Art creates POSTCITY - TOKYO MIDTOWN and ARS ELECTRONICA's vision for the future of city and business -
In 2017, TOKYO MIDTOWN began collaborating with ARS ELECTRONICA. ARS ELECTRONICA is the umbrella organisation for the ARS ELECTRONICA Festival, a media art festival that began in 1979 in Linz, Austria. It is also a public corporation of the city of Linz. Beyond the festival, it includes a museum, a research institute and an international competition. ARS ELECTRONICA’s mission is to deliver “Futures” to the citizens as a cultural infrastructure, like water at the tap, by organically linking their departments sharing awareness of social issues through art, and encouraging debate and innovation, The year 2017, which marked the beginning of our collaboration with ARS ELECTRONICA, was also the 10th anniversary of TOKYO MIDTOWN. It is normal for buildings to deteriorate over time, but TOKYO MIDTOWN proposed “improve with age,” where buildings become polished and improved as time passes. As a new attempt, the collaboration with ARS ELECTRONICA began. *
Why did we collaborate with ARS ELECTRONICA? TOKYO MIDTOWN states "Creativity" as one of the concepts of its urban development. By collaborating with ARS ELECTRONICA, which proposes new creativity and future visions of society brought about by cutting-edge technology, we aim to create a place where ideas and innovations to make a better and sustainable future society are expressed or inspire people. To realise this idea, we started the "SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE Project" in 2017. Based on the concept of "a new place to think about the future that is not taught in schools", the project initially consisted of small-scale exhibitions and workshops as part of TOKYO MIDTOWN's seasonal events. From 2019, it was updated as a festival under the name of "SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE FESTIVAL". With the participation of TOKYO MIDTOWN, ARS ELECTRONICA, artists, companies and universities, the first edition attracted a total of 123,000 people over four days (21-24 February 2019), the second edition a total of 130,000 people over five days (20-24 February 2020), steadily increasing the number of fans of this initiative.
Soon afterwards, a massive wave of the Coronavirus pandemic hit not only Japan but the entire world. Amid a situation where all social activities come to a halt, the question emerged on how to continue this movement to create a cultural infrastructure with ARS ELECTRONICA. As a result of our deliberation, we became alarmed: "Hasn't Japan become an increasingly intolerant society through this pandemic?". A society that demands rigour and precise responses in everything done is a ground for world-class, high-quality services and products. Still, it also tends to foster a constrictive atmosphere where failure is not tolerated. When we thought about what kind of experience we should offer as a "city" in such a society, the team concluded that the content should not be a showered passive experience but rather should be content that stimulates active actions of each visitor.
The aim is to create a movement that will shape the era and build a new future together. As a place to transmit these ideas, we launched the "SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE -ONLINE LABORATORY- A Place For Experimenting with Ideas to Create a Future Society through Art” this summer. The first activity of this project is this special interview.
Nami Fujitani, Producer, ARS ELECTRONICA Collaborative Project, TOKYO MIDTOWN)
Born in Kanagawa in 1975, Mr. Saito began his career in New York in 2000 after graduating from Columbia University with a Master of Science degree in Advanced Architectural Design (MSAAD). Since then, he has been active in creative work at the ArnellGroup, and returned to Japan upon being selected for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003. He produces works in the commercial art field which are three-dimensional and interactive while also being based on the firm grounding in logical thought that he cultivated through architecture. Mr. Saito has won numerous international awards since 2009. Launched Rhizomatiks Co.,Ltd. in 2006. Since 2016, he serves as director of Rhizomatiks Architecture.
Vice Chairman of Good Design Award 2018-21. Creative Adviser of 2020 Dubai Expo Japan pavilion. An expert for the Peoples's Living Lab Promotion Council for Expo 2025 Osaka, Kansai, Japan.
Artist / Researcher (ARS ELECTRONICA Futurelab)
Yoko is an artist and researcher at the ARS ELECTRONICA Futurelab with a background in biology and chemistry. She began her career as a corporate creative director and consultant before setting up her laboratory. She has been developing innovative technologies and installations that combine science and art, collaborating with companies, government agencies, museums, and universities worldwide. Yoko has also worked as a director and advisor on creative town planning and urban development projects. She also gives lectures at international events, conferences and educational institutions.
Co-Director of ARS ELECTRONICA Futurelab
In 2007, he moved to Linz, Austria, where he works as an artist, curator and researcher for Ars Electronica. In addition to working on international projects such as the launch of the new Ars Electronica Center, which opened in 2009, and the direction of exhibitions and events. He is also involved in the creation of "catalytic" art projects that stimulate art, technology and society, research and development, and consulting for corporations and governments. He is the leader of the artist group “h.o" and teaches at the Linz University of the Arts, where he is involved in a wide range of activities, from connecting cutting-edge technology and expression to its social implementations.
*The session was held online between Tokyo and Linz, Austria.
What is the role of art in a city with respective characteristics, and what is the ‘future one step ahead' that artists should point?
You all have been experimental projects through art in and out of Japan. How do you think your activities and art influenced the city and business?
First of all, I want to end the era where art is used as a springboard. I feel that we should completely grow out of how art is used as a marketing or advertising tool in different places.
Before the pandemic, society has created more of a marketing-driven economy, redeveloping places with business opportunities as if there were fish here, so we set traps.
However, now that the pandemic has made such equations and all other common sense untenable, I think that the economy should be led by art. As in the case of the pandemic, artists are the first to act on their will in times of emergency.
It's not about whether they are making art or not. It's about their reaction speed and instantaneousness to events and their flexibility in dealing with society. That kind of thinking is what I call the art brain, for example, packing bags full of resources and rushing to the affected areas when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, that kind of people.
These people pioneer the towns and new eras. The designers ― people involved in design need to mitigate failure as their job is to apply something to a single society ― then the people who cannot make any mistakes, the corporates and industries arrive. I think this will be the pattern of town development and industry creation.
Do you think that artists should be more involved in pointing the way to the future one step ahead?
That's right. We need to enter an age where art is not just about the exhibitions but about artistic thinking, that is to say, acting with the principle of super-activism (proactive activism) with an art brain, running the industry and economy.
Yoko, you have the experience of living in cities overseas, like New York and Linz. What are your ideas?
As Seiichi described, schemes of art leading to urban development are emerging in various forms worldwide. For example, Brooklyn, New York, attracts attention as an area cultivated by artists. There used to be many grungy warehouses with artist colonies where the artists renovated the shipping warehouses themselves. But when I visited the area a few years ago, I was surprised to find many trendy shops like fashion boutiques and cupcake stores inside these rough industrial buildings.
Now a community of biological innovation is also emerging in this area. There are bio-startups and a bio-art gallery in a large former military warehouse district, and a bio community lab nearby. Many students, designers, and programmers who are not necessarily biotechnologists or scientists also gather, creating a seedbed for innovation.
It is amazing how artists and creatives boldly enter and revitalise abandoned areas, nurturing culture as a result, and creating a movement where business is born.
However, there are problems as well. Artists have to leave the town as it develops and the land price rises. In fact, in Brooklyn, artists are pushed out to the edges of the town.
There's a paradox in that while the artists cultivate the town and developing the city, it also raises the land price and makes the place inhabitable for the artists. I wonder if this trend is the right way forward. I think what needs to change is not the city's shape but the mindset of the people living in the area. What do you think?
First, I think that artists don't want to be in a commercialised space, and from a city development point of view, it's like a cycle that goes around, so I think it's inescapable. Of course, if I were involved, I would be protesting, "the rent has gone up, you bastards!".
There are more people like me who are trying to make their artwork while being in the economy. There's a live music venue called National Sawdust in Brooklyn, which is run by artists, entirely on donations, to protect their work.
In other words, artists are becoming socially conscious. In that sense, it's not a bad thing for artists to be nomadic, and I think it's a very good thing that people with very different backgrounds, art and business, are trying to mingle.
Since TOKYO MIDTOWN began projects with ARS ELECTRONICA, we’ve been able to have a perspective on what the artists are thinking and how they perceive things. For example, having a perspective to ask ourselves if what we’re trying to do is good for the entire planet. In that sense, it could be said that by working nomadically in different places, artists are changing the mindset of the people in those places.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, the art scene needs people with the perspective and skills of a producer.
Before the pandemic, when we met each other in real life, we could somehow sense the internal qualities of a person by observing each other's appearance, but this is not possible remotely. Our urgent issue is how to find active fellows, in other words, visitors and corporate partners who will participate in the SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE project. Keeping in mind about how to find friends, what kind of changes do you think this pandemic brings to the art world?
Before the pandemic, a method called Design Thinking was mainstream. But now I'm feeling, "haven't we done enough thinking?". Especially people who can bring in the attitude of artists into their actions ― not only people who are making artworks but people who can think, "I'll eat this even if I don't know what this is" or "I might get in trouble but let's give it a try" ―, they should take action before thinking.
Something we shouldn't do now is to talk about five years from now. Talking about "art in 2030" is something marketers do. I think the role for artists is not about thinking of a distant future but of tomorrow or two months from now, taking action on the issue that they can see and take action while digging into the ground of society as a tip of a drill.
Fellows are those who we need when casing action.
I'm paying attention to the word "circle" when it comes to gathering people. I think about what kind of weapons they have, what kind of magic they would use if they're in Dragon Quest, how fast they are, how strong they are in a fight, what happens if I collaborate with them, what can be done at what speed.
That's why in an art festival we held in Okuyamato, Nara, Japan, in 2020 during the pandemic, which normally wouldn't have been possible to prepare in three months. The reason why this was possible in three months was because we gathered the right circle for the project.
Art producers are the people who gather this circle, and the pandemic has made me realise again that there are far too few people like that in Japan.
We at ARS ELECTRONICA are aware of the same issue stated by Seiichi. This year we started a program called the Program for Next Cultural Producer Incubation in cooperation with the Agency for Cultural Affairs. It's a program where selected people from Japan come to stay at ARS ELECTRONICA for six months and learn principles, attitudes and practical skills.
As for your question on what changes have occurred in the art scene after the pandemic, I think that we have been forced to confront the question of "essence". The virus has infected the city, where art was often treated as a consumer product. This led to a fundamental question: what is culture, the fundamental resilience of citizens? I think we became acutely aware that there are significant challenges in the current situation surrounding it. I was confronted with the question if we had systems and education to foster such a 'culture' in the first place? This also imposes a serious question on how has Japan positioned its culture as a creative strategy for the future?
As Hide mentioned, there is a movement to re-explore the fundamental meaning of art. I also agree that this is a role of Art Producers. For example, in the ARS ELECTRONICA Futurelab where I work, there are forty members, all of whom are artists, scientists, and technologists, with the skills to manage and produce projects. These types of talents will become increasingly important in the future.
ARS ELECTRONICA producer trainees, please come to me when the internship is over!
Of course! There might be a fantastic talent born. By the way, ARS ELECTRONICA is a public company, a public utility of the city of Linz, on a par with water utilities and other urban infrastructures. Still, it doesn't just operate with the support of the city. Around 70% of our entire business is run and extended by obtaining external funding. In Japan, too, there is an urgent need to nurture the next generation of producers who can build a cultural infrastructure for citizens while remaining financially independent.
The pandemic has changed the concept of "town". What is the future of town planning? What can “SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE” do?
We have highlighted the urgent need to nurture the next generation of producers who will bear the future's cultural infrastructure. Do you think that the concept and methodology of future town planning, in which such people will thrive, will change after the pandemic?
Actually, nowadays, regional dispersion and urban concentration are happening at the same time. Both condominiums in central Tokyo and rural areas are selling well. The population is decreasing, so the number of people living in two or more locations is probably increasing. That's because you can work remotely, no matter the distance. In other words, I think the pandemic has changed the concept of location.
The pandemic made me realise that it's not about "where" but "how" we connect with our colleagues. For example, last year's ARS ELECTRONICA Festival was held online for the first time in its 40 year history, but as a result, it became one of the largest events in the world, connecting 120 venues around the world. In response to this, our artistic director Gerfried said something that left a deep impression on me: "The decentralisation of the festival means that even if one of the cities could not open, for example, Linz, the central festival venue, the festival will survive. In other words, the pandemic made us realise that the influence of art is not limited to a single area but also has the power to connect the world.
We also had a space flight art project that we had been preparing for a long time before the pandemic, which we thought we would have a hard time with due to the travel restrictions and lockdowns. In reality, by making the best use of rapidly evolving remote tools, social systems and distributive team formation, we had a successful flight last week. I am hopeful that this connection will be further strengthened once the pandemic is under control.
It's true that collaboration progressed comfortably because of the pandemic. On the other hand, we need to think about what a town within a 15-minute walk should be like. When you don't want to go on the train, can't go too far, what else can be believed but the town we're breathing in?
To be specific, the value of the city will be about transparency, tolerance and agility to share things such as education, food and new encounters with people from diverse backgrounds. I am very much looking forward to seeing how TOKYO MIDTOWN will create such values as a “town".
Under such circumstances, what exactly should our SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE Project do?
I think we should create a community through the SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE. Since it is called "school", I hope that it will engage the local people with a public space full of mud and humanity.
At the moment, we see a gradual return of visitors to the ARS ELECTRONICA Center, and it's nice to see them talking to each other and seeing children experiencing new things that inspire them in a more relaxed way than at the festival. I hope that the SCHOOL OF THE FUTURE will be a place where children can experience various cultures regularly.
To connect what Yoko and Seiichi have said, it would be ideal if the people living around TOKYO MIDTOWN could see the place as what we call a "cultural infrastructure", a psychological landmark where they can go and encounter something new and exciting, where they can learn, and connect with other people.
When the ARS ELECTRONICA Center opened in 1996, it was called the "museum of the future". Now it's also called the school of the future. So we want TOKYO MIDTOWN to be a place that creates the future in the same way. While thinking about what the future school looks like in Japan, I hope that the activities here will grow as a culture not as a fashion to be consumed.
I will do my best! Thank you very much for your time today.