SPON have recently formed a strategic partnership with a Nagoya based charity association – Arts Bridge Cities. We opened a dialogue with the director Soichiro Kimura hoping to gain a little bit of insight into this industrial and pragmatic city in Japan and what the association does there.
Axel Wang (AW): I’m sure you’ve been asked about this many times, tell us about Arts Bridge Cities and what is your role?
Soichiro Kimura (SK): ‘ABC’ – what I would always like to call ourselves, is a creative incubator; we design a platform and create opportunities for creative talents, to turn Nagoya into a better and more cultural community, we build this cultural bridge between cities for collaboration and other amazing things to take place, say for example if we use the venue in city A, we bring over the contents from city B through the bridge, and either A or B will always be Nagoya basically. By doing that hopefully the locals would experience the difference in the ideas and mindsets and then compare with what they have in their own cities, and that I think would be a reasonable outcome for ABC and a good start for changes happening in Nagoya. We observe art exhibitions and events, for myself the project initiator, consider art and design as the methodologies to develop an area, and my role is to think, plan and manage this bridge.
SK: The relationship with the city… It may sound a bit strange, but I do not enjoy living in Nagoya and it is because over here fine selections of contemporary art and culture are rarely found and that bores me. But now I cannot move nor get out of this city so I am trying to build up a better relationship and ABC is part of that I think.
AW: What was it like back then?
SK: It was fine, a rather peaceful town, my hometown. I guess when I was young I just didn’t know there were other cities where I could enjoy living a normal and everyday life, I hadn’t even thought of Nagoya properly until I moved to London ironically speaking. There were and still are lots of Toyota related companies here and the economy was and will be stable as long as Toyota’s doing okay. Overall, very stable at all levels in a sense yet conservative and boring when it comes to culture. I realised this while I was working for a fashion boutique named R1, and I saw a good number of customers who would pay for a brand’s name but for not the quality of the products, perhaps a bit surprising for you to hear because our country is known for its heritage in craftsmanship and the rest of the world is probably under the impression that every Japanese is a connoisseur when it comes to products, it simply wasn’t the case, I think I was a bit surprised too in a way.
AW: What have changed?
SK: There are more tourists from overseas that’s for sure, Chinese, Thai, Korean and so on, a bit more globalised nowadays you could say, I see it as a good opportunity not just business-wise, but for the locals to experience something different and non-Japanese in a traditional sense. I spent roughly 5 years studying and working in London, learnt the language and met lots of people, one thing I can say for sure is that it changed the level of my expectation on where I belong. Now I compare Nagoya with London on many aspects, thinking about what I could have, how I would feel and what I would enjoy or miss. Of course, the two cities are different but it was good knowing the other world which did change my point of view and the idea of my relationship with Nagoya. Nagoya is still quite conservative even though I’ve met some really creative and cultured talents here they are still in a minority unlike London, where you would see footprints of creatives everywhere. When a certain new thing starts to emerge here in Nagoya now, it was probably something big or mainstream happened in Tokyo, London or New York 3 or even 5 years ago.
SK: From my own point of view, at the audience level, in London people are kind enough to talk about the ‘Why” and the ‘What’ – the concept and the content; by contrast audiences here in Nagoya are more interested in finding out about the ‘Who’ – the organisers and the exhibitors. I think this is not a matter of good or bad, but a cultural phenomenon; maybe Tokyo is different or even other areas in Nagoya are different – I’m not experienced enough to give a overall perspective I guess.
AW: What about life in general, you had spent 5 years in London which isn’t a short period of time and now returned to your hometown, how does it differ?
SK: Everything here is easy! Food is cheaper and in many cases more tasty and fresher; stores open late and public transports are punctual, probably what you would expect from us. London on the other hand, lots of things cost more but worse in a way say, shops are rude and lazy sometimes, and the buses I don’t even know where to start. However I still don’t find myself feeling comfortable here in Nagoya, it may probably take a while.
AW: Tell us about this project “Utopia in the Clouds” with ABC, what triggered it?
SK: Frankly I met a guy who’s a member of a team that successfully enlist Nagoya as a UNESCO Design City, which is great but people at large don’t even know about this! So right, I thought, I needed to come up with something that would raise the awareness that’s when I learnt about the three visions of Nagoya Design City committee: fostering the next generation, environmental efforts and networking with diverse cultures. In response to that, I thought of doing something ‘utopian’ with ‘young’ talents from ‘other country’ as ABC’s launch project to promote Nagoya as a UNESCO Design City. I decided to use TV Tower as the venue simply because every local here knows about it, but wouldn’t associate it with design or art. At the same time I did a little bit of research on Saint-Etienne in France and found that the city hosts design-biennales, where ‘design’ was fully utilised as an angle to attract businesses and cultural attentions, as well as to grow local industries. Subsequently ABC invited Cite Du Design – the design centre in Saint-Etienne, to set up a competition among local colleges aiming to locate that best suitable candidate to exhibit.
SK: ‘Porte de Souffle’ was its name, it means ‘breathing’ in French. We were reimagining the TV tower as something that has its own life, a living creature whose function once was to deliver broadcasting signals but now that purpose had lost, where is it going next and what is it going to do and etc. Partially inspired by Metabolism, the Japanese postwar architectural movement where buildings and cities were approached as living organically evolving things, the difference here was that we were taking care of its organs like surgeons injecting new life into this tall building. We were hoping to get a response from mainly the locals, so here we have a foreign conceptual exhibition taking place in a local landmark inspired by a very Japanese ideology, we were interested in whether our regular citizens whom may not have a devoted passion in art and design, are ready to accept something as weird as this and how they would react to it, and how they would reflect upon Nagoya in return.
SK: I am not a specialist nor an art theorist so I can’t predict the future of art but I personally am interested in the concept of AI and how that affects the world of media arts – the next step of interactive.
AW: What’s next for ABC?
SK: No idea yet, but I am thinking of creating an online platform that showcases lifestyle of people using ‘design’. It’s quite vague but once the idea is cemented we will talk!
All images are courtesy of Arts Bridge Cities
Editor: Axel Wang@SPON