Interview: Chim↑Pom

Interview: Andrey Bold, Tamura

Photography: Andrey Bold

 

To gather Chim↑Pom members all at once is a task in itself. After a month worth of calls, email exchange and one failed attempt, the meeting is set—Saturday, 2pm in front of the Hachiko. It's a gray, rainy and unseasonably cold day. Group members arrive one by one, sporting at least three Adidas items each, the company generously offered them seemingly unlimited shopping spree. Four members in total out of six—group's leader Ryuta Ushiro, Yasutaka Hayashi, Masataka Okada, Motomu Inaoka and Tamura, our mutual friend explicitly requested by Ryuta as a translator for the interview. Ellie, group's most celebrated and only female member, and Toshinori Mizuno are absent. After half an hour scouting for a suitable spot, wet and cold, we settle in a noisy chain coffee shop. Tamura tests his recording device, curiously named Polaroid—“Ready.”

Chim↑Pom reenacting their “100 Kiai” (100 Cheers)

Chim↑Pom reenacting their “100 Kiai” (100 Cheers)

  • ABOk, let's start from the beginning. (To Ushiro) You began as MC, right?
  • YHRapper.
  • RUI didn't rap. It's... how can I call it?
  • TSinger?
  • RUNo way!
  • YHAgitator?
  • RUThat's it, MC Agitator!
  • ABAnd you Hayashi?
  • YHA DJ, but we have only performed three times. [Laugh]
  • ABThe two of you started Chim↑Pom.
  • RULet's say it was Ellie. We just wanted to make something together with her.
  • ABSo, basically you just wanted to get together with Ellie, no artistic ambitions.
  • RUWell, all of us liked art... I couldn't predict how we would advance in the beginning, could've been art just as well. [Laugh]
  • ABYou didn't have a model or a concept in the beginning.
  • RUNothing specific, we just wanted to make something exciting and fresh by bringing a gal into art. Like Boredoms, something you've never seen. There was a semi-concept—to discover what Chim↑Pom is along the way.
  • ABWho came up with the name?
  • RUEllie.
  • ABDid you intend to shock people (Chim↑Pom sounds like a “prick” in Japanese)?
  • RUNo, no concept there. We just liked the sound of it. [Laugh]
  • ABWhat was the first artwork that qualifies as Chim↑Pom?
  • RU“Elligero” (A video of Ellie vomiting pink liquid).
  • ABWhere do you think Chim↑Pom fit within the Japanese art scene?
  • RUJapanese art scene? You can't talk about it without Chim↑Pom... so whether we fit it or not...
  • YHGotta fit.
  • RUYou mean, the art scene should fit us, right?
  • YHYou got it!
  • RUAlthough the Japanese art scene has been upgraded by Chim↑Pom it is still behind. We're more interested in placing ourselves in the increasingly challenging situations than expanding the scene's capacity. What we really enjoy is the challenge of overcoming the limitations we face starting a new project. How far can we push it? Like Turning Around, where we had to find a relevant way to display street art within museum's walls.
Chim↑Pom, Red Card, 2011. © Chim↑Pom, Courtesy of MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo.

Chim↑Pom, Red Card, 2011. © Chim↑Pom, Courtesy of MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo.

  • ABHow does the Japanese art scene compare to the West?
  • RUVery poor, almost crap [Laugh]. I write about it in my book, “Geijutsu Jikkohan” (Art Perpetrator), it's coming out this summer.
  • TWhat do you feel is lacking?
  • RUA lot, if I name problems one by one the list will never end. In short, it would be impossible for the Japanese art scene to achieve so-called “international standard.” We may be able to turn its inferiority into the energy source instead. This is what I strongly felt in Korea while participating in Asia Art Award. It was very westernized, made from the beginning with the “western perspective” in mind. The “standard” which Takashi Murakami tries to get a hold on. I've read a blog that compares the situation to upstream/downstream of the river, arguing that everything coming from the West is the upstream and it's easy to catch things on the current towards the downstream, but it's hard to bring something from the downstream up. I find it to be true, Murakami had a very hard time doing it and succeeded. Art should be more like an ocean—collecting from many sources, drifting around the world, delivering to each specific location in a vernacular way. If Japan tries to adapt itself to the given “western standard” it'll end up reproducing the same upstream/downstream scenario, which doesn't make any sense.
  • YHDare I say that even if the Japanese art scene is behind from the western perspective it has some good aspects...
  • RUSo what?
  • YHWhat?! I just wanted to simplify, make it easier to understand...
  • RUHow shallow. [Laugh]
  • MONone of the Japanese have art as a backbone. We have a variety of things that excite us just as much, like...
  • YHHey, that's what I said!
  • MO...music bands and stuff.
  • YHThat's what I said!
  • [Big laugh]
  • ABDo you feel a change in people's attitude towards art since you started Chim↑Pom?
  • YHLet me answer! I feel people who indulged themselves only with an entertainment take us more seriously after the earthquake, but Chim↑Pom hasn't changed.
  • ABAlthough you said you haven't changed, your works seem to have changed.
  • RUBasic attitude, that we always try to come up with something new and exciting, remains unchanged.
  • ABIt must be difficult for you in the current marketplace as you don't seem to be concerned with producing “salable” works.
  • RUAsk Fujiki-san (The Head of Mujin-to Production representing Chim↑Pom)! I think the gallery/museum model will change drastically in a few decades. The traditional way of showing works and facilitating people how to think about art will remain as it is, but different kinds of art, like outdoor works at dOCUMENTA, must become far more common in the future. Museums must adapt to be capable of coordinating such projects not only inside their spaces but also at the nearby sites and online, acting as the “centre”. Like Mori, a museum woven into the urban fabric of Roppongi. It's difficult to sell outdoor or online works right now, but once the system changes it'll be easier to provide support to the works and activities like ours. That should be museum's mission in the future.
  • ABDid you consider establishing your own platform, like a broadcast channel, a website, or a newspaper?
  • RUOf course, as soon as we can afford it.
  • ABWhat inspires you?
  • MOTV.
  • [Big laugh]
  • MO...almost brainwashed by it. I love TV, not even the content, I like its... presence. Favorite programs? Cooking.
  • YHMusic and women.
  • ABFavorite group?
  • YHKinniku Shojo Tai.
  • RUWhat type of women?
  • YHWith big tits.
  • MITezuka Osamu.
  • RUKamuiden (it became a bible for leftist activists through 1960s and 70s, especially among students). My father had given it to me as a Christmas present.

Clockwise from top left: Ushiro Ryuta, Hayashi Yasutaka, Inaoka Motomu, Okada Masataka

  • ABWhat does each of you contribute to the group?
  • MOI have no special skills...
  • RUHe's our idea man.
  • MOReceiving them straight from the Tokyo tower.
  • YHI'm in charge of editing and design.
  • MISculptor?
  • RUAnd performer, rather extreme...
  • MILike burning (he burnt himself during Chim↑Pom's debut performance, “Chim↑Pom's Ike Ike Action”, organized by A.R.T.)?
  • RUAnd starving (Inaoka starved himself for their “Making of the Sokushinbutsu” piece)! [Laugh]
  • MIIt's not my speciality.
  • RUIt is!
  • ABRyuta?
  • RUI'm the leader. Hey! It's hard to manage this group! You can be a prime minister once get a hang of them!
  • ABTwo absent members?
  • RUMizuno, his contribution is...
  • MOSubmiting his body. He devotes his body to us.
  • ABWhat about Ellie?
  • RUCharisma.
  • MONot only of Chim↑Pom, the whole Japanese nation.
  • ABWhat does she contribute to the group?
  • RUShe embodies Chim↑Pom itself. She is a living art.
  • ABIs everyone comfortable staying in Ellie's shadow?
  • RUWe don't think of Ellie as the face, we're one body.
  • ABHow did the relations within the group change over the years?
  • RUWell... Mizuno got worse.
  • MOMore and more. We all have grown up, but not him.
  • RUYes, we all grow up, he grows down!
  • ABDo you feel connection with anyone outside of Chim↑Pom?
  • RUI like people who has a broader view of the local matters, who can understand that we're addressing international issues through our works. Not those who just conclude “Ok, it's Japanese.”
  • MIWherever we go we find people like us, trying to do inspiring works beyond their local scene. If we join our efforts it may as well be a new way forward.
  • ABWhat is your take on globalization?
  • RUThere are definitely downsides, but it doesn't concern us that much. We live in Japan and do what we should be doing here, same goes to the other countries. We prefer focusing on the positive aspects, but negative ones may be quite inspirational also and often become a part of our works.
  • TI want to ask you about “Life and Death” (Chim↑Pom's main theme according to their website profile).
  • RUI don't even know who wrote it!
  • TI think life and death is always present in your works.
  • RUOh yes, no half-measures. When I think of something exciting I always end up with “Life and Death,” “Past and Present”... people feel thrilled when the opposites join. This uncertainty, or vulnerability is the very essence of art. We want to express the joy of life, but if we only show the joy it'd be very one-sided, which is very superficial, isn't it? Life is directly linked with death. They are two extremes, but also come in a pair. We can't produce a thrill unless we walk along a tightrope between two extremes.
  • ABWhat did you feel when you go to Fukushima?
  • RUTHAT, I don't want to experience again! Never. EVER! The feeling we had on the way to the nuclear power plant to raise the flag... that was not a “thrill.” It was FEAR... we were simply scared. Just wanted to finish and leave as soon as possible.
  • TIs it true you said once that was the only project you didn't enjoy?
  • RUAbsolutely! No kidding, can't enjoy such a thing at all.
  • ABDo you think Japanese have changed after Fukushima?
  • RUYes. Unconsciously, everyone has changed. This whole nuclear crisis is a shock and must remain in the unconsciousness. It will reemerge when the moment comes and those who are young now will be faced with the decision. It'll motivate and change them. Not so sure about the older generation...
Chim↑Pom, LEVEL 7 feat. “Myth of Tommorow,” 2011. © Chim↑Pom. Courtesy of MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo.

Chim↑Pom, LEVEL 7 feat. “Myth of Tommorow,” 2011. © Chim↑Pom. Courtesy of MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo.

  • ABI often hear “I like Chim↑Pom, but...” “LEVEL 7 feat. Myth of Tomorrow” for example, it became an instant hit but once people found out it was you who painted a panel next to the mural some felt disappointed.
  • RUI enjoy the “but” part, no fun without it. I much prefer it to “Love it!” or “Great!” “But” makes it real. It connects us. I like to act along “yes, but...”
  • ABDo you do it consciously?
  • RUNo, it's unintentional! [Laugh]
  • ABShock, is it vital to your work?
  • RUIt's not catchy unless there is an unexpected element of shock. Momentum is also very important.
  • ABSo the original energy is more important than the outcome.
  • RUThat's it! Speaking of art, the term “action” was first translated into Japanese art as “koui” (action, or performance), but Chim↑Pom has now come to embody “koudou” (social, politically oriented activity). As “koui” has been dominant in Japanese art, people disapprove of our “activity,” like “It's a journalism!” thus not art.
  • ABYou're in your early thirties, do you feel like the time is running out? Family and kids on the horizon...
  • RUMy family has already given up on me. [Laugh]
  • YHLet me clarify—this is not a Chim↑Pom's problem, but OURS as individuals.
  • MOIf it wasn't for Chim↑Pom we wouldn't even be here.
  • YHChim↑Pom makes us better!
  • RUFinally, you said something meaningful Hayashi!
  • [Big laugh]
  • ABWhat's most exciting in Japan now?
  • RUPotential eruption of Mt. Fuji! I saw a special TV program about it, looks very realistic.
  • [Everyone jumps in the discussion about the latest rumors]
  • RUMore quakes... we're in danger. If we restart nuclear power plants... what the hell is going to happen next?!
  • ABThat's exciting?!
  • RUYes, but...
  • ABScary?
  • RUYes. [Laugh]
  • ABAre you afraid of dying?
  • RUSure!
  • MOI don't want to suffer.
  • MIDeath is inevitable.
  • MOIt's ok if I die watching TV.
  • MII want to SURVIVE.
  • RUI'm not ready to die yet.
  • ABIf you were dismembered and reassembled into one body, who'd be what part?
  • RUIt must be Ellie! Ellie's body with Ellie's heart! Others—just a small presence. [Laugh]
  • TLike...
  • RUOccupy a little spot in her brain! Me and Okada will help her with ideas, Hayashi may improve her editing skills...
  • ABDo you guys agree with that?
  • All (nodding at once): Ellie-chan.
  • RUIt only makes sense for Ellie to survive, doesn't it?
  • YHI say Ellie will survive anyway, only her!
  • RU(Making a face) I guess Mizuno is more likely to survive... like a roach. I want Ellie to prevent eruption of Mt. Fuji. [Laugh]
  • I think Japan now is in a very unique situation. Of course all countries have faced various difficulties, but mostly social and political, say, man-made issues. The situation we're facing now is very different from John and Yoko's “Stop the War!” because we're dealing with nature here. We have to unite and show a different form of love.
Ellie

Ellie

  • ABFuture ambitions?
  • RUContinue in the same vein. If we'll be just praised for the “effort” we've made, like "You did it!" It won't be a sufficient contribution to the following generation. We must succeed, this is very important.
  • TWhat do you mean by “succeed”?
  • RUChim↑Pom will endure and become a part of art history.
  • [Silence]
  • RUDid I say anything wrong? Anyway, what we're now interested in, which happens to be a post-3.11 talk, is that Japanese artists seem to become more avant-garde. They're becoming more and more aware of the body, heading towards direct actions rather than paintings. It's similar to traditional “angura” (Japanese underground theatre/body-art movement), which is rather gloomy, but also more appealing to the general public while still being avant-garde. I expect this trend to grow even stronger with the next generations, and Chim↑Pom to become a significant model for it.
  • We catch a taxi and head to Watari-um, which hosts weekly events in addition to “Turning Around” exhibition curated by Chim↑Pom. At the cafe downstairs we catch up with the group's embodiment Ellie. Her hair dyed blue, she appears to be Adidas-less.
  • TWhat inspires you?
  • EInspires Ellie (she calls herself Ellie)? Must be Chim↑Pom.
  • TWhat's most exciting in Japan now?
  • E(Eating cake) Me.
  • TYou?
  • E(Pointing at herself) Me.
  • TWhat is your contribution to the group?
  • EHey Hayashi! Can I say my presence itself?
  • Hayashi nods.

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