From Corporeal to Cerebral to Spiritual

The sporting spectacle of the Tokyo 2020 Games was given a scintillating cultural counterpoint in Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL.

While the world celebrated the athletic excellence on display in stadiums and other arenas during the Olympic and Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, elsewhere in Japan's capital on streets, in parks, and even on buildings, a celebration of arts and culture was also taking place. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government and Arts Council Tokyo (Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture) planned and executed Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL (TTF) as a major showcase of art, architecture, music and technology, and more to promote Tokyo's appeal as a city of arts and culture in its Olympic and Paralympic year. The postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Games allowed TTF a second lease on life, and its reassembled lineup of attractions captivated the public over the summer of 2021.

Pavilion Tokyo 2021 was a world-first experiment to propose unrestrained and new urban landscapes by installing architecture or objects at locations mainly around the National Stadium.

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Suimei / Kazuyo Sejima photo: Kazuyo Sejima & Associates
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The Obliteration Room / Yayoi Kusama © YAYOI KUSAMA
Yayoi Kusama / The obliteration room 2002-present Collaboration between Yayoi Kusama and Queensland Art Gallery.Commissioned Queensland Art Gallery. Gift of the artist through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2012 Collection:Queensland Art Gallery, Australia Cooperation: OTA FINE ARTS  photo: Shuji Goto
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Global Bowl / Akihisa Hirata photo: ToLoLo studio
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Kokage-gumo / Junya Ishigami photo: Shuji Goto
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Tokyo Castle / Makoto Aida © AIDA Makoto photo: ToLoLo studio
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Tea House "Go-an" / Terunobu Fujimori photo: Hideki Ohtaka
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"2020-2021" / Daito Manabe + Rhizomatiks photo: Keizo Kioku
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STREET GARDEN THEATER / Teppei Fujiwara photo: ToLoLo studio
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Cloud pavilion / Sou Fujimoto photo: Keizo Kioku

Under the umbrella of TTF, TTF Special 13 was created in order to bring together original and innovative projects that enabled participation by as many people as possible. These 13 projects were selected from among 2,436 applications, both domestic and from overseas.

One of the projects, Pavilion Tokyo 2021 brought together six internationally renowned architects and two artists, giving them free rein to create installations mainly around the National Stadium. The area became a veritable treasure hunt for visitors who, map in hand, sought out the Pavilions in order to admire their artistry and ambition.

In the run-up to the lighting of the Olympic flame at the National Stadium, a quaint and inviting structure was erected outside. Sloping walls covered with green grass sod were topped with a scorched wooden structure; an elevated salon with a view of the streets around the stadium. Tea House "Go-an" (meaning the fifth hut) was designed by architect Fujimori Terunobu, who is famous for unique architectural creations with whimsical, fantastic lines, often positioned atop tree trunks or unobtrusively nestled into natural surroundings.

In the fashionable area of Aoyama off Ginkgo Avenue were two Japanese castles, with a twist at the level of materials—one was wrapped completely in blue tarps held down by ropes and cords, and the other appeared to be covered in old cardboard from packing boxes. "Tokyo Castle" was created by provocative artist, Aida Makoto. Hope could be found here, yet with an edge. The title of this piece, and the substrates chosen in its construction—cheap recycled materials, rather than the enduring expensive substances used in much sculpture—spoke to the indomitable nature of the human race, while also acting as a prescient reminder of our precarious relationship with the natural world in all its power and unpredictability.

In another part of the uptown area, in front of the United Nations University in Omotesando, "Global Bowl," by architect Hirata Akihisa, was one of the most seemingly simple sites in the Pavilion collection: a wood­en construction standing about four meters tall. The bowl-shaped structure was actually a set of interconnected, twisted beams of wood, inviting views of the city through the many "windows" it presented, each changing in angle and shape.

Close by, inside the branch office of Shibuya Ward Office, a whole other dimension was exhibited by internationally celebrated artist Kusama Yayoi: "The Obliteration Room," which was a set of completely white rooms equipped with "normal" household objects, from cookware to toys to furniture—every single thing a blank white. Upon entry, visitors received a sheet of stickers, each sticker a dot of different sizes in single colors. Stickers could be placed anywhere, and the resulting spirals of dots came to decorate the room in a uniquely chaotic, yet orderly way.

Pavilion Tokyo 2021 also featured impressive and varied works by Fujimoto Sou, Fujiwara Teppei, Sejima Kazuyo, Ishigami Junya, and Manabe Daito + Rhizomatiks, the panoply of Pavilions bringing a sense of artistic discovery and excitement to the metropolis.

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The sides of two massive skyscrapers became a pair of canvases. Each large-scale mural art had a distinct take on the theme, one of water and another of fire. Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13 "Super Wall Art Tokyo," Drill Inc.

Besides the myriad delights of Pavilion Tokyo 2021, the Marunouchi and the Shin-Marunouchi Building, two skyscrapers standing in front of Tokyo Station, received an artistic makeover as colossal as it was magnificent during the summer of 2021. Another offering of TTF Special 13, "Super Wall Art Tokyo," the effort of father and daughter artists Yokoo Tadanori and Yokoo Mimi, was one of the largest of its kind in the world (at approx­imately 150 by 35 meters each!), repurposing one side of each skyscraper as a pair of canvases showcasing public art. The vertical real estate of the two Tokyo landmarks and the creativity of the artists allowed the creation of a cultural talking point of monumental proportions.

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These robots actually appeared to pause and think, retracing their path to consider the best approach.
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13 "The Constant Gardeners," Jason Bruges Studio
Photo: Jimmy Cohrssen Courtesy of Jason Bruges Studio

A daring amalgam of robotics, sports, and Japanese garden culture, "The Constant Gardeners," by innovative interactive designers Jason Bruges Studio was another standout of TTF Special 13. In Ueno Park, surrounded by museums, art galleries, and a zoo, four gleaming white factory robots moved methodically using their one arm to draw patterns representing athletes' movements in a rock garden similar to those seen in temples, often connected with the Zen tradition, where the constant raking of patterns in a bed of pebbles can be a route toward enlightenment.

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The face of "masayume" overwhelmed observers as it hovered over the skyline in the city center.
Tokyo Tokyo FESTIVAL Special 13 "masayume," 目 [mé], 2019-21 Photo: KANEDA Kozo

Not only were the parks, streets, squares, and buildings of Tokyo used as locations for TTF Special 13 installations, the art unit 目 [mé] (meaning eye), used the skies above the metropolis as the location for their "masayume" (or prophetic dream) project. Inspired by a dream experienced by Kojin Haruka, artist and member of 目 [mé], during her adolescence, the team created a huge face that graced parts of the Tokyo skyline. The selection process for this face was rigorously inclusive, with public submission of different faces, regardless of nationality, gender, and age, from around the world.

TTF was an all-together entrancing artistic event that gave culture a platform alongside the Tokyo 2020 Games to be enjoyed by all. This summer of such creative output has reaffirmed Tokyo as a city to watch in the future, when culture-hungry visitors can once again roam its streets in force.

By Jordan A. Y. Smith

*This article was originally published on "Tokyo Winter/Spring2022 (Jan., 2022)"