The NTT-InterCommunication Center [NTT-ICC] is a museum located in the Tokyo Opera City Tower in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Established in 1997, the institution was established to commemorate the 100th anniversary of telephone service in Japan. The focus of the museum is on the permanent and temporary exhibition of international and Japanese artists that work with technological mediums.
The content of this page contains some writing about artworks viewed in the exhibition “OPEN_SPACE_2016: Media Conscious” on view from May 28, 2016 - March 12, 2017. I really admire the NTT-ICC. Museums devoted to art with technological properties are still rare in many regards. In the exhibition I felt a connection to photography and installation art. While some of the artworks may incorporate and touch upon digital culture, the ones focused on here are more invested in nature, and elements of non-technological elements of life - these being our experience of time, our perception of space, our relationship to earth, and sound. The motif of doors, mirrors, and windows were also central themes to many of the artworks. In general the exhibition feels like a way to escape the daily noise or contemporary life in Tokyo. The artworks remind us of other things in the world.
I know of Iwai Toshio's artwork through the Tenori-On, an electronic instrument created by Iwai and Yu Nishibori in the early 2000s. I also knew of Iwai’s interactive music video game Electroplankton . From this curiosity and research at New York University in video games and art, I also learned of Otocky , Iwai’s first game produced for the FAMICOM system. Iwai’s creativity and range of artworks has greatly influenced my interest in interactive art and how technological mediums fit into the dialogue and history of contemporary art and museology.
At NTT-ICC two interactive sculptural artworks of Iwai’s are on permanent display, “Marshmallow Monitor” and “Marshmallow Scope”, both created in 2002. The objects are oddly shaped and inviting. They are clean, white, and edgeless. In some ways they feel like alien or futuristic devices. A screen appears on the front of the sculptures [as a face] whilst a camera is located elsewhere on the body of the object.
In “Marshmallow Scope”, when viewing the screen, the surrounding landscape is distorted. Visitors walking past the camera’s eye are presented as moving forward or backwards in time. This deformation, in imagery and the flow of time, is produced through the camera not only seeing but recording information.
A similar effect is present in “Marshmallow Monitor”, the moving images picked up by the camera’s eye are torn apart and presented as horizontal strips. In this case, the camera’s eye [the marshmallow creature] is editing individual pieces of time as opposed to playing things forward or backwards.
Essentially, the way these sculptures see time is different from our own. The experience or manipulation of time is a recurrent element in media art. As NTT-ICC notes, the works are representative of interactive art, and synonymous with media art from the early 2000s. IWAI’s work allows our eyes to see something in real time that is otherwise only possible in our imagination. The museum also makes reference to IWAI’s early interest in experimental animation and inspiration from pre-cinematic visual devices, including the phenakistoscope and zoetrope.
Although it may seem like it, media art is not an island on its own. All forms of art that implement technological tools have a relation to something in the past. In this case, Iwai’s works have a strong correlation to early experiments with film and photography. Interactivity then becomes another element that IWAI experiments with, whether in the form of a music-based video game or interactive sculpture.
Tsuda Michiko’s installation, “You would come back there to see me again the following day.” incorporates cameras, and twelve picture frames suspended from the museum ceiling. Some of the frames contain mirrors, screens, or are completely empty. The mirrors and video footage then distort, playback, and reflect different perspectives or angles of perspective, creating a trick or deception of what a viewer expects to see.
In the installation Tsuda plays with perception, but also with the idea of windows and mirrors as a symbolic motif. When we view an image we have certain expectations of what we see. Although a mirror is a reflection of ourselves, it is also another dimension that can only exist when being viewed. Thus, TSUDA’s illusion shows us that not everything we expect is always what we will see. Although NTT-ICC’s exhibition text describes this as, “cutting out specific parts of reality”, I view the installation as the opposite. In using video footage alongside empty frames and mirrors, Tsuda is actually creating, adding and manipulating reality.
Comparative to the symbol of a mirror, the window as a motif [also utilized for this website] is a place which we can look into but not enter. Through the empty frames we can observe the rest of the museum, a guard walking by or a child interacting with Iwai's interactive sculptures. When we peer through the empty frames we can watch the rest of the installation. We see mirrors and screens reflecting other frames, presenting angles, corners, edges, and illusions.
“Chijikinkutsu” by Akamatsu Nelo is an installation of several glass containers filled with water and connected to induction coils. A floating magnetic needle responds to the coil and the Earth’s magnetic pull, continuously looking for and pointing north. Occasionally they clang and clash against the jar, making a beautiful chime.
Recently on Facebook I saw someone complaining (justifiably) about Burning Man, an event in the Black Rock Desert of the United States. The event, a temporal gathering of people has recently become a circus of carbon pollution filled with wealthy tech-business business people, creative individuals, and drugs. Apparently the event [which lasts only a week, each year] is perceived as healthy to the environment, but actually generates more carbon emissions than some small countries. The person who commented on this wondered something along the lines of, “Why could there not be something more positive to nature, why can’t the rich billionaires who fund this event do something beneficial for the earth?” The person questioning the event reminded me of Akamatsu’s piece - which in turn makes me think of land art by Nancy Holt or Walter de Maria. The earth never stopped existing, but we have gotten so wrapped up in our devices that we forget it is there, constantly in our magnetic fields and other places we cannot see or touch.
Akamatsu’s piece reminds me of a few different things. 1.] Technology is not just digital, it is any tool, a fork or a knife is a form of technology. In the installation, the needle and induction coils seem so minimalistic, but do something so profound as tell us which direction we are facing on the earth. 2.] I experienced my first earthquake while organizing this project in Tokyo. The earth is a scary and powerful force that demands respect. It can obliterate us at any second if it really really wants to.
The piece also considers earth and technology on a smaller scale.
The artwork, titled "Chijikinkutsu", is a term coined by the artist that combines the words chijiki (geomagnetism) and suikinkutsu (“water harp cave”). Geomagnetism affects everything on the earth, including the behavior of migratory animals.
NTT-ICC highlights the importance of sound to the piece, referencing traditional Japanese tea houses. “The suikinkutsu is an ornamental acoustic mechanism that has been traditionally used in Japanese gardens, especially at tea houses. A pot with a hole is buried upside down near the tsukubai (purification basin in front of a tea house), and when water drips into the pot through the hole, it makes a pleasant sound. One of the tsukubai’s functions is to separate the tea house from the ordinary daily life space around it, whereas the sounds of the suikinkutsu trigger a switch in the visitor’s consciousness from the world outside to that of the tea house.” When listening to the sounds of needles clanging against the water jars, we are reminded of the earth in a simple and meditative way.
A unique component to NTT-ICC is a room that is entirely devoted to sound installation. With a timed-entrance system and sound proof walls, visitors generally enter the space alone to experience a kind of chamber-like experience where sound is the primary instrument of the artist. Fujimoto’s installation “Still Life” features a collection of small metronomes beating back and forth to show the passage of time. There are no other intentional sounds in the room. Rather, Fujimoto fills the room with books, vinyl records, and comfortable furniture (more than my own house), to decorate the room. Of course, these elements make sounds of their own, so it is up to the visitor to listen closely to them, or to try to use the space as a meditative experience.
“This work was inspired by the artist’s longstanding interest in the way our perception of the world around us changes once the sounds we hear change. In an anechoic room, an environment in which the reverberation of sound is suppressed, FUJIMOTO set up a daily life kind of space for visitors to spent time just like we normally do in real life. Making visitors realize that sounds are perceived differently than usual, or notice sounds that gradually grab their attention, the experience of this work inspires reflection on the presence and absence of sounds, including what it means to hear and not to hear things.”
Inside the room, there is a book of Fujimoto’s writing entitled “Inside/Outside” published by Kodama Gallery. In one of the texts, the motif of a door is focused on. The Beatles' film “A Hard Day’s Night” is discussed. In the film the band has been travelling for months through doors that lead to venues, doors that lead to dressing rooms, doors that lead to corridors, and doors that lead to stages. No doors lead to an escape from the tour or repetitive gigs. Eventually the band escapes from the tour, discovering a door that leads to an empty courtyard, they rejoice and feel a great relief.
The doorway leading into Fujimoto’s installation contrasts this. You enter a dark corridor, into a private or intimate space, away from all activity taking place in the rest of the world. In the text, and in this work, a door is described as a portal that can lead to something more profound than just passing through points of A and B. In the installation you are given eight minutes to yourself to experience sound by your own volition rather than sound invading your own ears. Thus, doors, unlike mirrors or windows, can lead to impactful spaces that offer freedom and escape, depending on what is on the other side.