Grocery around Aozora Art:
The Story of the Beginning of “Aozora Art”
There are just as many pieces of art as there are people, hearts and souls. If there are a hundred people, there should be a hundred ways of expressing their feelings by means of art. This principle, or basic premise applies not only to those people who claim to be artists, but also to those who have no special background in art. Rica Takashima has been exploring ways to transform the movement of inner emotions and emotional excitement into a form of art. Communication between participants and artists and the processes and results of that communication, are an integral part of her work - and the “Peek-a-Boo board”, the questionnaires, and the instant photographs all facilitate this artistic collaboration.
Aozora means “blue sky” in Japanese. The blue sky extends over everybody without exception. Just like a pleasant breeze that touches your face as you open up the window on a bright sunny day, “Aozora Art” intends to give you an image of art that is fun and makes you feel good.
“Aozora Art” started in August of 1994, when the first Peek-a-Boo boards were installed on the street corners of Tokyo’s legendary cradle of pop-culture, the “Harajuku Pedestrians’ Paradise Street.” However, with the closing of “Harajuku Pedestrians’ Paradise Street” in 1996, “Aozora Art” has been installed in various places including parks, museums and train stations. Although “Aozora Art,” with its colorful characters, may initially appear to be designed for children, many people of all ages and both sexes have participated in the event.
“Peek-a-Boo board”= “Life-sized Cut-out board sculpture”
A “Peek-a-Boo board” is a cutout board, which is carved and painted to represent humans and animals at actual size, with a hole where people’s faces can show through. You can find them at most tourist sites; people stand behind the “Peek-a-Boo board” to be photographed as a souvenir. The figure painted on the “Peek-a-Boo board” often represents a character in history, and is painted in period costume. These figures lend their legendary status to the site.
Since there is no standard name to describe these life-sized cut-out boards,
Rica Takashima, the founder of Aozora Art, named them “Peek-a-Boo boards”. Interestingly, all of Aozora Art’s “Peek-a-Boo boards” still do have faces, which are merely removed at the time of use. There are over 100 different kinds of “Peek-a-Boo boards” of humans, animals and objects in the Aozora Art exhibition, and they are designed to be portable so that “Aozora Art” can be installed anywhere. “Peek-a-Boo boards” play an important role in allowing participants to create their own piece of work in “Aozora Art.”
“A Commemorative Photo”
In “Aozora Art”, a commemorative photo is often taken when participants involve themselves in the process of making a piece of work. In indoor exhibitions, the “Peek-a-Boo boards” are strategically placed for maximum effect. In open air exhibitions, however, participants can move the Peek-a-Boo board of his or her choice into whatever setting seems most appropriate, be it in the middle of the street or a scenic spot. What each location has in common however, is that they all tend to be in the public spaces. The display is usually limited to one to five minutes at the most so that the installation of the Aozora Art does not cause any inconvenience to others. Because each installation is transient, taking a commemorative photo enables us to capture that most precious moment. The commemorative photo has come to play a very important role in the process of creating an artwork in “Aozora Art”. In “Aozora Art”, a participant chooses a “Peek-a-Boo board” which represents a character completely different from himself or herself, puts his or her face through the “Peek-a-Boo board” to be photographed, and pretends to become somebody else that he or she is not. Taking a picture of all this process is just like the act of capturing an extraordinary instance that exists in every day life. Expressing a “movement of mind” in the form of artwork by means of a commemorative photo allows us to find a discrepancy between others and ourselves that exists in our society or in our everyday life.
“Pedestrians' Paradise Street "
Every weekend until 1996 all traffic was banned on a busy section of street in Harajaku, transforming the area into a pedestrian paradise. Young people quickly descended on the spot to show off the latest in Tokyo youth culture, a kind of precursor to the now-famous “Harajuku girl” scene made famous internationally by Gwen Stefani and her “cosplay” entourage.
While it lasted, this section of street became a meeting point for many different groups of Tokyoites. The big parks, fashionable shops, and famous shrines in the area drew locals and tourists alike, along with the young people who found a ready-made performance space and appreciative audiences. Rica saw in this situation a unique chance to reach a large cross-section of Tokyo’s population and, from the summer of 1994 to its closing in 1996 brought her interactive artwork to the spirit of self-expression and creativity that took root there. Throughout the whole “Aozora Art” experience, countless people have helped to foster this artistic activity. It is the movement of their hearts that has sustained Rica Takashima's continued artistic expression.
Who are the “Aozora Artists”?
The “Aozora Artists” refer to those people who are involved in promoting and organizing “Aozora Art,” including Rica Takashima herself. What is unique about the Aozora Art experience is that it does not require you to have a special art education or to be especially good at art to be an artist. What is even more amazing is that you don’t have to necessarily like art to become an artist. In other words, anybody can become an “Aozora Artist” as long as they have some desire to have a delightful moment with other people of different backgrounds, ages, genders, nationalities, ethnicities, and interests.
The “Aozora Artists” are largely divided into two groups, those who are mainly in charge of administrative assignments such as general affairs and accounting, and others who are actually on site at “Aozora Art” exhibitions such as, photographers, hosts, hostesses, and interpreters. Along with Rica Takashima, Takami Koka, who has taken an active role in promoting “Aozora Art” right from the beginning, personnel from art-related NPOs and curators are also recruited as administrative staff on an as-needed basis. Of course, the number of on-site personnel required to implement an “Aozora Art” exhibition, as well as the nature of tasks that are needed to be completed, vary from one event to another. However, the successful holding of an “Aozora Art” event is always supported by the cooperation of volunteer staff.