Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: July 2001

Standa and Be Counted

by Andrew Pothecary (Interview by Eiko Nishida)

WE LIVE IN A remix culture. So says artist Kenji Yanobe, pointing out that there is little chance to create something dreams, for example, are here: The future is now the present.

artSeveral years ago Yanobe's "survival" art (atom suits and vehicles for personal protection) was displayed around the world. After a short respite from the public eye, this year saw three concurrent exhibitions in Tokyo. In one (ex-, at the Shiseido Gallery, where he exhibited together with another artist, Kcho), he showed his Standa baby (left). The baby slumps face-down on the floor until a certain amount of (everyday) radiation is counted and triggers a slow, robotic standing motion, bringing the baby to face a sun on the opposite wall. It's unnerving, and it has a somehow ominous association with, say, Honda's new walking robot. (Incidentally, to give you an idea of scale, a person would come up to about the arrow.)

While bringing to mind elements of, say, Atom Boy or Godzilla, Yanobe's work is deeper, more personal, and ironic in comparison. He says it's fun to live in this century, but he expresses anxiety about the future. (What kind of desires for the future can our children have?) In 1970, at age 5, Yanobe saw the Osaka Expo (celebrating the "new" while raising questions about technology) as well as its aftermath -- the Expo's deconstruction at its finish, with the buildings turned to rubble. The image of the ruins of the future lingers with him still.

Now, although his work refracts technology, so to speak, he himself lives in the mountains, 30 minutes from a train station, keitai-less and with only two TV channels. His work is very "analog" (most of it's handmade), but he is, as he says, making something new out of analog while suggesting the digital, as in the Standa piece.

Maybe it's not coincidence that there's a new interest in his work. Perhaps the high-tech honeymoon is over and we're beginning to feel swamped again by technology. Just a thought. But connections may happen by chance or by design -- as Yanobe found out on the opening night of ex-, when his 8-month-old son gripped on to something and stood up by himself for the first time.

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