by Owen Schaefer

If you’ve ever been to a Japanese festival, you’ve likely heard it: the “clap-clap-clap clap-clap-clap clap-clap-clap…clap” rhythm used to celebrate, open or close events. It is called the ippon tejime, and the number in the name 3331 Arts Chiyoda is a reference to that. It’s difficult to know what to make of such a throwback name, but since the ippon tejime is generally used for community events, the title hints at a more community-oriented arts center. And that is definitely the feeling one gets on entering.

The building may be within walking distance of Akihabara, but it’s worlds away in atmosphere. With a small park out front and a warm do-it-yourself atmosphere inside, it disengages a certain amount of the typical gallery snootiness. The entire complex is located in what was once a junior high school, and a few charming remnants of the school still line the halls—slipper boxes are being used in one place to display flyers. The first floor rambles, with rooms tucked away here and there: a hip café, a shop, a space for public events, and a secret auction gallery where you can bid on the works on display.

The site has been open since March, but the current show entitled Tokyo: Part I represents its grand opening. The gallery space itself is nearly as large and rambling as the rest of the first floor put together and is not entirely sealed off. The result is that, although you have to pay to enter the gallery, there are peeks into it from other places in the building—a kind of refreshing transparency that allows the main exhibits to still feel a part of the building at large.

The current show has not been so much curated as thrown together from the diverse community working within the art complex itself. A number of galleries, groups and individual artists have permanent offices and ateliers in the 3331 building, so while the works in Tokyo: Part I may not be a direct response to the city and its issues, at least they represent one section of Tokyo’s local scene.

Hideki Inaba is one of those local artists. Coming into the design world as an outsider, Inaba has won enough awards and accolades to place him on the cutting edge. His installation at 3331, Printer, is a long line of printers, some of them with microphones placed to catch the sounds of printing. Nothing moved during the time I was there, but when fired up, one can imagine it being a kind of designer’s music—the sound of words going to paper are not the same as those they make when spoken. Along the wall behind the printers is the almost seismographic text image of Burst Hevetica—text becoming art.

In another room, Gabin Ito creates an ‘amalgamated’ sports space where the room becomes a shattered mix of various sports, and viewers are encouraged to make up their own game and play. An automated time-keeper announces and ends random play periods, although it remains more interesting to contemplate than to actually play.

There is also no shortage of drawing work, from Naoki Sat and Kaijiro Ohara’s Improvised Text leading into the gallery, to Hajime Mizutani’s stunning Goddess That Left Heaven—a pencil work that seems to take on texture, more painted than drawn.

Overall, the show could stand a little more focus, but such is the nature of a group show like this. Still, it’s early days for 3331, so it will certainly be interesting to watch where it goes and if it keeps its strong focus on Japanese work along the way. It has the potential to be something truly unique. Incidentally, if you should happen to miss Tokyo: Part 1, Part 2 arrives in early August.

Show: Tokyo: Part 1 (to July 25)
Gallery: 3331 Arts Chiyoda (Suehirocho station)
Hours: 12–7pm (to 8pm on Friday and Saturday)
Admission: ¥800
Tel: 03-6803-2441