella is my masterpiece, I actually don’t think so. In fact, I never played La Campanella when I was young. I perform each piece with the same passion and emotions. If you practice hard enough, that feeling will certainly reach the audience.

Q. Franz Liszt was living in Paris during the same time as you; do you find anything in common? Such as the life style between you and him?

I would say the common part is that we like to help others. Liszt was such a broad minded individual who helped Robert Schumann, Frederick Chopin and more. There’s a church in Budapest where Liszt spent his later years as a clergyman. I sometimes spend my time dropping in and think about his life and his generous heart.

Q. Is there the performance standing out the most in your memory?

I remember each performance: some went successfully and some didn’t. A pianist Arthur Rubinstein once said that when he was cleaning the stage after his performance, he found the whole bucket of notes that he didn't get to play on the stage. I exactly understand what he said.

Q. How do you think the pianist should be?

Music is universal and that’s something the words cannot express. I am reenacting the pieces, which were created by amazing composers. I suppose the duty of us, as a pianist is reproducing the sprits of those composers at the best condition. I believe that even if people with poor mind play those tunes, they will not impress the audience.

Q. You have been active for contributing entire royalties for victims of September 11. 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. or donating performance guarantee of the concert for refugees in Afghanistan. Is there any trigger that prompted you to start such charity activities?

Well, yes. It would probably be because I frequently visited Saint Luke's Hospital to play in front of patients as a volunteer since I was unknown. After that NHK has broadcasted documentary program, which covered my activity and I became famous in only one night on February 1999. In retrospect, there might be someone who heard me at the free recital and hooked me up with project for documentary. I have become famous and start gaining too much money. Therefore as a pianist, I decided to contribute my earnings to help people. When I was unknown, I was having a hard time living with little money. But you know, ever since I became acknowledged by a lot of people, I’ve been tied up running around everyday. I sometimes miss the life to live quietly like before.

Q. I’ve heard that you like reading. What would you like to read? Does it exercise an influence on playing piano?

I often read autobiographies of a lot of people. One day, here is what happened. I bought a journal at the bookstore in Germany by chance, which was written by a 20 year old ordinary lady who lived during the First World War period in Germany. I bought it just because I liked the pretty sepia toned book cover. In the journal about her daily life, I was fully impressed by the records such as hardship that her family went through during the war, romance, how she spent days working as a nurse in the field and more. One day, I forgot the book on a plane and because it wasn’t like an autobiography of particularly noted person, this particular book was something you’ll never be able to obtain again. But you know what, a while later, the book I left was returned to me after it traveled all over the world; passed on to various people. I was amazed that there were stamps of so many different countries on the envelope. It greatly impressed me that things like this would happen.

Q. What kind of music do you listen to besides Classical music?

I like Chanson. Loud music is my least favorite. I go to the restaurant occasionally, and I find myself unconsciously choosing the table where I can listen to the music they play in the restaurant.

Q. Do you watch movies?

I love movies. Whichever the country is, I like the classical movies. For Japanese movies, I like the period pieces. And for TV, Shinsen-gumi is great. When I stay in Japan, I get in the flush of enthusiasm to watch such period dramas and period films.

Q. Do you think an intellectual curiosity is indispensable for artist?

I assume that if you are hoping to become a pianist or musician, you shouldn’t be satisfied by merely attending to music school. It is important to learn and thrive by going to see the movies or watching Kabuki, and by paying attention to whatever comes into your eyes. Or, it’ll be impossible to become a performer to impress the audience.

Q. As you often spent time drawing when you were little, what kind of pictures did you like to draw?

Most of my drawings were dolls at first. I clearly remember when I was an elementary school student. I was so thrilled to receive compliments that my drawing was the best in a school. I’ve never had drawing lessons before. I draw because I love it. It’s as simple as that.

Q. From December 2007 through January 2008, your personal exhibition took place at Atelier Visconti in the gallery street in Saint-Germain area of Paris. As you are also active as a painter, what kind of correlation do you find between paintings and music?

People with great sensitivity give the same credit for both my art works and my performance. When you are young, sometimes you are not aware of your talent. Even if people around you applaud your talent, their compliments don’t really hit you right. As your experience enlarges, you’ll recognize that you are distinguished from others. Just like I perform piano, in order for my drawing skill to be recognized by everyone, I have drawn different pictures on each postcard and sent them to all over the world, to people like prominent conductors and musicians. Then after that I received a lot of feedbacks that people who acknowledge my performance were also inspired by my drawing. I was so happy. And I believe that the art of picture is something people either like or dislike. No one would say what the pictures are supposed to be like. There is no theoretical concept. One day when I was walking down on the street in Shimokitazawa area, young lady came up to me and said, “I don't know much about music but I love your drawing the best.” I was really glad. It rather satisfies me to receive such compliments ”you are the best.” than winning a prize, just that alone is enough for me.

Q. What part of Paris is fascinating you?

The reason why I was longing for Paris is because that’s the place where the outstanding artists are all assembled. My favorite Modigliani and Lautrec were living on unsaleable pieces. I believe that they were far too talented for the world to get remarked. Even works of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin weren’t selling at first. I got hugely emboldened by their autobiographies. Vincent van Gogh spent a humble life as a Christian minister and when a catastrophic flood occurred in Belgium, he spent all the money he had for aiding. What a respectable life he had.

Moreover, as people say that Paris is the aesthetic capital, I agree with that indeed. Parisians are certainly so. When I’m at home, I like watching people walking down the streets, and I see so many lovely people come and go. Looking down from the window, though I cannot clearly see their faces, the accomplishments visibly come through to the front of sophisticated people. As I watch such individuals, I feel some kind of warmth, which each person only has. Every time I feel it, it makes me think that I am so happy to be living. I think the influences we receive from human are rather bigger than receiving from things. As for the rest that I like about Paris is that we make eye contact with passersby. I like that everyone shows smiley face.

Q. Do you have any favorite places in Japan?

I like cities with antique appearance remained, such as Kyoto and Kanazawa. When I visit the teahouse in Kanazawa that’s been there for 250 years, I really get inspired.

Q. Do you believe being in love, the power of romance have big influence on art?

I don’t know exactly. They say that when you get over lost love, you’ll get a better skill to play piano. It might be true. When you are in love, it feels like being intoxicated. You become like a fool. You know what though, I wonder what the music sounds like when played by someone who has never been in love, how could they possibly impress people?

Q. How would you describe what art is?

To continue pursuing the beautiful things. Besides that, you should enrich your cultural level, or it won’t be possible to create something great. It’s important that you cultivate your eyes to ascertain the fake and real.

Q. Is there any “words” or memorable things that have been supporting you of today?

There are so many. Especially, the section 3 of Habakkuk 2 in the Old Testament, “Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” I’ve visited a church a month before I became well known, then I was given a booklet with the message that the Prophet Habakkuk received from the god. I felt that it was the voice from the god telling me, “One day people will recognize your talent, so be patient till the time comes.” I still keep the booklet as my treasure. After all, I started to think the god has given me opportunities to experience and go through a lot of things besides so many hardships. Though there were times I was thinking that I wasted a lot of time in my life, everything has become pabulum for me at last. It is surely worth to strive hard for the best. And also, there’s no 100% perfect person. Some people might be good at this, and others might be superior to that. The power will become stronger when we all get together.

Q. Could you tell us what your schedule is like hereafter?

I have so many plans of performing with new artists. Today, while lots of different types of music are being formed and classical music is decreasing its popularity, I would be delighted if there are a lot of people who are eager to listen to my performance.

Text by Chiho Yoda, Photo by Masatoshi Uenaka

Visionary, or Psychedelic, art does not stop in the physical plane, but attempts to show a world beyond the three dimensions. The genre was pioneered by such artists as Hieronymus Bosch of Holland, whose mid-fifteenth century paintings were rich with the grotesque and the fantastic, and William Blake, who painted and wrote poems in eighteenth century England. Rising in popularity with the new age movement, Visionary art can now be seen in a great variety of media, from paintings to postcards to t-shirts.

The seven-day Burning Man Festival, beginning on the last Monday of August, is held in the vast desert of Nevada. Since it is a fusion of the Visionary art movement and the rave scene, the event is considered to be the biggest of the year by many Visionary art admirers. In 1986, a man living in San Francisco burned a life-sized doll in effigy as a way of forgetting his troubles with his ex-girlfriend. This act of burning a life-size doll caught the eye of many artists. Afterwards, this ritual grew in popularity until it developed into an established event amongst youth interested in new age culture and amongst artists. Now, the event draws about 40,000 people from around the world and is seen as a revival of the hippie movement of the seventies.

Alex Grey can claim great support and popularity amongst those who attend the Burning Man Festival. In his work, Grey applies intricate, complicated composition with skillful technique to express the connections between man, the universe, and the spiritual world. His activities as an artist are not limited to painting, also including such diverse forms as sculpture, installation art, and performance art.

His audience tonight gathered in the narrow gallery entrance. Of the nearly 200 people, nearly half had come from all corners of the United States, especially the West Coast. Others heralded from as far away as Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan. Alex Grey made his appearance amongst them. With his beautiful, delicate air, it was hard to imagine where he kept the energy to create his powerful artworks hidden.

With Grey at the lead, the audience headed to the back of the usually calm and serene gallery. As they entered, it was immediately buried in the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd. Like the Mandala of Tibetan Buddhism, a distinctive feature of Grey's work is the deep symbolism hidden within the colorful detail. This tour would provide a perfect opportunity to learn about these buried riddles and symbols from the man himself.

Because of the influence of his graphic designer father, Grey was awakened to art early. But, he was equally unable to suppress his deep interest in life and death; drawing pictures of the dead bodies of bugs and small animals he collected in the backyard as a young boy. He was generally acknowledged as an excellent painter. However, as an impressionable youth against the backdrop of the rise of the hippie movement, pop culture, and minimalism in 1970's America, he fell naturally into conceptual and performance art.

After that, his life had changed, and his current style was formed. At a party on his last day at the Boston Museum School, he met Allyson, the woman who would become the love of his life. At this time, he also had his first experience with LSD, which led to a metamorphosis in his worldview and outlook on life.

Alex Grey told the audience during the talk that, on his first trip, he had a vision of a spiral of light and darkness. This vision inspired his next work, which used black and white to symbolize light and darkness, with a grey area in the center that connected the two extremes. For the artist, the color grey exists to act as an intermediary bridging the gap between the polarities of the world, such as light and dark, materialism and spirituality, man and woman, life and death, the self and one's surroundings, and the earth and the cosmos. In the world of Grey's art, it is the responsibility of people to bear this role. On the basis of this visual trip, Grey changed his name from "Alex Velzy" to "Alex Grey," and began to use LSD regularly.

Grey openly uses drugs to create his art, explaining that it is one way of reaching a visionary state. He explains that Visionary art expresses the realm of the imagination, and that it provides a lens for peeking into the multi-dimensional world. He uses drugs of his own will to fulfill his appointed task of being a missionary between the cosmos and the spiritual world on one side and the real world on the other. He has a warning for those who would follow his path of drug use. He warns that drugs are illegal, and gives the example of one of his friends who is still serving a 20-year sentence for drug abuse. When young people ask him about drugs he responds seriously and philosophically by asking what the task was that they were given.

Grey's works leave a strong impression with their vivid colors, surrealistic ideas, and symbolism. These paintings of a multi-dimensional world are able to capture concepts and sensations that we are usually unable to visualize. This visualized reality was obtained through his use of psychedelic drugs such as LSD. In many of his works, the ideologies and messages from his search for universal truth are expressed in detail. These details come from the visions and symbols of religions and philosophies like Tibetan Buddhism, Christianity, Kabbalah, and Sufism, about which he has studied in his quest for truth.

In Grey's multi-dimensional works, man and his body usually play a central role. During his nearly five years working at the Anatomy Department of Harvard University, he studied anatomy, parapsychology and Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism. After this, he began to do anatomical illustration work. The bodies that Grey draws show not only the bones, muscles, and nerves, but also the pressure points and vital lines used in Oriental medicine.

Grey explained to us, with a twinkle in his eye that our bodies are temples and that we live in wonderful, miraculous temples. The people he draws mediate between various dimensions like the cosmos, the inner self, and different realities using the Shamanistic method of transfiguration. Humans have an important meaning in the worldview of his artwork.

Grey feels deep misgivings about modern art. He says that art is meant to reflect the inner self and he worries that if contemporary art continues along its current path, it is in danger of becoming meaningless and irrelevant. He wants to plant the universal truths he reveals in his artwork into the consciousness of the people. In the future, he has plans to build a base for his art and ideological activities in the suburbs of New York, and to hold a new exhibition in the fall of 2007.

Based on his work and his history, one would naturally imagine Grey to be eccentric. However, while he is full of passion, he is not aggressive, and is actually a very intelligent and thoughtful person. I was deeply impressed when, after speaking for two hours in the hot gallery, he still took the time to reply politely to the requests of those who wanted to speak with him directly.

Text by Reimi Takeuchi & Sai Morikawa, Photo by Ryu Kodama
60,000 every 5 seconds. 106,000 every 30 seconds. 2,000,000 every 5 minutes. 426,000 every day. Can you guess what these numbers represent? In the consumer’s country U.S.A., 60,000 plastic bags are being used every 5 seconds; 106,000 aluminum cans every 30 seconds and 2,000,000 plastic bottles every 5 minutes are being thrown away; and 626,000 cell phones end their life every day. This is the unbelievable truth that embodies American society. Photographer, Chris Jordan cuts out to frame the grim face of contemporary society humans have created. Lawyer turned Photographer, see this peculiar artist’s real world.

Handguns, 2007 © Chris Jordan

COOL: How did photography get introduced into your life first?

Chris Jordan(CJ): My parents were both artists for many years— Dad was a photographer and Mom was a watercolor painter, so in that way photography was natural for me. But it stayed as just a hobby until I was almost forty years old. For my profession I was a corporate lawyer, working long depressing hours doing work that had little personal meaning for me. Photography was my creative escape, but I was afraid to take the risk of trying it full time and failing. Finally when I was about to turn forty, I saw that I was not fully living— that I was going to become an old person filled with regret, so I decided to leave my law job and make a go of it as a full-time artist. What has happened to me since then— only five years ago—has been truly astonishing.

COOL: What does art mean to you?

CJ: Art can have many functions, but the one I am most interested in is art’s ability to hold up a mirror to society, to show people things they might not have known about themselves. Art can help us wake up to what is unconscious in our behavior, either as individuals or collectively; like a friend of an alcoholic who says “I think you have a drinking problem that you are not facing.”

Art can be a powerful tool that way, but it requires the artist to be self-reflective, to respect and honor the complexity of the issues, and not be preachy or hypocritical or one-dimensional. When I look at myself, I have to admit that I am an American consumer, with feelings of greed--and lots of nice belongings to prove it, so I am in no position to preach to anyone about these things. But at the same time, I can speak up. Maybe the alcoholic’s friend is also an alcoholic himself, but that doesn’t mean he has to remain silent.

  Cell Phones, 2007 © Chris Jordan

COOL: What are the attractions of photography?

CJ: I think the medium of color photography holds the unique position of being the most representational of all art forms. Many photographic artists have explored the edges of this issue, trying to show that photography can never be truly objective. But compared with all other art forms, color photography is the most representational. So in this way, color photography has the power to serve as the clearest mirror possible for what is going on the real world.

Lately I have wanted to depict the true scale of our mass culture, and I discovered that this is impossible with straight photography, because our consumption and waste is spread out across our country. There is nowhere you can go to see it all in one place and photograph it. In that way, the cumulative effects of our consumption are invisible; the only evidence we have of it comes in the form of statistics. So for my Running the Numbers series, I began using computers together with photography to create photographic images that could not be made in the real world.

I am not sure these images can still be called photographs in the traditional sense, but people still think of me as a photographer. A couple of my Running the Numbers images were not even made with a camera—they were made with small photos that I downloaded from the internet.

COOL: What do you want the audience to think or feel by seeing your work?

CJ: On one level, my work is about presenting visual evidence of some enormous and frightening problems we are facing a society. The scale of these issues is difficult to experience via statistics alone, so I try to depict the issues visually in a way that can be felt more directly.

On another level, I hope my work might help to affirm the viewers’ sense of their own place in the world. Each of my Running the Numbers images is made of many individual things that combine to make up a huge collective. When you stand back, you can see the collective, and then when you walk up close, you can see the individuals that make up the collective. The collective is nothing more than lots and lots of individuals. I know this might sound obvious, but there is an important truth in there: every individual matters. This is something that is hard for people to really feel in our society that is so incomprehensibly huge and complex. So the hope behind my work is to affirm for each viewer that they matter— they have a valuable place in the collective. This is a subtle way of attempting to influence others into looking at their own behaviors that may be contributing to the collective problems of our culture.

COOL: What initially got you interested in environmental problems?

CJ: That issue actually found me, quite by chance. I took my first picture of a pile of garbage for purely aesthetic reasons. I made a big print and hung it on my studio wall, and my friends who saw it would start talking about consumerism. At that time I was not interested in consumerism, only aesthetic photography, and so I was annoyed when people misinterpreted my photograph! But after awhile, I realized I could take my work in that direction, as a way of engaging more deeply with the contemporary world. Ever since then I have become more and more interested in consumerism and issues of mass culture. It was a kind of waking-up for me, to discover these enormously important issues that I didn’t care about previously. Now I know what it means to be an engaged citizen, but this is very recent for me; just a few years ago, I didn’t care at all about my consumerism, or my environmental impact, or even to vote in our elections.

COOL: What's your main focus right now?

CJ: I continue to work on new pieces for Running the Numbers, and I am also doing a lot of public speaking and traveling at the moment. I feel a bit overwhelmed lately, trying to expand my working capacity by hiring some people to help manage my studio. The response to my work has been wonderful, beyond my dreams, but also I am discovering that with each set of new experiences comes a new set of problems. Now I have a new respect for people who start small businesses and grow them into bigger companies-- I am having some growing pains.

COOL: What is the most exciting moment in your life?

CJ: I think maybe it was back in early 2007, when I posted my Running the Numbers series on my website for the first time, and within a few weeks the site began to receive hundreds of thousands of visits. It was thrilling to see my work spread virally across the web, reaching an enormous audience within a short time. I think the response to my work is the result of a craving that many people feel, for a more sensible and ethical way of being in the world. I think we all sense the insanity of what we are doing collectively, and yet we have trouble making the leap to changing our own individual behavior.

COOL: What is the most impressive work you've done?

CJ: One piece that shocks me every time I see it is the one called “Prison Uniforms.” That is a huge print that shows 2.3 million prison uniforms, equal to the number of Americans in prison in 2005. America has the largest prison population of any country in the world, measured two ways: by the absolute number (no other country has that many people in prison, including China and India, with four times our population), and also per capita, meaning that we have the largest percentage of our population in prison of any country in the world.

In the print of this piece, each prison uniform is tiny—a few millimeters tall by one centimeter wide. But even at that tiny size, to show 2.3 million of them requires a print that is three meters tall by eight meters wide. It is shocking to stand in front of that print and realize the enormity of this uniquely American version of “liberty.”

COOL: What is your future vision?

CJ: That is a scary question because it reminds me that I eventually will have to step back into the unknown again. This year I will be traveling and doing lots of public speaking and exhibition of my Running the Numbers series. But I also see the end of that series coming in the distance, and it will be time to move on to something new again. That is always a frightening time for me, when I wonder if I have run out of ideas, and if I will ever do anything creative again. But that is a risk that I prefer over the alternative: staying in the same place, repeating successes, fearing to try something new. I did that as a lawyer for ten years, so I know what security feels like. For me its price is too high.

COOL: Message to your fans, please.

CJ: I would love to exhibit my work in Japan! I hope there is a way for that to happen.
And thank you for reading this.With my warm regards from across the Pacific.

Interview by Sei Koike

“Elevator Girl” is a huge CG-based installation that covers the whole wall of a gallery. Identically uniformed elevator girls strike separate poses in a world of virtual reality, which is elaborately crafted like a movie set. “Fairy Tale”, a series of silver halide prints in which young girls with faces of old ladies express their inner fantasies, is humorous yet ferocious. They give you striking impressions as if you have entered into a haunted house. In contrast, in “My grandmothers” series, Yanagi had models wear prosthetic makeup and visualized their own images of ‘themselves 50 years later. ’

Eternal City I, 1998 ©Miwa Yanagi

Miwa Yanagi, an art creator from Kyoto, Japan, held the first solo exhibition in New York this year. With her voracious thirst for self-expression and creation, and her stoic attitude towards arts as a genuine creator, she is rather an ‘art creator’ than just an ‘artist.’ Still, she admitted that becoming an art creator wasn’t her goal at first.

While in college, she studied Japanese traditional industrial arts. As she started to feel impatient with its fixed production process, she began working on installations using fabrics when she was enrolled in graduate school. She produced new things one after another, using materials in her own way to grope for the possibility of self-expression. However, she stopped all the productions upon the graduation as she lost her eagerness for creation. In the following 3 years, she worked as a teacher of art history, going back and forth from class to home.

Everyday, she repeated the commutes and the lectures at class again and again. In the closed society in Japan, she lost her identity and just kept her routine. That reality of hers is reflected in the “Elevator girl”series.

For Yanagi, whose daily routine was to create art pieces while in school, the fact that she stopped any productions was taking a load on her mind. Meanwhile, she got interested in transportation systems and commercial facilities that she saw during her commute, the consumptions and the labors in there, and the people who had to live up to the society’s stereotypes. The reason that she symphonized with elevator girls could be that she might have seen herself as an art history teacher in them, who goes up and down, opens and closes doors, and repeats courtesy announcements all day in the closed space like ‘elevators’

“I simply wanted to have them as a motif in my work.” This single motive brought out her eagerness for creation, which was smoldering in her. She rented a gallery space without any specific plans, and started working with elevator girls. That’s how her first art series “elevator girls” started.

In an elevator hall which was installed in the gallery, the elevator girls just kept smiling. She attempted to express the boredom, and intoxication of people day, who unconsciously acquired the way to live comfortably in a closed community like Japan’s modern society. In reality, ‘elevator girls’ first turned out to be different from the image that she originally had, which was the inorganic world with lifeless dolls; it had too much of a reality as there were real human and unexpected things that were out of control happening during the making. From there, she decided to try on composite photographs to control the reality that she wanted to express.

Series of Fairy Tale: Gretel, 2004 ©Miwa Yanagi

A curator from overseas, who was visiting Japan for research, discovered here talent and gave her a chance. She was given a chance to join an exhibition outside Japan.

Yanagi joined the huge international exhibition “Prospect ‘96” in Germany (1996 being the year), at the curator’s recommendation. When we asked how she felt about joining the international scene at that time, to our surprise, she says, “I wasn’t aware of the art scenes overseas and I didn’t know what an art creator was. I didn’t even know artists sell their works and they make a living by it. When someone who liked my work asked me if I could sell it them, I didn’t know what they meant (laugh).”

It is just recently that there are increasing numbers of art creators who make a living by selling their works as there are more commercial art galleries, influenced by those in Japan and the West. Also, there are trends of supporting new art creators and young aspiring art creators. Now they are all actively marketing themselves over the world. Until the beginning of the 90’s, however, when it comes to ‘galleries,’ most of them were rentals. At that time, Yanagi was a student studying the industrial arts, which was isolated from a contemporary art scene, and happened to join the exhibition without looking at herself as an art creator. She started gaining attentions in Europe, and foundations like Deutsche bank and museums began collecting her works. After the year 2000, she created new series such as “My Grandmothers” and “Fairy Tale.”

Series of Fairy Tale: The Little Match Girl, 2005 ©Miwa Yanagi

“The reaction to the previous work creates the next work.” The recurrence from conceptual works to polytechnic works. Going back and forth, Yanagi takes back the essence of her own, the creation.

‘I don’t want to keep doing the things I like.’ She intentionally ended her favorite ‘Fairy Tale’ series. Doing your favorite things is surely fun and enriches your skill. But if you keep on doing the same thing blindly, you will be exclusive and won’t progress. She dares to stop because she likes them. She remarks that it is important to ‘question yourself and the necessity of your work and try something new.’

When asked for a message for the fans, she laughed with a smile. “When I go to a lecture, oftentimes people tell me, ‘I liked the previous series, but the new series is totally different.’ Whenever creators bring out new stuff, it’s the scariest moment for creators but at the same time it’s the juiciest moment for the audience. It’s time for a dialog, that won’t be cozy with predictable stuff, to be focused. ” Her creative process will never be in patterns as she is always seeking for a new start. Therefore, she always does the reverse of what fans expect her to do. That is definitely one of her appeals as an art creator. And we are secretly looking forward to her new work and the ‘reverse.’

When asked what she wants to do other than art, she answered, “I might try something that will bring back the physicality. I didn’t care about my physical health too long. And it will eventually be for the creations, of course.” We thought we asked a question about a hobby other than art, but the answer was, naturally, about an art. This is just like Yanagi.

Text by Sei Koike, Photo by Akiko Tohno

La Tête au cube (which means ‘a cube of head’ in French) has created unique objets d’art such as tank-shaped flower vases and hooks that remind us of the screws on tin robots. Ever since Jérôme Fischbach, from Strasbourg, and Thierry d’Istria, from Corsica, launched La Tête au cube in Paris in 2005, they have attracted attention and been featured in various media domestically and internationally.

COOL : What inspired you to launch Le Tête au cube ?

J : I was working as an organizer for sports training camps after I finished business school. But I started feeling like doing something else.
T : I worked for Philippe Strack for a few months after studying product design. Then I started my own career and worked on space designs for clubs, boutiques, as well as McDonald’s in Japan and France. We’ve been friends for 20 years, and one day we started talking about ‘creating something different’ over beers. And then Jerome became the president and I became the designer of Le Tête au cube in 2005. Since we exhibited pieces at a trade fair for interior design called ‘Maison & Objet ’ in Paris on September that year, we’ve been doing well.

COOL : What’s the concept of your creations?

J : There is high competition in the market of designs now. We don’t create things to sell. It’s important for us to create with clear concepts. Each object that we create has its own story.
T : A tank-shaped vase ‘Tank you’ is one example. After a couple fights, they make up as one of them hands this vase with flower to the other, along with the word ‘sorry.’ It’s also a symbol for ‘a cease-fire’ in a broader sense, but we made the vases with the image of intimate communications of ‘handing it to someone as a symbol of making up.’ Another example is ‘Hookey,’ a screw-shaped hook that can be installed against the wall. When we were creating this, we had an image of Hookey making the house start to move like a tin robot. We want to tell people to use their imaginations more often in their daily lives. It’s also interesting in a sense that we used France’s own porcelaine de Limoges to make a fusion of the tradition and the modern.
J: We like humor, and we want to create poetic things and provocative things. But we don’t want to have too much intelligence or difficult theories. We want to deliver simple messages that everyone can understand. With sarcasm sometimes, we have created the pieces that deliver messages without explanations, such as Lucky, a flask that saves cowboys’ lives, and Plaid Buddy, a throw made for ‘anti-loneliness.’

COOL : Thierry, originally you were a space designer. Why did you start your career as an object designer?

T : Because I got interested in creating actual objects from various ideas. I just wanted to create something with my spirit in it. It didn’t have to be objects. We might have different directions in the future.

COOL : Are there any influential figures for you ?

J : Bret Easton Ellis, an author, because he has his own sensibility and inner space.
T: There are people whose views I admire. I like the lighting arts of James Turrell and photo books of Hedi Slimane, a designer for the men’s collection of Christian Dior.

COOL : Do you have other private works ?

T : Right now, we are working on the object which will be featured at the ‘Framenco and avant-garde’ exhibition at Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid.
J : Also, we are working on the project of ‘cup and saucer,’ designed by Neil Poulton, collaborating with Musée des Arts Décoratifs.

COOL : Have you ever been to Japan ?

J : Once, on vacation. I enjoyed shopping, and spent 8 hours at a record store (laughs).
T : Twice on business, and once on vacation. When I went to Kyoto on business, my client arranged a tour guide for me on a day off. Though he explained eagerly about all the places that we went, I couldn’t communicate with him because he couldn’t speak English. I will never forget about that day (laughs).

COOL : Tell us about your future plans.

J : I want to create things other than objects, and collaborate with cloths and music. I also want to hire more designers, adopt the works of other artists, and collect what we like.
T : And if we continue collecting all the stuff, naturally we may have a store in the future.

Text by Chiho Yoda, Photo by Mieko SAI

URL of La Tête au cube

Omnific : Online store in Japan

Charles&Marie :Online store in the US

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