A Different Kind of Roppongi Night

Cat Paths in Roppongi, Kohei Asano

You know that feeling, when a local street cat comes up to you and lets you pet it? Doesn’t it make you feel special? Wanted? Liked? Well, Kohei Asano thinks so, and attempts to reproduce that feeling using interactive video screens hidden in various spots around Roppongi during Roppongi Art Night last weekend. And I can tell you first-hand that petting a video cat–well, it just doesn’t size up.

Virtual cats aside, I had fun during Roppongi Art Night. There’s a kind of guilt that comes along with having fun with art. It doesn’t seem to add up. It seems more like play, and admittedly, a great many of the one-night-only displays seemed to lack a whole lot of depth. But with the entire event put on chiefly by the Tokyo government, it’s not as cynical as you might imagine. And it did manage to transform the mood in Roppongi from its usual meat-market feel to something far more festival-like.

Likely the biggest draw were the giant air-filled puppets of Compagnie des Quidams, in their Reve d’Herbert performance. Towering over the crowd, the figures move in strange slow dances, and sometimes stride frighteningly through the spectators. It is a dream-like thing to see.

Reve d'Herbert, Compagnie des Quidams Photo: Owen Schaefer
Reve d'Herbert, Compagnie des Quidams

There was an abundance of blow-up art in fact—a strange enough fact on its own. Especially with the scattered ‘gymnosperm’ figures featured heavily in the program. Light, of course, is the order of the day at these events. I don’t know whether to be thankful or curse the invention of the LED, because from lit balloons to cutsie personal thunderclouds winking with mock lightning and loaned out by girls also dressed as clouds, everything seemed to have an LED attached.

Before Flower Gymnosperm, Noboru Tsubaki
Before Flower Gymnosperm, Noboru Tsubaki
Cloud girls
Cloud girls

At Roppongi Hills Sara Dolatabadi created her Blue Jewels in the garden, which pulsed with light like something from a fantasy film, and Chris O’Shea’s Hand from Above entertained people inside the building. Seeing this piece in person was underwhelming, even though it’s real power is in the way that people insist on reacting to what they see happening to them on the screen. People who would never make a public scene find themselves jumping, squirming or shuffling away from the virtual hand that appears to be touching them. But the effect (and sounds) get old quickly.

Blue Jewels, Sara Dolatabadi, Photo: Owen Schaefer
Blue Jewels, Sara Dolatabadi

Crowded, but beautiful, Takefumi Ichikawa’s simple Aurora is a spiralling coloured curtain that viewers can enter and see from the inside. And watching the people wander between layers of transparent material was almost as entertaining as being inside.

Aurora, Takefumi Ichikawa, Photo: Owen Schaefer
Aurora, Takefumi Ichikawa
Aurora, Takefumi Ichikawa
Aurora, Takefumi Ichikawa

Kohei Asano’s Garden work would be far better seen with fewer drunk spectators…well, fewer spectators in general. It involves a complex projection and bits of paper that the audience is invited to toss into the “garden” area, which begins to react and grow, going from dirt to blooms. But what it really amounted to was something akin to a grown-up ball crawl, with groups of people throwing the paper at one another and laughing. Fun, certainly. But in another setting, it might have had more impact.

And placing it right next to the outdoor one-night whisky bar probably didn’t help.

Garden, Kohei Asano
Garden, Kohei Asano
Garden, Kohei Asano
Garden, Kohei Asano

Honestly, there was so much to see, that you could easily have stayed out to the event’s close at five in the morning—which I did not. But with the major galleries open all night and charging little or nothing for entrance it really was a great opportunity for those hoping to get to the shows that they’ve missed in the area. And the crowds honestly seemed to be in town for this event, rather than the usual Roppongi mix stumbling into things accidentally. And that was a change of pace.

It’s working out to be a nice, if crowded, little event. If you missed it…there’s always next year.

–Owen Schaefer

Photos: Owen Schaefer

6 Comments
  1. I must say, I was a little disappointed with this year’s Art Night. Last year, there were more small exhibitions by individual avant-garde artists on the streets and in Roppongi Hills. This year, it seemed as though the organisers were trying a bit too hard to go over the top with the content and it ended up leaving me cold.  The Christo and Jeanne Claude at 21_21 Design Sight was good, though.

  2. To be honest, I didn’t make it to last year’s, although I’ve gotten a similar impression just from browsing various sites and photos. I think the organizers are aiming at a kind of “world-class” event, but they’re just as likely to end up sterilizing it if they’re not careful. I was hoping for something with a little more meat to it as well, and you have to wonder if there’s a feeling among organizers that they need to trick people into the galleries with pretty lights. But considering it’s only year two, it’s hard to gauge if this is an overall direction, or just a faltering step.

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