|'Mike' cubicized by the artist collective 'three'.|
UPDATE: three's exhibit three is a magic number 7 opened Aug. 27.
The Japanese concept of moe (pronounced MO-EH) is a connection one has with a manga or anime character somewhere between first love, a priest’s eternal devotion and an otaku’s obsessive infatuation. A footnote from the catalogue to Little Boy, Japan Society's massive 2005 exhibition that was wall-to-wall moe, explains that it means "literally, 'bursting into bud'; a rarefied pseudo-love for certain fictional characters and their related embodiments."
Anyone suffering from a deep case of moe might not survive a visit to three’s temporary studios at Japan Society.
JapanCultureNYC described the scene in graphic detail in their recent article about the Fukushima-based artist collective:
One room of Japan Society’s gallery is an organized mess. There are plastic figurines everywhere. Miniature representations of manga, anime, and pop culture icons, five hundred are from Japan, with a small but growing collection from the US. The action figures are waiting to be assembled, photographed, meticulously categorized, unapologetically dismembered, and melted into rectangular “bits.”When we visited the studios, the dismemberment was well underway, and you could barely make out recognizable figures [figyua in Japanese, a transliteration of "figure"] within the heaps of plastic cartoon and human shaped characters dissembled and spread all over.
But what three lacks of moe’s typical reverence, they more than make up for in obsessive, painstaking devotion. These hundreds of figurines are being melted into cubes of plastic perfection, identifiable only by familiar color schemes and the very occasional flattened body part. As the JapanCultureNYC article noted, three creates “a kind of interactivity between the sculpture and the viewers to see which characters stand out and to capture the reactions.”
This Saturday people will have a chance to meet the artists at a free open studio, and see some of the work-in-progress before 555 sculptures go on display in Japan Society A-Level in late August.
As the artists were rushing to get work done for the open studio, we had the chance to speak with them about their work and also how their first time in America has been. Shy but effortlessly cool and concentrated, the anonymous three artists that comprise three had much to say about their experience.
How did you feel before you came to New York?
It was around 3-4 months before coming to Japan Society when we were officially invited to be a part of the residency. While getting ready, we couldn’t believe we would actually be going to New York and America for the first time. We felt very honored to be a part of the program especially since there are three of us. We have heard it is quite unusual to accept more than one artist at a time. The fact that as a group we could go together really made it hard for us to believe. Our feelings were more disbelief than excitement.
Have you noticed big differences between the Japan and the U.S.?
Through the process of finding animation figures we realized there are certain differences between Japan and [the U.S.]. First of all, their form is totally different. What’s interesting about American figures is that they all have joints to allow people to bend their legs and arms to create their favorite pose. Also, the texture of the American figures are much harder than ones in Tokyo. This makes it easier to bend and position them in the ways you want.
What were some difficulties in finding figurines here?
There were so many different types of figures from the same animated series. It was difficult for us to find standard Spongebob figures for example. There are so many different versions of this one character based on different episodes and special stories. There were so many different types of Spongebobs!
Where did you find the figurines?
We went to Midtown Comics, Forbidden Planet near Union Square, another store around Union Square but we forgot the name (please forgive us). Oh we also went to Toys"R"Us! It was the first store we went to in New York. Amazing and full of toys!
Have you seen any good exhibits or discovered new artists?
We have only been to MoMA so far. We have not had much time to experience anything [besides work]. However we are very excited to do so after the residency!
What do you want people viewing your art to feel?
We want them to feel delight. We want them to have fun thinking what the cubic figure was like before. For the exhibition, we are using a minimalistic approach by getting rid of the wall text descriptions and using QR codes. [People can scan it and see the original figure on their smart phones.] There are also some American figures mixed with the Japanese, so we hope some people can also have an “AHA! I know this” type moment.
Another thing is we want Americans to take note of is the difference between Japanese and American animation. The difference in color (color compression) is quite notable between Japanese and American figures. In Japanese figures the color of skin is dominant. What this means is that most figures are likely to expose their skin more than American figures. Also the Japanese figures that we use are mostly female. Some of their clothing is also removable (and surprisingly they wear underwear). When we melt them down into cubic form, the skin tone is much more prevalent than with melted American figures.
Why do you think Japanese figurines show more flesh?
The purpose of buying figures is different for Japanese and Americans. Let’s just say that the Japanese figure industries produce with moe in mind.
Are you excited about your open studio at Japan Society on July 27th?
It’s quite rare that we "three" interact with people individually because we have been anonymous. This will be our first time to meet with people and discuss our work. We think this is a great opportunity for us to explain our working process and are very nervous but excited.
--Interview by Susan Berhane. Translation assistance by Reika Horii. Special thanks to three and the Japan Society Gallery team for their assistance.