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Thursday, Dec. 22, 2005

Completely useless objects

Artist Fukuyama's passion

Special to The Japan Times

It's 6 p.m., it's the end of the work day at a busy Kanda office block. OLs have been furiously tapping away at their keyboards, and connections have been made in the meeting rooms. Power players in their suits have been clinching make-or-break, win-win deals. Suddenly, the doors of the elevator open and out steps a half-naked man in a beetle outfit. He walks around nonchalantly, greeting everyone with a smile as a Cuban cigar dangles out the side of his mouth. Some people, genuinely amused, are laughing; others are aghast. What is this lunatic up to? For Masahiro Fukuyama, of course, it's art.

News photo
Masahiro Fukuyama's "Elegant Slave" (2005) SHINJI OTANI PHOTO

Fukuyama, 29, is a self-described trash/glam artist of "meaningless kitsch." Born in Kumamoto, western Kyushu, to a family of doctors, and schooled at the Tokyo National University of Art and Music and Benetton's coveted Fabrica design department, he makes a living as a designer but seemingly spends most of his time on his true passion: creating useless objects.

"I adore the futile and love to avoid making normal things -- the world would be a boring and inorganic place if only worthwhile things existed. My main interest is in making muda no mono [pointless things] and bakagaku [stupid furniture]."

Accordingly, his works include a coffin for the living, "Peanuts" (2000); a "cheap trip system" kaleidoscope (1998); "Animal Therapist" (2000), a gorilla chair that you hug; and various wearable insect armors -- the "hottest" of which, "Be a Man" (2002) was exhibited at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum. A nice trick seeing that much of his work lampoons an art world that he describes as "a bunch of chin-stroking toss."

Often his pieces are gratuitously adorned and can take up to a year to make at the "cost of a small car." His anime-esque wolf armor, "Elegant Slave" (2005), has the satirical trappings of materialistic excess, such as fangs made of silver, a ruby tongue with a diamond stud and a golden erection.

"When people ask me what the point of my work is, there is no point. I am hoping to at least incite a reaction, though, basically to make you laugh, although a lot of the time people end up looking at me like I am capable of homicide, or alternatively pretend I don't exist. I have to admit some of the funniest reactions are those who absolutely don't get it."

Fukuyama believes his art is "medicine for the heart," and despite his works being elaborate affairs, they display a vulnerable charm and a desire to be acknowledged. Much of the art is actually the process of simultaneously making fun of and trying to get recognition in a stoic art world, rather than being simply the works themselves.

News photo
Fukuyama wearing his piece "Be A Man" (2002); bottom: "Tokyo Stool" (2001), with retractable spikes PHOTOS COURTESY OF MASAHIRO FUKUYAMA
News photo

"Japan is an excessively difficult environment for artists, and it's common knowledge that many have to make it overseas before they are given credibility. So I went to Holland and Germany and displayed my works to a basically bourgeois audience at various galleries. I'm not too sure whether they were laughing with me or at me, but they were having fun.

"My family have gradually accepted what I do, but after displaying 'Be a Man' at my family's surgery, I had to find the piece a new home after it freaked out too many of father's patients. First they will look, curious, but then when they see the photo of me actually wearing it, they will cringe silently, and my dad will have to cover for me: 'Yes, well, my son is an artist. What can you do, ha ha . . . ' "

Then there is the problem of space. Upon returning home, where there are few affordable studios, he is having difficulties finding a place to house his children. "There is no space in Tokyo for my creations -- I'm having to resort to looking for buyers. The last piece I sold, for 500,000 yen, was one of my armors, 'Okina Yoroi [Old Man's Armor].' Actually my sponsor bought that one straight out."

So what can we expect next from the doctor of laughter?

"I'm thinking of making a turd from moonstone and selling it to yuppies, as they will pretty much buy anything as long as you market it cleverly enough. Look at Louis Vuitton in Japan. I was explaining this at a press conference in Amsterdam, but instead of laughing like any normal human, you could see everyone trying to analyze this: 'But what does he mean?' There was a general air of disapproval.

"I'm also thinking of making an insect armor for women -- out of glass. Then, while wearing this, I want to be photographed in the windows of Amsterdam's red-light district while smoking grass and politely refusing potential clients' proposals."

To see more of Fukuyama's work, visit his Web site at www.fukujiru.com or his agency's at www.enterthemothership.com
Fukuyama will have a performance installation at the Cocoon Club in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2006. For more information, visit www.cocoonclub.net

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