michael naimark




"The Interaction '95" artshow

Gifu Prefecture, Japan

Michael Naimark


Gifu Prefecture, located between Nagoya and Kyoto, is a half-rural half-industrial area known mostly for manufacturing automobile parts and for "cormorant fishing," the ancient Japanese method of catching ayu, a small japanese trout, using trained cormorant birds fitted with rings around their necks. But right now under construction is a skyscaper in the midst of Gifu's rice fields called "Softopia," and with it, a commitment from the Prefectural government to build a major international presence in the media arts.

The story is not uncommon: an enlightened government leader, a decreasing future in the current industrial base, a desire to be part of the rush in communications and media technologies. The result is "Softopia" (Japanese-English, we can assume, for "software utopia"), a major push by the government to get involved in the multimedia industry.

But in putting the initial plan together, government officials turned to one of the most experienced and respected people in art and technology in Japan, Itsuo Sakane. Sakane has been well-known internationally for over twenty years, writing about art and technology for the Asahi Shimbun. Several years ago he "retired" into creating his own department of "science-art" at Keio University, now one of the largest such departments in the world.

Sakane said yes he would help them, but only if they created an art program to compliment and inspire their Softopia venture.

They agreed. What emerged is the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences (IAMAS), which Sakane will direct. IAMAS will include both an undergraduate and graduate school curriculum as well as an international artists-in-residence program.

To inagaurate IAMAS (which opens next spring), an artshow entitled "The Interaction '95" opened there last week, curated by Sakane to introduce the community to interactive art and artists. The show consists of works by Jean-Louis Boissier, Jim Campbell, Luc Courchesne, Paul DeMarinis, Agnes Hegedus, Toshio Iwai, David Rockeby, Jeffrey Shaw, Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignoneau, Ed Tannenbaum, and me.

All the works were interactive installations or performances. None were new works, and the artists aren't particularly young. Setting up was as smooth and professional as it gets. Our Japanese hosts were equally pro.

By my count, of the twelve artists, six have had some affiliation with the Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe, four with the Exploratorium artist's program, and three with MIT's ragtag arts scene. This might suggest the direction that IAMAS is heading. It will be well worth watching.