Verina Gfader: We first met near Machiya train station, in the area where you live. I am interested in the demographics of this part of Tokyo. And maybe the living/working conditions for artists and cultural producers in the shifting landscape of art/media. You mentioned briefly that Machiya is quite an historical part, close to Ueno, but further north.
Miki Fukuda: Ueno is located around the area of Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku, the Tokyo University of the Arts. The students and the graduates have been living in this area for a long time. Machiya is at the margins of this area. Machiya can be described as a town of small business rather than as an artistsí area. But you can understand that the artists like such a kind of reasonable place.
VG: We talked about networks and network culture in Japan, and your establishment of approach_a, a mailing list for exchanging information in English. What works, what does not work, what are its potentials?
MF: I have started to establish approach_a as a local mailing list within IAMAS, the media art school in Gifu prefecture, when I was working there as a lecturer. After I left the institute, I restarted the list to make connections between the various colleges of new media arts in Japan.
In new media arts, itís very important to communicate in English because the stage is global, not domestic. Even for students, itís not difficult to show their works abroad if they speak or write in English. It is much more difficult for contemporary arts students. I wanted to create an opportunity for them to train. Additionally, new media arts in Japan are a very narrow field. I wanted to let them know that there are many different artists, associations and artistsí activities in this field, and not think that there are only Ars Electronica or SIGGRAPH.
As you know, most Japanese people donít like to speak English. We are very shy and have not got used to speaking to foreigners in another language, even if we study English for more than six years in school. Itís said that Tokyo is an international city, but in fact, people live very domestic, local lives.
On the mailing list, it is the rule for all members to send their posts in English. But to communicate in English is still not easy for us. Unfortunately the list is not very active, but it hasnít died yet.
As for the economics, the most basic thing is that new media arts donít have a market. But this is not only true in Japan. The international new media art festivals which are running independently are generally managed with budgets from grants. However, in Japan, it is not easy to get a grant. Thatís why the number of the new media art festivals is not as high as you think when looking at the number of Japanese new media artists. So, to work independently in new media arts in Japan is quite difficult, unless you teach at a university, but this is a similar situation to other Asian countries.
VG: Related to networks and locating oneself through (virtual) connections, is the question of the local, something Japan-specific, an issue for you? You said that media art is international, does this exclude the local? How is the local embedded in this internationalism?
MF: This is the topic of a group that I had organised on Facebook. I mean that a very personal, local thing can sometimes connect to something universal and global. We can have sympathy for a small local event which is not announced on a big art news website and happens far away from where we live. I worked on this when I lived in a rural area. But now I live in Tokyo and as you know, we are drowning in a flood of information here. I am ashamed that I lost my sensitivity for small local activities.
The Facebook group is not active any more. It has failed. I gathered the board members from Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan. The Facebook literacy of them was not at the same level. I think thatís why the group couldnít be more active. But the situation might have changed now.
VG: What about the history of media art in Japan? I am interested in Japanís introduction to media art. You talked about Hong Kong and other Asian countries where media art emerged from video. You did not have that same lineage in Japan, where the focus is or was on new devices, interface and interaction, with the exception of the work of Masaki Fujihata. Can you talk a bit about this?
MF: To tell you the truth, I cannot give you an answer. I donít know why the origin of Japanese new media art is different from that in other Asian countries. Japanese new media artists did not emerge from video art. It didnít grow out of an image issue. If you think about it, you have to see Japanese video art, which was active only in the 1980s. They might have liked the technology with which they documented everyday life and themselves, but were not interested in the special aesthetics or social dimensions and implications. This is not at all related to the current Japanese new media arts. We can say that most of new media artists in Japan are not interested in an ĎIí novel, in a narrative or a story.
VG: You described Japan as being late compared with other Asian countries, because of its different history; that Japan does have established spaces but they are settled in a way. How do you consider the current situation of art and media spaces, events and institutions in Japan and also the lack of artist-run festivals?
MF: The speed of the evolution of economics and technology in South Korea and China is too fast, much more than in any other country, including Japan. Maybe this is good for us, in the sense that we can see ourselves as the mirror of these countries. They are like us 10 years ago. Thereís always the hope that some of them are different from us. In the near future we will transgress boundaries more and more, be active across border lines. We know that today we are much better connected compared with 10 years ago, but even now, itís still not that easy. We never shared an idea of pan-Asia, like Europe, in our history. We have completely different cultures, so itís not easy to lump the cultures and the people together with the simple word Asia.
As for the artists running initiatives, it is difficult for independent artists in Japan to get a grant. On the other hand, we can enter into the global exchange before establishing the local exchange within Japan. So it might be that we donít need to establish our local group inside Japan. We are already part of the global movement of new media arts. And new media arts originally started as an international field, didnít it? But we are still broken English speakers, except for a few people. We are strange, donít you think?
VG: Why is DIY in media art interesting for you? How does this exist in Japan, and in your work internationally? You mentioned OíReillyís magazine Make and its Japanese version.
MF: DIY is not Art. Thatís why it can be released in the movement. DIY is a way of survival, democracy and fun.
I donít believe that everyone can be an artist in this high-technology era. However, I can believe that everyone can be a maker if we want to be that ourselves. To make works of art is very tough, but basically to make something is fun and necessary to live. This is the essence of being human.
It is an interesting thing. The movement of Make: Japan is supported by the people who were part of the traditional gaming culture in Japan, in the late 1980s and 1990s. Some of ex-editors or writers (gamers) of the famous game culture magazine Login support this movement. Login was last published in 2008. The word Otaku (referring to people obsessively interested in anime, manga, and video games) was born from the magazine. It's the legendary magazine of Japanese Otaku culture in the 80s. The background of Make: Japan is very different to Makeís US origin. But I believe that they love the philosophy of sharing and the art of survival, as the US-origin makers do.
VG: Iíd very much like to add one more question about the direction of your own work, and how it involves this spirit of DIY. Do you think that DIY in Japan is particular, and somehow necessarily related to technologies, or tools?
MF: I'm not specialist of DIY. I cannot speak generally about DIY in Japan. I'm involved in only an event of Make: Japan. Media art and the movement of Make is separated in my mind. For example, it's said that dorkbot is similar to Make. But I think dorkbot is much closer to the arts than Make. You can see some artworks in a Make event; however, the context is different. At dorkbot, the audience will also be an audience next time. But at the Make event, the audience will want to be a maker the next time they attend. We can share the feeling of having fun to make something at the event. Art must be special, but making something is not special, even some of the makers make quite strange and amazing things. We can share the feeling.
Meanwhile, Iíd like to join the creation of talented artistsí work or an exhibition. I can learn a lot from them. I need them both.