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Thursday, March 13, 2010


Art group Enlightenment

The art group Enlightenment's four members practically live together in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, where they work on projects ranging from graphic design to paintings and installations. At night, they often VJ in clubs and made music videos for stars such as Towa Tei. It's a good life for Hiro Sugiyama, 48, a professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design, and his former students, Shigeru Suzuki, 30, Kaname Yamaguchi, 30, and Fumitaka Tanaka, 26. It was Sugiyama who created Enlightenment in 1997, for no reason other than to have some fun. So far, it's working. Their AD 2010 exhibit is currently showing at the Hiromi Yoshii Gallery in Koto Ward, Tokyo. Hiro acts as the voice:

Art group Enlightenment
Art group Enlightenment JUDIT KAWAGUCHI PHOTO

It's easy to make great art when you're eating well. I cook the meals that keep the group in top condition. We need it: Like athletes, we're always on the run, performing.

Artists create for their own pleasure. Japanese shokunin (craftspeople, artisans) are so into their art that they work for pleasure more than anything else. Actually, they really don't care about making money. We don't either, although it would be nice to have more.

Critics are not respected in Japan. People ask them: "Can you do it better? Nope? That's what I thought!"

You can't rush creativity but you can fuel it with good sweets. We have meetings every afternoon. We buy some delicious Japanese sweets, usually taiyaki (sweet-bean-filled waffle-like confections), drink coffee, and talk for hours. We discuss projects and work on them later that evening.

Japanese confuse logic and emotion. Correct or not, we're hurt if someone doesn't like our art or even us. We think with our hearts, not with our heads.

When you live in a small world, you don't think of big things. We're wet, emotional, organic people. I think there's no need to be ashamed of this; we can be proud of being full of emotion.

An older person must take care of the younger ones. We adhere to the old deshi (apprentice, disciple) system popular with Japanese artists and craftspeople. The deshi lives with his or her sensei (master artisan). In our case, we sleep in our own apartments but we share our work time in one space and I take care of everyone.

Art is often judged not on its merit but on how well the artist can talk about it. Most Japanese are not good at theory and, in general, we're not eloquent communicators. We're especially bad at talking about our own work, so I guess that's the giant wall separating us from the international art world.

There's no reason to separate genres: It's all art. In the Japanese movie industry, for example, someone might start the project as a costume designer but as they go along, he or she might also do the stage design and create the music. Nothing is set in stone; everything evolves as time goes by. If you can do it, you do it.

Artists can't survive on selling art in galleries — at least not in Japan. Average people don't buy art here. They buy a brand bag for $3,000 or $4,000, but they won't spend the same — or even less — on a painting. Buying a brand feels safe, while buying art is risky.

Commercial work requires total artistic freedom. When working with a firm in Japan you might get a theme, but the rest is up to you. For example, we made movies for a mobile-phone company. They didn't give us any directions, except saying, "How about some shorts films for mobile phones?" What's not to love about that?

Art is a kind of masturbation, and ours is certainly psychedelic. To be an artist is to be interested in oneself. Design is for others' happiness, but art is more for our own joy.

Any place can be inspirational but galleries are the least so. We get ideas at station kiosks, on the streets and especially in bookshops.

Happy people can make good art. We express that positivism. The themes of artistic works don't have to be problems.

We all have a chance to get enlightened. When? Not sure, but hopefully soon.

If you're afraid of criticism, you can't grow up. In Japan, magazines contain only information about where, when, what and who, but there is no such thing as art criticism. That's why Japanese artists are simply cute kids.

In Japan, all craftspeople are artists and are respected as such. We appreciate people who make life more beautiful, whether they make a lovely teacup or paint a wonderful scroll. What is the difference between artists and craftspeople? This question itself, for a Japanese, is impossible to grasp. We can see nature and think it is art.

I guess we are happy where we are, even if nobody knows where that is. In 2005, we had a show in Italy. One of the local curators told us that according to him, artists are not designers and visa versa. He had a bit of a problem pinning us down, so to speak. Trust me, it is a fun place. Come on over!

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK's "Out & About." Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/

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