Rock the Future

  • 26 August 2005 - 30 October 2005

During a research trip to Japan earlier this year I met a number of artists and curators working with technology and the moving image and visited two organisations, YCAM¹ and ICC² that specialised in showcasing this kind of work. (In the UK, FACT is the only one of its kind). A few connecting threads stood out in several artists work that interested me, and are represented in the work of the artists in this exhibition - namely wit, playfulness, the performative, collaborative working (ressentiment and exonemo are both artist collectives) and a retro-futuristic take on combining hi and low technologies.

All of the work in this exhibition invites, to a greater or lesser degree, audience participation - whether it's immersing yourself in a shower of news in Kuwakubo's disorientating blue room (and taking away your favourite headlines, like a pearl of wisdom from a fortune cookie); taking a walk through ressentiment's landscape of donated objects from the people of Liverpool and becoming part of the live film produced by the roving cameras, or creating your own drawing in the dark to an electronic soundscape, in exonemo's installation.

Yukiko Shikata, Curator at ICC, has worked with all of the Rock the Future artists and has very kindly agreed to expand on their work, and the context in which they produce their artwork, for us in this guide.

Throughout my visit I was reminded of how technology is embedded in the very fabric of Japanese society - from televisions on tube trains to amazing mobile phones that can do everything except make a cup of tea.

Unlike in the UK, where artists often have to initiate partnerships with commercial companies themselves, in Japan it is not unusual to find artists work not only funded and supported by corporate companies (with the organisations identifying and vying to work with some of the best artists and designers), but artists also occupying day jobs with corporate companies such as Sony to support their practice - something British new media artists are often less vocal about.

Not only does this mean that artists are at the vanguard of new developments in technology and exposed to and exchanging ideas with some of the best technologists and product developers in the world, but they are constantly refreshing and learning new skills to bring back to their own artwork. (Ryota Kuwakubo, for example, works part time for Sony on the Blockjam project).

Indeed there is such an interest in the work of artists working with technology that the Japanese public television company NHK (the equivalent of the BBC) broadcasts a television programme, Digital Stadium (Digitista)³, once a week which "uses the power of television to develop new talent, connect artists with new audiences, and explore the ever-expanding frontiers of digital art."

Each year the producers of the television programme and a renowned group of individuals from the cultural industries select the best of the work broadcast on television throughout that year and present it in a major festival in Japan - Digital Art Festival Tokyo4 - which attracts hundreds of thousands of people. On Wednesday 31 August, in conjunction with Ann Yamamoto Associate Producer of Digital Stadium, FACT will screen some outstanding animation works from their 2003 and 2004 selection.

A fortunate meeting with Roger McDonald, tutor and curator at AIT5 also led to the programming of a screening of Japanese artists' works, showing on Wednesday 07 September, that reflect, through video, some of the ideas embraced by Ryota Kuwakubo, ressentiment and exonemo: "Replay profiles Japanese video artists who explore concepts of the temporal, performative and imaginative; concepts that dominate much recent Japanese art and relate back to performance and video art dating from the 1960s."

I hope that all of the work featured in Rock the Future, and the related public programme, will inspire you to think about the possibilities presented by technology in relation to the society in which we live.

Ceri Hand
Director of Exhibitions



1Yamaguchi Centre for Arts and Media

2InterCommunication Centre

3Digital Stadium (Digitista)

4Digital Art Festival Tokyo

5Arts Initiative Tokyo, a non-profit independent collective of curators and art administrators that create a range of arts courses, programmes and events in Tokyo, Japan

The Akihabara quarter of Tokyo is home to a vast concentration of electrical goods shops that sell everything from electronic gadgetry and parts to animation and game software and many other manifestations of Japanese obsessional otaku culture.

There is a rich history in Japan in terms of the development of artists working with technology, from the avant-garde group of artists known as Jikken Kobo (Experimental Workshop) in the 1950s, to support for media art by companies such as NTT and Canon, initiated during the 1990s. It is this history that provides the background to the emergence of so many Japanese media artists, such as Toshio Iwai and Masaki Fujihata.

The artists presented in this exhibition began working around the mid 1990s, at a time when the environment for the production and presentation of works had started to expand, (largely due to the proliferation of computers and the Internet); these artists were brought up in a society dominated by computer games, when animation and cartoons had come to be accepted as legitimate cultural forms.



They are, therefore, artists who are not bound by conventional notions of what art is supposed to be and who are able to incorporate elements from pop cultures and subcultures effortlessly into their work.

Over the past few years in Japan we have begun to see more and more wide-ranging collaboration between artists, designers, engineers and programmers, especially those belonging to this generation; the Japanese media art scene has thus taken on an entirely new aspect. These new developments are taking place in symbiosis with related developments throughout the world, but at the same time they are products of a new media culture based on networking within a distinctively Japanese environment.

Of particular interest is the increasing momentum of do-ityourself experiments that boldly link analogue and digital media. Moves towards converting existing media and technology into new works and systems in a spirit of play, combined with the exercise of lively imagination, are backed up not only by technological skills, but also by a stance that strives to question every aspect of society. The artists presented on this occasion stand at the forefront of these developments.

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