2005 [9th] Japan Media Arts Festival Device Art Symposium "Will Techno Gadgets Become an Art?"
Panel Discussion "Will Techno Gadgets Become an Art?"


2005 [9th] Japan Media Arts Festival
Device Art Symposium "Will Techno Gadgets Become an Art?"

Panel Discussion: "Will Techno Gadgets Become an Art?"
02 March 2006@Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

This session was moderated by Machiko Kusahara, and joined by panelists Hiroo Iwata, Ryota Kuwakubo, Novmichi Tosa (Maywa Denki), Kazuhiko Hachiya, and Hiroyuki Moriwaki. Each panelist made a presentation of their works, and reflecting on issues that arose there, the following discussion took place.

[This English text is a summary of the Japanese transcription]

Hachiya: To make consumer oriented gadgets and electronic devices, it might be an effective strategy to produce Device Art in the form of fashion items and accessories. The combs and necklaces in Novmichi Tosa's Edelweiss series (which he created under his own name and not as a project of Maywa Denki) and some of Mr. Moriwaki's works seemed to have such qualities. What are the ideas behind these projects?


Tosa: I think Device Art could be manufactured as luxury items that employ delicate skills of Japanese craftsmanship. Recently, many foreign fashion brands have opened new flagship stores in the main street of Ginza [high-class shopping district in Tokyo]. When I made this series in the style of fashion accessories, what I had in mind was to create a line of Japanese products consisting of gadgets and technology art, that has a potential to obtain as much foreign currency as those fashion corporations, and consequently serve our national interest.

Toy gadgets, like our own existing works, are already being sold. What I want to make is something completely different: luxury items using sophisticated technology and artistry. However, high-tech products tend to be fragile, and they become obsolete quite quickly. I would like to ask Mr. Moriwaki and Mr. Kuwakubo, if it's possible to make artworks and products using today's cutting-edge technology that can last for 10, 20 years.


Moriwaki: Throughout the '90s, people were driven by ideas like "you will be happy if you keep up with the latest technology," and "faster the processing speed of a computer, the better." Today, it has gotten much easier for artists to work with advanced technology, proving that high-tech has become more tractable over the years.

Perhaps, the term "Device Art" came out of this background. We have arrived to a point where it is perfectly natural to discuss the nature of art with the subject matter being works that employ media and computers. I think the fact that we have been continuously tinkering with technology to create becomes all the more significant in such milieu.


Kuwakubo: In the early 90's, there was a late night TV program showing weekly contests of amateur films. I recall that the number of competitors were limited so the same old faces came back repeatedly, and many of their works looked somewhat familiar. The show was a flop and it soon went off the air. Considering that amateur film was mostly shot in 8 mm film in those days, I guess there was not enough content for the weekly broadcast. Nowadays, such competitions are common and there is always a steady stream of new talent. I think this is due to the advancement of technology, which made the whole process of filmmaking easier on the personal level. Likewise, I have a feeling that making art with electronic devices could soon become easier, and as a result, more people will come into this field.


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Kusahara: Taking an idea or a mechanism conceived by an artist and making a commercial product out of it is not simply about bringing an idea into shape. For instance, it is necessary to think about quality control and maintenance. Perhaps all of you at this panel have experienced such challenges. For example, the people who purchase goods by Maywa Denki are, to some extent, aware of the identity of the creator. However, when the production lot increases to a larger volume, the creator's signature could be obscured. As artists who produce commercial products, what do you think about this problem?


Hachiya: I created "PostPet" assuming most of its users would be those who have never heard of me as an artist. In fact, some part of the "PostPet" series is now being produced by other people. So, for this project, I never saw the need to put myself forward as the creator. If an artist wishes to be recognized as the creator, then the luxury market could be the place to aim. In which case, the artist would guarantee to look after his/her work for a certain period as a compensation for the higher price setting. Probably, this kind of product would look less like a gadget and more like a traditional artwork.


Tosa: One reason artists accept being anonymous for his/her product, is the royalty system that assures the creator a percentage of the sales. So, if the product takes on the open source model and becomes available to the public free of charge, the creator might wish to get some acknowledgement as a trophy.


Moriwaki: Mr. Hachiya had mentioned in his presentation about the difference between creating art and working with design. In design, the creator's name is usually not apparent. Today, I went ahead and showed a vacuum cleaner that I created. Should it be categorized as art or as design? Personally, I don't think making the distinction is so important. The opportunity to work on a mass product, and getting my ideas realized in the final product as much as possible, is far more important to me.


Iwata: Someone once complimented my work that I showed at SIGGRAPH for its design, although I actually hadn't put much effort into the aspect of design. The work was simply a technical realization of my ideas, and in some person's view, it was recognized as good design. In that sense, I think the answer to the question "Is this art or design?" can change depending on how you look at it.


Kuwakubo: The value of a designer is often assessed by his/her professionalism, whereas an artist is sometimes heralded for sticking to amateurism. I guess the difference between the two approaches can be summarized as creating something good with methodology, and creating something good by breaking methodology.


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Tosa: When Japanese culture is discussed today, two-dimensional forms of expression such as animation and comics are the focus of interest. However, Japanese people are also good at making three-dimensional objects like Device Art: delicate and beautiful craftwork made with inimitable artistry. In the future, I want to present this side -- artisan skills and creativity with maturity and depth -- more to the rest of the world. Hopefully Device Art will be the vehicle for this.


Moriwaki: As someone who teaches art at college, it may be inappropriate for me to say "I don't care about art" but this is pretty much what I feel when I am honest with myself. The issue of distinguishing a work between art and design -- including criticisms like "I won't take your work as art" -- is significant because it provokes us to reevaluate the nature of art. Basically, all of us here share a fascination towards advanced technology, and while pursuing our interests, we get involved in various activities in many different fields. I think the activity itself is more important than defining the result either as art or as design.


Iwata: When I began to propose the concept of Device Art, my strong motivation behind it was to promote the appeal of mechanical systems. Recently, electronic devices tend to get more attention than mechanical systems because machines break down easily and inevitably wear out over the years. Nevertheless, I wish to share my enthusiasm in them with others. That's why I work almost exclusively with mechanical systems and take the trouble to keep up with the maintenance work.


Kusahara: Standing at the forefront of the art world, media art has always been a field that reflects changes in modern society, with creators endeavoring to inspire the public. In the course of our discussion today, it was mentioned that some works are difficult to categorize as art or as design. Indeed, Device Art is hard to pigeonhole, and it embraces a broad array of activities spread into various fields. I think this is quite natural; throughout history, the newest art form has always made people wonder what to make of it. I hope all of you will continue to create such unconventional works.

(translation: Nozawa Tomoyo)

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