Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: February 2001

Out of the Dark: Toshio Iwai humanizes technology, and reminds us to lighten up.

by Andrew Pothecary

The Well of Lights
Click the image to see a larger picture.
Toshio Iwai has run the gamut from film student and flip-book fan to creator of self-programmed computer art and interactive image/music/technology works. It's funny how someone who modestly describes himself as "not an expert" in music, programming, or robotics has been honored with a permanent exhibit at the NTT InterCommunication Center, created a performance with international musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, and attracted the attention of a professional robotics designer with his recent "Happy Technology Lab" exhibit.

The latter, a collaboration with illustrator Kayo Baba, was more playful than his previous works. Whereas earlier pieces like The Well of Lights (above) were hypnotic and beautiful with a technological glow in darkened galleries, "Happy Technology Lab" was set up like a science show for kids, with illustrations and kitsch explanations covering the walls.

handheld gameIt was also highly interactive. You could use your cellphone to call an animated character, whose own keitai would ring a bird-call chakumero attracting cartoon birds. Or take a lens-covered sensor around the gallery to hear musical tones generated by different light sources. (Imagine walking around night-time Shibuya plugged into this instead of your MiniDisc player.) Or take a handheld game console and play a kind of music piece or make a character dance, the former being a solo version of his earlier Resonance of 4, an interactive gallery-size work for four people. (Interestingly, Iwai used the Bandai platform instead of Nintendo's GameBoy -- because the former made available its development kit.)

box robot box robot

Iwai had also wondered what happens when you become bored with your Aibo and it ends up sitting unused in a corner. Hence the development of his box robot (above), which sleeps when left untouched, opens its eyes when picked up, and spins its eyes drunkenly and burbles when tilted. And when you get bored? It's a useful box!

The idea is to humanize technology -- and remind us to not take things too seriously.


Note: Another Iwai show is planned for sometime this year in Harajuku's La Foret Museum.

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