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Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 10:53 am
Chim↑Pom @ NADiff a/p/a/r/t

I've been planning to write about Japanese art collective Chim↑Pom for a while, but their performance on Monday night at the opening of the new NADiff a/p/a/r/t store gives me the perfect excuse. It was, in some ways, a strange choice. NADiff is short for "new art diffusion". Chim↑Pom, on the other hand, is short for penis. In fact, you can think of the little arrow symbol in the middle of their name as a tiny, cute, erect one if you like.



Monday's NADiff opening and Chim↑Pom performance, at a new five-floor gallery complex near Ebisu station, was queued around the block, and got blogged by regular Tokyo art scene observers Roger McDonald and Ashley Rawlings. Chim↑Pom made a performance called "Japanese Art is 10 Years Behind", which -- according to Ashley -- involved a rubbish-strewn, graffiti-covered basement lit by fireflies, with Chim↑Pom garu-star Ellie rowing about in a rubber dinghy. Outside a "future van" was parked, and members of the collective dressed in shirts painted with the motto "GO FOR FUTURE!" invited guests to write their wishes on it.



For the last ten years NADiff has been right at the heart of my own personal Tokyo. The bookstore, cafe, record shop and gallery space just off Omote Sando was where I bought the CDs that provided the samples for my "Oskar Tennis Champion" album, and where I met outsider musician Yximalloo for the first time (his forthcoming album, by the way, is called Unpop after this essay). Chim↑Pom, on the other hand, are brand spanking new: they only formed in August 2005. Before that, as they relate in this YouTube interview, they were just a bunch of art groupies who used to hang around Makoto Aida's house.



"We'd hang around Makoto's house, drinking late," they tell the interviewer, "then wake up in the morning, still there, demanding food. We didn't really consider how busy he was. Then we started making art."

Chim↑Pom's ascension to the position of "young Tokyo art stars to watch" marks a swing from the Koyama-Ishii stable of galleries (representing, amongst others, the Takashi Murakami constellation) to the Mizuma-Mujinto stable (Makoto Aida is represented by Mizuma, Chim↑Pom by Mujinto). The Mizuma-Mujinto group are younger, more fiercely Japanese, more humorous, less oriented to bling, less anally career-fixated, more socially-conscious. Since the Murakami school made a big deal about the power of otaku, Chim↑Pom start their interview by marking a certain distance from the idea. They began quite dark and nerdy, they say, a boy's club. But that was too otaku, and otaku "is not everything". Then (a bit like the Human League) they recruited Ellie, a gal -- or garu -- who lives for clubbing (she sleeps all day and dances all night).



Since then -- as PingMag reported back in January -- they've posed real rats they collected in Shibuya in cute Pikachu poses, filmed Ellie spewing pink vomit, blown up their possessions, staged an auction in which the prices went down instead of up (a protest against Damien Hirst’s diamond skull and Takashi Murakami’s Miss Ko2, which both went for record sums), gathered a cloud of crows over 109 Shibuya using a motorbike (the action Hisae and I reported last week during our London-as-Tokyo event), turned Tokyo's Disney Sea simulacrum of Venice into their own personal Venice Biennale, and made a Princess Diana-style anti-landmine video in Cambodia.



“How many prosthetic legs could be bought with the $100 million that Hirst’s work got?" they ask. It's a good question, but Chim↑Pom aren't puritans. Bling culture is there to be used: "In the spirit of Diana we channel the lineage of the volunteer spirit and the girly culture from Hepburn to Madonna via Angelina Jolie." Individual expression is boring, the collective thinks, and doesn't matter. Happiness is decided by your heart; it's best to be poor but happy. Only one issue divides the group at present: whether they wish everyone in the world to feel galaxy (Ellie's wish) or universe (Ushiro's).

20CommentReplyFlag

akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 03:48 am (UTC)

i met and chatted to 2 of them recently not knowing who they were (but knowing of them - how couldn't you, all of a sudden they were mentioned everywhere) and they were very nice people.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 09:17 am (UTC)

they've posed real rats they collected in Shibuya in cute Pikachu poses, filmed Ellie spewing pink vomit, blown up their possessions, staged an auction in which the prices went down instead of up

They're a spoof right? Or have we reached an interesting moment when art has become indistinguishable from a middlebrow satire of art? In any case, weren't people throwing up coloured vomit way back in the senventies?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 09:51 am (UTC)

It's funny how this sort of reaction only graces the contemporary art entries. If I do something about ethical design, nobody ever says "Didn't they do ethical design back in 1972?" If I do something about a pop record, nobody says "But someone made a record in 1936!"

It's like people think art -- and only art -- is "a race to the South Pole", and that each time an idea is started, it ought, by the same token, to be stopped.

Even if we accepted this dubious framing premise, though, I'm not aware of pink vomit being presented as art in the 70s. And even if you could produce documentation (not all over me, please) that this did happen, the contexts of time and place and position would make it a different act now, as different as this Sebastien Tellier song is from the early 80s music it draws on:


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 11:10 am (UTC)

Mike Parr did the vomit thing in the 1970s. I'm surprised you haven't heard of it.

As for singling out art, I think it's you that's content to give contemporary art a free ride! When it's art, you'll talk about recontextualising for another age. When it's pop music, it's necro retro, it's reminiscing about the good old days of 1981 and all the great new music that was around then, when the kids of today are just content with bands that sound like Joy Division or whatever... To a certain extent anything new is just a recontextualisation, yes. The problem comes when the difference between the recontextualisation and the original is not that great or that interesting, which is very often the case now in both art and pop/rock. I guess I don't find a Japanese woman throwing up pink vomit in the noughties sufficiently different from an Australian man throwing up blue vomit in the seventies to be interesting. I wouldn't at all be surprised to learn that there was a Japanese woman throwing up pink vomit back in 1975 or whatever, or even that Yoko Ono was doing it in 1964. My criticism here is really no different from your criticism of Oasis trying to sound like the Beatles or Vampire Weekend sounding like Talking Heads.

I think you simply find the art world more congenial than the pop/rock world these days, so you're more indulgent with it!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 11:27 am (UTC)

You have at least half a point -- I do tend to dismiss the repetitions of the pop world more readily, perhaps because I know it better. But, when it comes down to it, we assess originality by our own lights, and intuitively. There's no sliderule for this.

Why is it okay for Sebastien Tellier to regurgitate the early 80s, but not for Oasis to regurgitate The Beatles? There's no programmatic way to distinguish them, but there is a kind of critical inner ear that weighs all sorts of factors (how long they've been recycling their respective sources, how successful they've been, the current interestingness or transgressiveness of the periods they've chosen to pastiche, etc) and decides what's fresh and what's stale.

It's my estimation that Chim↑Pom's ideas -- taken as a whole -- are fresh and interesting. I'd relate them to Makoto Aida more than Yoko Ono, though the rowing boat performance and the penis fixation might include a wink in the direction of avant granny Yayoi Kusama. The landmine action in Cambodia -- Thank You Celeb, I'm BOKAN! -- is probably their most original work, because it gives them a way to critique the art system (the auction they held later, with prices going down) as well as mainstream celebrity culture, but also to harness the positive energy in those things and swing it around into something useful. A clever judo roll.



I'd say Chim↑Pom's cheekiness and energy level also make them a better set of rivals to the Kaikai Kiki gang than the Supereveryday crew, hobbled by formalism. The main danger I see for Chim↑Pom is of being too easily integrated into the mainstream culture they're pastiching. They really have to keep their distance from its values to be, themselves, of value.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 12:01 pm (UTC)

There's no accounting for taste, I guess. On the one hand Chim Pom sound fun, but on the other the whole idea of art that "critiques the art system" has me stifling a yawn. Talk about easy targets. Next thing you know bands will be singing about the evils of the music industry! Oh wait...


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 12:07 pm (UTC)

"the whole idea of art that "critiques the art system" has me stifling a yawn. Talk about easy targets. Next thing you know bands will be singing about the evils of the music industry!"

I think there's something healthy about critiques of this kind, but I think some people would do well to read more stuff like Guy Debord if they want to do it seriously!


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 12:05 pm (UTC)

Agree with your last point. I think we need to be careful not to see this collective as anything too 'subversive'. Basically, (and I may be wrong here as I don't have much to go on) it seems that rathher than overturn the art world, they are seeking to become celebs inside it - look at their origins as self confessed 'art groupies'; they have a nice photogenic clubbing-obsessed female figurehead, and do openings for shops. Don't get me wrong, I like the nature of their events, but I see nothing revolutionary there!


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 09:04 pm (UTC)

take my word and listen to momus anonimus , ellie's pink vomit is not as far from martin parr's as a rothko rectangle is from a malevich one but as far as kusama yayoi's new york love boat is from the boats in ueno park.


ReplyThread Parent
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 11:29 am (UTC)

Is NADiff a/p/a/r/t some kind of public institution or a private gallery? their rather terrible website gives no info at all!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 11:52 am (UTC)

It's basically a commercial art book store that also sells records, and has a cafe and a gallery space. It comes out of the odd Japanese overlap between department stores and museums, basically. The guy who started it, Takahashi Shinya, was running the Art Vivant bookstore at Seibu department store in Ikebukuro, then left to form NADiff as a separate entity in 1997. He then moved in 2002 to the Mori Museum.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)

Chim↑Pom are a bunch of attractive-looking Tokyo scenesters who have hit on art "events" as a route into the scene and a possible shot at celeb status. And they've a very hot kooky girl in for added sex appeal. Now, there's nothing wrong with all that at all, and nothing wrong with getting bedazzled by some glamorous scenesters. But come on, it's plain silly to take their "art" seriously! Their "critique of the art system", such as it is, is banal in the extreme. I think Momus is displaying a little bit of bad faith here. Why can't he just come out and say: "here are some glam Tokyo hipsters and their sexy sexy mascot - ooh I'm turned on by the hip Tokyo scene and I have such a thing for sexy funky Japanese girls who hang around the art world!" There would be nothing wrong with that and it would be so much more honest!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 01:07 pm (UTC)

Here are some glam Tokyo hipsters and their sexy sexy mascot - ooh I'm turned on by the hip Tokyo scene and I have such a thing for sexy funky Japanese girls who hang around the art world!

There, better?

By the way, Ellie's blog (which I link to in the piece) actually stops in March, when she switched to a new one at the Studio Voice site.


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akabe
akabe
alin huma
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)

missing the point big time;

they're hardly 'attractive' , by any tokyo standards at least and there's hardly a 'scene' as such they might be taking over , what they do articulate though is the intelligence of just about every chuo-sen-er of their generation (rather quiet, un-sceney, introverted types) -- and here we come to some of the paradoxes of japanese art(ists) the people whose voice they articulate and who they basically address would not get their brilliance unaided, or if they were not properly supported (this would be a long complex thesis in itself) basically because it's too close to their own. (just as the average japanese person would not comprehend why some american would pay millions of dollars for a murakami character --- a "robot" - to quote Steven Spielberg when buying some murakami piece that was definitely not a robot.) while the people with whom they might be, for better or worse, becoming glamorous art stars (like you anonymous , or possibly momus to some degree) would have largely missed the message and where they're comming from.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)

making aid work sexy is good. fluorescent vomit is also good. fuck all this it's not progressive enough, man, they should be FIGHTING THE SYSTEM yeah read some guy debord man. seriously just fuck that. most of the art that acquires its legitimacy on those (literary, regressive, continental) terms is just crap rich people buy anyway. and there's practically no art without celebrity these days, so let them own that. that's part of their work. that's fine with me.

it's interesting how much more tapped into cambodia the japanese are than the americans, how the landmines have enough symbolic resonance in japan to work their way into an art piece, whereas over here in the US there only seems to be a vague acknowledgement that something bad happened there once, and maybe john kerry had something to do with it.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 04:07 pm (UTC)

Yes, making aid work sexy is good, but it's not necessarily going to produce good art, is it? I mean Band Aid was probably a good thing, but that still doesn't make Do They Know It's Christmas a good song. As for literary, regressive and continental being signifiers for crap rich people buy, that mantra is even tireder than the one you're criticising. As for progressive, which commenter here mentioned that? "Different and interesting" is not the same as "progressive".


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 09:47 pm (UTC)

i meant progressive in the teleological sense of like, "oh, somebody already did the vomit thing, art is all finished with vomit now," not in the political sense, fwiw.

but yeah, doing good things in the world doesn't make you a good artist, but it doesn't hurt, either, and i find what these guys are doing (art and aid) quite striking and moving indeed.

and re: continental literary regression, it's kind of true, regardless of how much it's repeated. the whole super-rich art collector world is definitely looking for just that right kind of clever and timely hirst-style literary shock and titillation. the chapman brothers do that shit too. they all make some pretty interesting work now and again, but they're also playing into this big weird system which is bad for art and the world in the long-run.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
Chim^Pom in the States

Chim^Pom made a DVD for a festival (http://www.i-cubedhypermedia.com/festival) I curated in Chicago, and not one person in the audience was familiar with their work! I think they have a long way to go in terms of becoming international art stars but I love that they are more concerned with creating interesting situations than objects. The art world could always use more of that, whether or not people were already doing it in the 20s or 50s or 70s or whatever. "Super*Rat", "I'm Bokan" and "Black of Death" are all really unique and wonderful works, in my opinion. The Mujinto folks are super nice, too!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Jul. 9th, 2008 05:26 pm (UTC)
Re: Chim^Pom in the States

Yes, I detail my visit to Mujinto Production here, and there's a photo of co-director Rika there.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Thu, Jul. 10th, 2008 12:15 am (UTC)
everyone in the world poor but happy

Great article and altruism always shines like Venus at sunset.
The new stuff you bring us is great but I'm usually squirmin on the girlie shite. It should be great to be exposed to other forms of communication but I just got ORIAN & MIROQE in the mail I'm not sure if my view of Japan is similar or if Z do birthdays. Thanks.


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