Report from Yokohama
BankART 1929, Landmark Project III
May 7 - May 31, 2008
by Mayumi Hirano
In 1968, the tallest building in Yokohama was the 10-story Golden Center (a grandiose shopping center). It towered gloriously over National Route 16, which ran between the building and the waterfront. However, in the 1980s, the city's economic life refocused on the developing waterfront and interest in the Golden Center began to wane. Now renamed Pio City, business in the building has gone slack, with the exception of a gambling house that occupies its top two floors. The Golden Center's formerly lauded architecture has been forgotten and, as the director of BankART1929 puts it, the Golden Center has become "Yokohama's Berlin Wall."
In 2005, BankART 1929, a cultural organization in Yokohama, began the Landmark Project, an effort to bring visitors to areas of the city that were once bustling but are now seldom visited. Get across Route 16!, the Landmark Project's third installment, centers around Pio City.
Get across Route 16! introduced artwork by three artists, shown in vacant shop spaces on the second-level basement. Keisuke Takahashi, a visual artist from the multi-media dance company Nibroll, installed video work in a large, bare concrete space. Projected onto three side-by-side screens, each video pictures people and tiny, digitally produced sheep, all swaying to comforting music. The installation’s vacuous airiness successfully attracts curiosity of a wide range of people, passersby included. During my visit, a red-cheeked old man was dreamily absorbed in Takahashi's world.
Across the hallway, Norimichi Hirakawa exhibited his interactive Global Bearing, a piece composed of a large screen and a tall antenna. According to the guide, the top end of the antenna points to the exact opposite side of the earth. The viewer is invited to move the antenna, which creates a corresponding readout on the screen, indicating the real point where the person is standing on a digital diagram of the globe.
The highlight of the exhibition was Taro Izumi's installation in an abandoned café. The café has remained untouched since 2004, when the proprietor disappeared. Paper napkins have turned brown and dishes are covered in dust. Menus and magazines are piled high on chairs and tables, while cigarette butts clog ashtrays. Amongst these objects, Izumi inserted his video work, creating the effect of a ghostly, haunted house. In his videos, Izumi often repeats absurd actions; for instance, in one of the many video works shown here, he places his face on a pillow affixed to the end of a mop handle. He then tries to clean the floor with the contraption, only to lose his balance, fall back, and begin the process again. Izumi’s actions resemble those of a solitary child attempting to entertain himself and, perhaps, also suggest the sense of exhaustion and futility felt by his generation—a generation that came of age at a time when the economic bubble was beginning to burst.
Get across Route 16! also included a number of unrealized, yet intriguing, proposals. One of them was called Metaphorical City, which consisted of a series of outdoor projections in the pub district behind Pio City. Another one was called Dialogue with the Homeless, in which an artist would attend his own artist’s residency in a homeless person's cardboard box shelter. The Landmark Project’s flyer doesn't say why these projects have remained in the conceptual stages, but staff at BankArt 1929 allude to difficult negotiations with the community. In the future, I hope these proposals will be developed collaboratively, with the local communities. Dialogue is the first step to bringing about a positive effect in the area. This is the third year of BankART 1929’s dialogue with the local communities, and over time, the organization seems to gradually gain respect and trust from the local communities with whom they work. The latest news was that the landlord of the abandoned café in Pio City has offered the space to BankART 1929 for future art projects.
Mayumi Hirano is an independent curator and the co-founder of Voin Pahoin, an artists' collective based in Yokohoma, Japan.