Single currencies: OS-XX, Prelude to the operating systems of the future city
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Part 1 of the exhibition runs until September 23rd.
Part 2, featuring Yusuke Obuchi, Koki Tanaka and John N. Bohn will run from October 3 – November 8.

Tokyo Wonder Site (TWS Hongo)

The three artists that have come together for OS-XX Part 1 at TWS Hongo are an interesting group in so much that while pointing out very real problems that exist with the urban culture of diversity and development they do little to really point towards what real solutions may be. but they’re not politicians air developers, strategists or indeed Japanese — although two of the three artists have a shared heritage despite now being based abroad.

Pedro Inoue is a self-taught designer. Once part of John Barndbrook’s studio and an editor for Ad-busters magazine, he is the most versatile and articulate of the three, with ideas grounded in the ‘optimistic’ and not necessarily common reality. Ideas of exchange, rubbing on away and forming another with connections that are more token gestures that concrete ones. The 5 yen coin, or Go-en, which in itself means ‘connection’ is taken literally to fuel the funding of initiatives that aren’t funded. The trouble is, a lot of the groups he suggests donating are termed anonymously. When this is pointed out and when asked which ‘Far Right Party’ he is referring to, his answer is reticent, slightly apologetic and weirdly defensive. He says he can’t say who manages Japanese nuclear power or who regulates domestic TPP lobbying, though why is a bit of a mystery. Instead of changing the systems that shroud and conceal he weirdly supports them by doing the same thing. Text on the wall talks about now being the final chance to change the current situation. It’s vague to say the least but the sentiment would seem genuine.

Urbanist and artist Jean-Francoius Prost is from Canada and founded Adaptive Actions to explore workplace, home and public space. His observations point at the decorative elements of London’s cultural Olympiad and how their effect has sort of slipped away from the area of East London despite leaving traces and a sea of blue, discarded ideas and physical objects that still prop-up in neglected space surrounding the olympic site.

New York based artist Yuken Teruya had probably the most accomplished and the most sensitive work on display, realising discrepancies between images, pictures, language and how speculative currencies be employed to work out some both the deep-rooted differences that have existed in Asia for a century or more. The EU currency is referred to and its timely. With Greece still working through a lists of promises as well as requirements for it to stay in the single currency, the currency itself is being called into question as to whether a monetary policy it the best way to smooth out differences and impose responsibility on all, especially when that current responsibly is best to suit very different purposes, that also rewrite history books to justify such reasons.

The real problem the exhibition points at exists in the idea of a Cultural Olympid. What does that even mean, especially here in Japan? Even when London is considered one of, if not the most diverse places on earth it still manages to be the most divided and the rest of Britain a more fractured society still wrestling with an identity it struggles to contain and maintain. How that fits with the rest of main land Europe is also problematic at best and an active political mine-field. Compared with Japan and main land Asia, the relationship is even more complex and under constant revision, often from a Japanese perspective with a point of view constantly twisting and wriggling that sits well with old and young alike. To date, this has been far from possible.

An ‘Operating System’ as the exhibition refers to is fundamentally about management. Each process happening within the system is bound to be in conflict with other processes from time to time but essentially the whole is justified by the actions within it. Tokyo is a very very different proposition, constantly changing and not always for the better.

Obviously this is a long term project, which will continue long after the exhibition concludes later this year. Considering the Olympics in 2020, Tokyo’s main obstacle seems to be one of transparency, not necessarily with the rest of the world but with itself. How this is managed will be interesting to see. The run up to London’s olympics faced all the problems Tokyo is now facing, be them contextually different. Public opinion was far from positive, but for 2 weeks during the olympics themselves, the country was a very different place. People would openly talk to strangers in the street without any threat of violence and that idea of ‘togetherness’ that always hovers over such projects as this was a reality experienced by nearly everyone. Its a rare thing to walk down a street in London without catching the eye of someone without feeling passing eyes bearing down on you like knife posed to strike.

After all was said and done, old habits reappeared as fast as they emerged and the atmosphere afterwards was like the Olympics had never happened. The Olympic park failed to find real tenants and is now in danger of becoming a ghost town, albeit an expensive one! With Tokyo having knocked down its own Stadium with we assume nothing to replace it, a vacuum has been openly created at the very historic heart of the city. A friend recently pointed out that originality in Japan is a real problem. “Not being original is ‘soooo’ original” he declared. It might be that by erasing the old stadium that was home to the 1964 Olympic Games, Japan can finally begin to reinvent itself for the purpose of the future as well as its appreciation of the past. The past is literally a foreign country that never happened. With nostalgia gone, perhaps the best operating system of the city is a permanent blank canvas. Originality and nostalgia can finally be ejected from the design dictionary and design process without fear that they create something bland and boring instead.

Originally published on August 21, 2015