Mika Ninagawa is a photographer, a film maker and an artist with the ability to create a very unique world of her own. She participated as the main artist in Roppongi Art Night 2017; one of the themes of which was 'Southeast Asia'. As luck would have it, she has recently been working more and more in Asia. She will be having a large-scale exhibition in Shanghai in November 2017. We asked her about the future of Roppongi in Asia.
How will art change in an era where the border between creator and audience is blurring?
Recently, I have been asked by some non-art people, 'do you also take photographs?' or 'Are you originally a photographer?' more than once. Sure, I make films and am doing more and more activities other than photography; still, to myself, I am definitely a photographer. However, it was refreshing to learn that not everyone sees me that way.
Roppongi Art Night 2017
One-night only art festival in Roppongi held on September 30 - October 1. Art, design, music, films and performances were gathered from all over Asia and the world on this year's theme of 'Mirai no Matsuri', or a festival of the future. Mika Ninagawa as the main program artist exhibited her installations at Roppongi Hills, Tokyo Midtown and the National Art Center, Tokyo.
Come to think of it, the only photos I used for the work I did for Roppongi Art Night 2017 were the decorative pinwheels. So, the photography was not the main part of it. I wanted the audience to take photos in the installation and feel my view of the world. I guess it is because of these installations that people do not necessarily see me as a photographer.
Nowadays, both taking photos and having your photo taken have become casual. Releasing them is easy too, good or bad. Borders between creators and audience are getting more and more blurry as people become suddenly stars through SNS, such as AyaBambi who danced on stage for Madonna. I am interested in the infinite expansion of possibility and want to make it the theme of my photos and films, and the installation at Roppongi Art Night was one of them. I liked the mysteriousness of it existing for only 2 days, like a place in a dream.
A dance pair, Aya Sato and Bambi Naka. Their video of dance workshop became popular on SNS and they started working with Japanese and international artists. Madonna's daughter 'discovered' them on YouTube and they danced on her stage. They also danced for the video shown at the closing ceremony of Rio de Janeiro Paralympics.
Even things improve by time, the work you need to put in to create objects does not change.
When I was creating the installations for Roppongi Art Night, I did realize that the work you need to put in to create objects you can actually touch would not change. In this digital age, you would think everything has become much easier to make, but I struggled with what I would create and how, within the limited budget. Creating objects takes money, time, and energy. There are things you just cannot omit. Moreover, as I have told you, I am a photographer. I do not have the know-how for creating objects. I had to start from zero, with no experience as a sculptor or a builder. I felt really nervous about how it would turn out.
I felt very comfortable working for Roppongi Art Night because one of the themes this year was Southeast Asia. Asia is an important area for my recent activities. Right now, I am working mainly in China. About ten years ago, I decided that I would like to become 'Mika Ninagawa of Asia' instead of 'Mika Ninagawa of Japan.' I started out in Taiwan and I held an exhibition last year in Taipei, which became a social phenomenon. People lined up and waited for a few hours to get in. About 130,000 people came to see it over 2 months.
That exhibition was not like Teamlab, where the audience can try interactive installations. It was more like a one-way exhibition, so to speak. Still, people seemed to find ways to enjoy the exhibition, putting the photos of my photos on SNS and taking photos with my photos.
Mika Ninagawa Solo Exhibition in Taipei
A solo exhibition held in Museum of Contemporary Art, Taipei (MOCA Taipei) from March 19 to May 8, 2016. Before this exhibition, most of her solo exhibitions showed about 400 of her works or less, This time, however, there were 700 works in the exhibition. With not only her photos, but also videos, gift shop, and the chronological list of her works. The exhibition got so popular and easily made an attendance record of the museum.
Hoping my work to be wide open, and yet deep to the same extent.
Perhaps partly because I also make films, I feel I am closer to the audience than other artists. Many art lovers have huge intellectual curiosity. But in films, there is 'Doraemon,' there is 'Spider-Man,' and my film is in the same theater too. You can show your work to a wider variety of people. Because of that experience, I think I am good at working for general public, and it is very close to what I originally want to do.
I always hope that my work will be accessable for many people to touch and feel with ease, but at the same time to be unexpectedly deep and lead them to a surprising exit.
For that purpose, Roppongi Art Night suited me as a stage for my works. The location is good enough for the people who are not particularly interested in art to visit. I will be happy if passers-by found it interesting and that would lead them to something. I love to be the first one for someone.
About the solo exhibition in Shanghai
The exhibition in Taipei lead to a solo exhibition in Shanghai in this November, and it will be the biggest so far. The woman who created this Shanghai exhibition is in her 20s, and a CEO. A girls-talk like 'You won't let me down?' 'Never!' lead to this. She is a business person with a heart of a gal.
It is hard to imagine in Japan, but in China, young people have decisive power in business. When a huge shopping mall was built in Shanghai, a young person in charge told me casually 'I would like you to create our main graphic', so I went 'sure, of course...' If it were Japan, it would take a long time to be decided. But in China, because young people decide, and realize what they decided at once, there is excitement that you can always do something interesting.
Mika Ninagawa Exhibition in Shanghai
Mika Ninagawa Exhibition held at Lafayette Art & Design Center in Shanghai from November 11, 2017 to January 10, 2018. It will be bigger than the one in Taipei, which was the biggest of her exhibitions at the time. In cooperation with: Canon Inc.
We should learn the energy and enthusiasm from Asia.
I like Asian people (other than Japanese) because they simply appreciate interesting things. In Japan, there are too many meetings and too much attention to detail, which slows things down. They seem logical in appearance, but it is not always so. In other parts of Asia, meetings sometimes do not work, but people accept or are even happy with changes of plans if things are made more interesting.
Clearly, they are more energetic than Japanese. Japanese creations are sensitive and have many good points, but I believe they need energy too. We should learn the way they proceed with energy and enthusiasm. As I come and go between Tokyo and other parts of Asia, I regret to say, I feel less energy in Tokyo. I wish we could go lightly like 'Let's do something exciting!' 'Why not!'
You will see the essence of art by simply enjoying it.
As the audience for art, the reactions of Asian people are very honest. They prefer easy-to-understand, bright and interactive. At my exhibition, they go, 'Wow! Great!' and as a creator, that makes me happy. I realize that it is one side of the power of art that excites people and make them want to tell someone about it.
It seems art is more difficult and distant for Japanese people. We feel that we must study a famous work we are familiar with from a textbook of art seriously. But if you see it more simply, you might feel that the painter must have been in love with the model, or the painter must have loved her line.
Emotions cannot be tamed. That makes art human and interesting. Japanese people are too serious to take art that way, but I think we can enjoy art more freely, excitedly and happily.
It is a great invention to combine observatory and museum.
When I was a child, my father took me to Roppongi to take a walk and he showed me discos and other things. I had an image of a night town for Roppongi that has nothing to do with a child. After I grew up, I still did not have too many reasons to visit Roppongi, but that was changed by Roppongi Hills.
It was hard to imagine that Roppongi became an art town. But the idea of combining the observatory of Roppongi Hills and a museum is genius, because you are almost forced to go to the museum if you go to the observatory.
I think many people feel that they have nothing to do with art, but they may find it interesting if only they actually see it. So, I think it is worthwhile to bring people to art. It is a great invention for art.
Roppongi Hills Observatory Tokyo City View
Tokyo City View is fine-view facility with indoor fine-view corridor 250 meters above sea level. On the roof is the open air "sky deck" 270 meters above sea level, located on the 52nd floor of Mori Tower of Roppongi Hills. You can also enter Mori Art Museum on the 53rd floor with the observatory ticket (with some exceptions for special exhibitions). The indoor fine-view corridor also has a gallery space "Sky Gallery".
A rare town where people's desire and art are mixed and exist together.
In my case, Roppongi means Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown. Of course, I often visit museums, I go to eat, and I often go to the movie theaters in Roppongi too. There are also many shooting studios I use in Roppongi. It may be better for me to live in Roppongi. Sometimes I do photo-shooting in a studio in Roppongi, go back to my office for a meeting and then go to Roppongi Hills for a dinner engagement. Lately, I come and go between Roppongi, my office and Asia.
I would like to propel the image of Roppongi now has as an art town. I think Roppongi is a rare case in the world. It was a town of desire in the past. The way the desire and art are mixed is rare and interesting.
There are more and more galleries in Roppongi, but they are still like dots, not like lines. When you are in New York, you might walk a lot before you realize it, because there are so many attractive galleries and stores lining up the streets. The streets between Roppongi Hills and Tokyo Midtown are not attractive enough for art lovers. I hope those dots of attractive spots become lines soon.
Now is the time to show our worth to become the leader in Asia.
I hope Roppongi Art Night will evolve--I would like to see night stalls there, for example. The theme of Art Night this year was Mirai no Matsuri, or festival of the future, and it will be fun if there is art in the center of Matsuri, the festival. Maybe we can have Azabu Juban Summer Festival and Roppongi Art Night together. The event in Roppongi is a little too tidy, and the downtown feel of Azabu Juban Summer Festival can make it more interesting. I think this is a good idea, because they are within the walking distance to each other and they likely share much of the same audience.
Many people visit Tokyo because it is a cultural center and a place of mysterious charm. But the charm seems to be getting weaker and spreading wider. If you ask Chinese people names of Japanese stars they know, they tell you the names of the stars in the 90s. They do not know much about, nor are interested in the ones after that.
Azabu Juban Summer Festival
Summer festival on and around Azabu Juban shopping area held on a Saturday and a Sunday in late August every year. Azabu Juban Shopping Street Promotion Association held the 51st Summer Festival this year. The stalls by various embassies, popular restaurants and about 50 cities and towns from all over Japan are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people.
Some still like Japanese clothes, Japanese art, etc., but if we want Tokyo to be as popular as before, and be the cultural leader in Asia, we need to make a more strategic effort. If we do not, other cities will overtake us and take people's attention away from us. Now is the time for us to show our worth.
If you go to Asia, you see the excess in Japan.
I do not think Japanese people should be satisfied inside Japan. It may be easier to work in your home country with the people you know, but we should look out into Asia and exchange more. I wonder why Japanese people do not do so. I personally love to go and see other places in the world. In my case, I find difficult things interesting.
If you work in Asia, things may not go as smoothly as in Japan. But it is necessary if we do not want to be left behind. Also, you may find some things in Japan are rather strange when you work with various people in Asia.
For example, after I worked in Asia I come back to work with a Japanese advertising agency. They prepare such perfect plans, I wondered what they needed me for. At the same time, I wondered if they really needed to put that much time into preparing for those planning papers. You may see the excess in Japan. I hope we can learn good things of each other more.
We should make good use of Olympic Games.
I was born in Tokyo and I have been living in Tokyo for all my life. Tokyo is my favorite city and I want it to be always so. People from other places often talk about their love for their home town, but people from Tokyo usually do not. I am a "Tokyo-lover." I made my 2 films, "Sakuran" in Edo (the old name of Tokyo) and "Helter Skelter" mainly in the Shibuya area of Tokyo. I have some more ideas of films in Tokyo and when I made all of them, I guess I can call myself a filmmaker from Tokyo.
For Tokyo to remain my favorite city, if I were to pick one thing it lacks, I think it is energy. I hope the 2020 Tokyo Olympics will be a good chance for Tokyo in this regard, and I think it must be. We will have many foreign visitors, many people will be watching Tokyo from all over the world, and there will be the whirl of energy.
We should get excited for this opportunity and we should make good use of the Olympic Games. We are not sure how it will really be yet, but think about it! It's great and it does not happen every day, so we should really enjoy it! I want to tell everyone.
Ninagawa's first feature film in 2007. Based on a cartoon by Moyoko Anno, a story of a girl raised in Yoshiwara, a prostitute house, to become Oiran, the top-ranked courtesan, battling with obstacles. Ninagawa made up an avant-garde prostitute house effectively using her pet motifs, flowers and goldfish.
Price: DVD 2,381JPY/ Blu-ray 3,800JPY
Release: Asmik Ace, Kodansha
(C) 2007 Ninagawa Group "Sakuran" Film Committee (C)Moyoko Anno/Kodansha
Based on a prize-winning cartoon by Kyoko Okazaki. A top model with a perfect face and body, which were created by whole-body cosmetic surgery, gradually loses her mind from a side effect of the surgery and the fear of falling from the top.
Price: DVD 1,500JPY / Blu-ray 2,000JPY
(C)2012 Film "Helter Skelter" Producing Committee (C)Kyoko Okazaki/Shodensha
Interesting things are often bothersome.
One of the good things about becoming an executive board member of the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is having the chance to meet people whom I usually do not meet. I met other artists, politicians etc. When you start something new, not necessarily the Olympic Games, you actively meet other people. Going out of your own territory and meeting different people is exciting and I felt by itself can be a treasure to me.
If you think it is bothersome to do something, you cannot do anything, and interesting things are often bothersome. You cannot meet new things and interesting things if you are too afraid of troubles. If you always stay in your own territory, unexpected things do not usually happen. As a little courage to go out of my own territory, I hope I can work for Olympics well.
Ms. Ninagawa was always friendly during the interview. You can see why many young people are attracted to her, seeing her girlish sensitivity and her sense of balance to look at the movements of the world coolly. We received her message as a Tokyo-lover, Tokyo should be more energetic as Asia gets more attractive.（text_ikuko hyodo）