Device Art Symposium "The Relation Between Art and Objects"
Panel Discussion "The Relation Between Art and Objects"


Device Art Symposium "The Relation Between Art and Objects"

Panel Discussion: "The Relation Between Art and Objects"
07 May 2006@The National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, 7F MiraiCAN Hall

This session was moderated by Machiko Kusahara, and joined by panelists Kazuhiko Hachiya, Ryota Kuwakubo, and Sachiko Kodama. 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]

Kusahara: First I would like to mention about the subtitle of today's symposium "The Relation Between Art and Objects". The word "object" can either be referring to a product or a material; also, there is a relation between the two meanings. I hope we can develop our discussion from there.


Hachiya: The work called "Fairy Finder: Table of Colobockle" which I am showing at this exhibition, doesn't use any sensor units so it's not a typical interactive piece. But the audience interacts with the work through the action of finding the fairies. So, the friction coefficient between the table and the beverage coasters became one of the most important factors in making this work. I wanted to make coaster parts using some sort of transparent material, with polarizing film adhered to them. In making this, I wavered between glass or acrylic sheets. Although glass is more susceptible to fracture, it causes less friction than acrylic sheets, and if you stick a layer of film to it, the pieces will not scatter when it breaks. So, I decided to use glass and made about 20 coasters.

As a matter of fact, I am under the impression that many creators in this exhibition fail to present their work with enough audience appeal, although their ideas are good. I wonder if this is because they are engineers. In comparison, Ms. Kodama's work stood out by attracting many viewers -- spending six years in its development had certainly paid off.


Kuwakubo: The truly impressive thing about Ms. Kodama's work is that the presentation gets better every time she shows it. Speaking of "Morpho Tower", I was blown away when I first saw the spiraling form. I have repeatedly seen her works over the years, but somehow she took it to the next level this time. It's almost as if the work had become a part of her body.


Kodama: Yes, that happens sometimes when I am working with ferrofluid. This material reminds me of the textures of Japanese lacquer and black ink. If you look at recent mobile phones for example, you notice that there are various products with great texture, using all sorts of materials. Each material has its own appeal, and that aspect will gradually become clear as you continue to work with it.

In the previous symposium, I remember Mr. Tosa had referred to the origami crane, saying that the folding procedure itself can be called art. In fact, the spiraling ridges in my work could be regarded as something similar. By this, I mean that there might be a method that makes it possible for anybody to make ferrofluid pump up.


Hachiya: I think Mr. Tosa used the anecdote about the paper crane to explain that works can be rebuilt as long as the proper procedure is handed down -- maybe this is related to the idea behind Creative Commons. Ms. Kodama, have you ever considered releasing your method to control ferrofluid into the public domain?


Kodama: I haven't thought about doing that yet. Actually, I presented my ferrofluid work for the first time abroad in 2001 at SIGGRAPH, and received a lot of attention. After that, many other works using ferrofluid started to come out from all over the world.


Kuwakubo: Did you get annoyed?


Kodama: No. I became curious to see those other works.


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Kusahara: In the last part of his presentation, Mr. Hachiya said that "Techno-gadgets can not be considered as art, but the essence of art could be embedded in a commercial product." May I ask, what exactly is "the essence of art"?


Hachiya: Before becoming an artist, I was working for a consulting firm where I had been involved in product development. Basically, when companies make something, they do it for profit. On the other hand, I think (... or I hope) the artist's motivation to create something comes from emotional and private reasons instead of economical ones. But I think it is also possible to make commercial products this way.

For example, I began the production of "PostPet" originally because I wanted to make a girl I knew use e-mail more frequently. It was a product that came out of good will ...or rather, a very private incentive. As it turns out, this product ended up gaining more popularity than other products designed by mass marketing, and consequently, the company that developed it into a consumer product had profited. There are things that can't be made just by rational thinking and pursuit of profit, and I think it is important to make efforts to create such things.


Kuwakubo: Mr. Hachiya, there is always a particular element in your work that grabs the attention of the audience. The pair of wings in "Inter Dis-Communication Machine" is one example. Perhaps this is related to what you said earlier, about giving a work enough audience appeal.


Hachiya: Well, those wings are made to cover the antennas that stick out, but I also thought the sight of someone walking around with wings in an exhibition room might get people's attention. The point of this work is to make a person experience the vision and the hearing of his counterpart instead of those of his own. But obviously, some people will hesitate if you just tell them to put on those headsets. So my intention was to lure the audience with some other aspect to make them do what I want. I often come up with ideas that have a threatening side to them, and present them in a way that seems harmless.


Kuwakubo: In making works that employ technology, there are two basic phases. One is the phase of laying out the specifications, in which the concept is established. Another is the phase of implementation, in which the idea is actualized. However, as I was making my own work, I realized that there is another phase: namely, the phase of operation, or adjustment. The importance of designing the element that attracts the audience (what Mr. Hachiya had mentioned) does not come to the foreground while you are working on an installation project inside your studio. You become aware of it for the first time when the work is presented to the audience. Paying attention to texture and refining the details of a work are part of this phase too.


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Hachiya: By the way "I/Otoolkit" that you are exhibiting at this show has a rather subdued appearance. Why so?


Kuwakubo: Yes, it sure does look lean and modest. But it is still in the initial stage of development, and I am dreaming up ideas so that more people will use it. Perhaps it could be produced in the form of electronic blocks, or it could be used in workshops. Maybe the plan could be released on the Internet -- some kid in elementary school might find the instructions and make it. Also, I am thinking of ways to get around economic issues when I choose to distribute it as an open source project or under the Creative Commons license.

When I was developing this work, what I had in mind was the open source software "processing". Because of this software, the process of computer programming became very clear and it made it easier for first timers attending workshops to program images. I wanted to make something similar to this with hardware.


Kusahara: Your work "I/Otoolkit" is closer to a tool/device -- something to be used by people -- rather than an accomplished artwork. Still, if you were only making this for yourself, perhaps you would have taken it easy. But once you plan to release it as a commercial product, an extra effort must be put in to make it usable by anyone -- as was the case in the production of "Thanks Tail" and "PostPet" by Mr. Hachiya.


Kuwakubo: That's true, but as for "I/Otoolkit", I want to release it without polishing it to perfection. I don't intend to make it a closed-circuit thing, and besides, it will be useless if it becomes too expensive and unaffordable for most people.


Kusahara: Perhaps the most successful example of commercial product is Mr. Hachiya's "PostPet". When an artist is involved in making a device or a commercial product, the process might be different from the usual procedure of corporate product development; there might be things that only an artist can come up with.


Hachiya: Artists are relatively good at prototyping, but when it comes to making something bigger, cheaper, and on a larger scale, manufacturers are better. Plus, they are more experienced in advertising. The decision whether to collaborate with a company or not depends on the situation. Perhaps it might be a good way to start with a small production. Because I chose to work with a company when I made "Thanks Tail" and "PostPet", I obtained patents for my ideas to prevent other parties from copying them. But there could be situations where you would be making greater contributions to society if you choose to distribute your work under the Creative Commons license or release the know-how through the Internet, rather than protecting it with a patent.


Kuwakubo: When I come up with a new idea, I Google it, and alas, find tons of similar ideas in the search result. It was impossible to gather this kind of information before, but nowadays, you can't just claim you didn't know. I am getting a bit wary of hearing episodes of stolen ideas all the time. This is why I became interested in the open source model; I think we have come to a point where we must get used to sharing ideas with others, and stop hanging on to them as property.

(translation: Nozawa Tomoyo)

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