“Street” is the Key Word. The New Perspectives That Come With “PARCEL,” Bakurocho’s Newest Art Spot.
“Street” is the Key Word. The New Perspectives That Come With “PARCEL,” Bakurocho’s Newest Art Spot.
Located in a converted vertical parking garage in a corner of the DDD HOTEL – which held its grand opening in Bakurocho, Nihonbashi in 2019 – “PARCEL” is a unique artistic space that combines a commercial gallery that sells artwork, with elements of an alternative space. PARCEL is operated by the part of Mr. Taku Sato, an established gallerist in Tokyo and gallery director of PARCEL, and Ms. Sakie Takasu, member of the active art collective “SIDE CORE” – which uses the city and streets as its stage – and program director at the gallery. We spoke with them about running PARCEL, the relationship between galleries, artists, and the city, the Bakurocho area they work in, and more.
A space jointly run by gallerists and artists.
-First, please tell us how PARCEL came to be.
Mr.Taku Sato (Sato): In the past, I used to be the director of a gallery in Roppongi called CLEAR EDITION that handled artwork and designs. After that, I went independent and worked as an art project coordinator and in similar roles. But then the architect in charge of the design of the DDD HOTEL spoke with me about a plan to renovate a garage and build a sort of gallery space there, and introduced me to the hotel’s owner, Mr. (Yuta) Takeda. Mr. Takeda didn’t have a clear idea of it at the time, but I was thinking that it would be fascinating to try to run a gallery space as a team project, rather than in the conventional way where you stick an individual gallerist’s name on it, like mine. So I spoke with Ms. (Sakie) Takasu about that – as a fan of SIDE CORE and an acquaintance from my CLEAR EDITION days – and it worked out for us to start PARCEL together.
-What sort of effects were you hoping to see from bringing artists into the operational side of the gallery, from their usual position of displaying works?
Sato: Over around 10 years of work as a gallerist, I’ve dealt with artists in all sorts of ways, and built relationships where we trust each other. But I’ve also felt a sort of wall between the side that creates art, and the business side that sells it. On the other hand, relationships between artists involve mutual understanding on a fundamental level, and their connections and networks are very pure. I respect artists 100%, but I’ve felt I could never build the same sort of relationship with them, and wondered about creating a way for artists to be on the management team. That was all background to how PARCEL came to serve simultaneously as a commercial gallery that sells paintings, and also as an artist-run space, and an alternative space. We’re even talking about using it as a space sort of like an artist-in-residence program, on the management team.
PARCEL gallery director Mr. Taku Sato (left), and program director Ms. Sakie Takasu (right), both of whom joined us for this interview. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
Ms.Sakie Takasu(Takasu): Personally, more than as a gallery, I think of it as a hub for everyone to individually expand their work through, premised on how fun and interesting it could be to combine connections with the artist community with unique people like Mr. Sato and Mr. Takeda. For example, it’s huge for the artist community to have a place to work whenever they get and idea for something to do or a work to create. Being in a hotel, PARCEL can invite artists from overseas and let them create while they stay with us. Having a place like this expands the range of actions open to us, and I think that will have a major impact on how we produce our work.
It’s just that the entire hotel is temporarily shut down due to the novel coronavirus pandemic right now. With that underway, Mr. Takeda’s main business is wholesale medical supplies, and he has gotten straight to work on mask sales, for the sake of society and the company. PARCEL itself is currently grasping for sites to announce artwork, in ways that extend beyond physical locations.
The group exhibit “COMIC ABSTRACTION BY WRITERS,” to be held from June through July of 2019 to open a new front for PARCEL. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
The “street” attitude that PARCEL values.
-Is there a clear division of roles between the two of you?
Sato: I mostly handle things on the gallery operations side, but all of the core members of the management – with Ms. Takasu foremost – present ideas when we consider exhibit plans, and we almost always brainstorm with a flat structure. After thinking together on why we need to execute the plan right now, or what sort of introduction will convey its concept best, we tend to put an emphasis on Ms. Takasu’s views on the fine details of the exhibit, since she’s an artist.
-I feel like you haven’t confined yourself to any one genre in your curation, when I look over the lineups of your last four exhibitions. What do you emphasize, at PARCEL?
Takasu: Like I just mentioned, I personally view PARCEL as a hub for expanding individual ranges, and I feel like we’re well-suited to things with motion and other active things in regard to exhibition contents, maybe. For example, I think that could be things like performances, or activity format things like we did on the street in SIDE CORE.
PARCEL currently serves as a place for artists to stay and produce art, in a reaction to the novel coronavirus pandemic. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
Sato: The shared awareness among management members is that we emphasize being current in everything, whether it’s a single-artist or group exhibition. We aren’t bound by genre, and we value expressive work that has incisive views on the era and social context, to modern interpretations. This is the part that also ties directly to Ms. Takasu’s role in PARCEL. SIDE CORE is often mentioned in the context of street art, but I personally see our output as less street visually, and more so in attitude. We try to value attitudes and stances toward the era and society that bring fresh interpretations to existing movements, or that set off their own movements without any existing affiliation.
-Could you please give us a bit more detail about what sort of stance on society and the era constitutes the street attitude as you think of it, Mr. Sato?
Sato: This could be a bit similar to punk, but I think part of it is the stance of rebelling against something. I’m not really the type to quietly obey what other people tell me to do, and I’m a contrarian that tends to distance himself from the mainstream (laughter). Also, from skateboarding to graffiti, street culture puts a premium on “style,” and style decides whether or not a casual skateboard jump ends up cool or pathetic. I feel like this “style” is similar to what we would call “iki” (refinement) in Japan, but I think the street attitude lies in interpreting your own style from various sources without wavering.
PARCEL is also used to hold talks with guest artists, gallery tours, and other events. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
Opening a gallery in Bakurocho.
-What sort of people come to PARCEL?
Sato: We get a wide range of people, with what you might call art collectors, young art lovers, and hotel guests, and have gotten a good reaction for our first year. Also, sometimes local residents stop by.
-Do you think about your relationship with the area, as a gallery?
Sato: Honestly, I’m barely aware of it when considering standard exhibitions. But acting as a community hub is one of a gallery’s roles, as Ms. Takasu mentioned, and I think it’s great that we can give the area a new community. For example, we’re planning an art fair called “EAST/EAST” this June, and have invited six or seven other galleries we relate to. I want to put more effort into efforts to get galleries outside like that.
The solo exhibition “き” by Kentaro Minoura, held in 2020 as the gallery’s first planned exhibition. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
-Land value tends to rise in area where artists and galleries cluster in Europe and the US, doesn’t it?
Sato: There are areas where that’s happening with land prices rising, overseas, but if I had my choice I would rather create value in a more pure sense. Galleries tend to resolve never to handle hard-to-sell artwork or unprofitable performances, but even disregarding that sort of commercial element, I think the best course is to continue to handle things we think we have to handle right now, allow a community to form naturally among the people we attract, and connect with Bakurocho that way.
-There are a lot of art galleries in Tokyo; how do you see your location in Bakurocho as significant?
Sato: I feel like PARCEL is distinct partly just by being in eastern Tokyo, when you consider how most modern art galleries are in the west. A lot of art enthusiasts are passionate, and some will make their way all the way here from exhibitions at Shibuya galleries. Also, it doesn’t matter to foreign visitors whether we’re in the east or west of Tokyo. In that sense, we don’t see our location as a disadvantage, and more tend to hope that PARCEL will give people a motive to get out to eastern Tokyo. Furthermore, the area is a wholesale district with a lot of tall buildings, and since we take that as a strength that other areas don’t have, we also want to use the space freely and leverage its unique features.
In addition to its many floors, PARCEL also has some partially-underground space and is exploring presentation methods to exploit its properties, leading with performances. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
The unique perspective an artist has on the region.
-People anticipate contributions to regional vitalization from art and artists, with art festivals popping up all across the country lately, not just around galleries located in cities.
Takasu: It could generate traffic to the area if the number of people who come to see artwork by an artist goes up. But even before the corona crisis, big companies with capital were increasingly holding events with artistic spectacles to attract people. On the other hand, if you consider it while focused on “energizing the local community,” it doesn’t need to be an artist, and could be a department store doing unique things. If you were a department store, energizing the area would directly show results for your business, and would let you set down roots there. But artists don’t directly aim to give anything specific to an area. Artists don’t aim to attract customers or vitalize regions; they should be focused on confronting the region and city from their personal perspectives. Even if 100 out of 100 people hate the results they produce that way, while that’s sad in its own way, people may end up loving it in future eras. There could be room for art that’s just waiting for its time.
-Does the attitude of interpreting regions and cities as context from a personal perspective, and of playing with the blank space in a city relate to the “street attitude” Mr. Sato mentioned earlier?
Takasu: Yes, it does. You could say that we’re always playing when we think of ideas for pieces in SIDE CORE, too. We don’t just get ideas in the studio, they come to us as we walk through the city and observe it. For example, things like a sheet of cardboard hanging in the gap between two buildings, or the rat corpse we saw out in the city, or a laundromat on a construction site at night, all of those are what we call “ko-neta” (small story or anecdote). This little mystery we experienced out in the city forms the origin point for something that evolves into a work of art, in a lot of cases.
-It’s fascinating to see something creating from that sort of personal perspective have some sort of impact on the city, and I think that artists and galleries are important for cities and towns as a presence that can bring those new perspectives.
Takasu: I’m very happy to have someone take it that way. For us, we get particularly inspired by the atmosphere and traces of places a lot of people have gathered in, often, and that’s why we use cities and towns as the canvas for our work. Put the other way around, we might be weaker if we went out into the suburbs, with all the natural abundance (laughter).
The intersection of Edo “iki” and street “style”.
-How do you feel about the Bakurocho area of the city – where PARCEL is located - or the distinctive traits of the Nihonbashi area?
Takasu: In regard to Bakurocho, I like the feeling it has of being a “pitfall” between the lively tourist area of Asakusa and its surroundings and the glittering Nihonbashi with redevelopment underway and commercial facilities like COREDO (laughter). I used to live in Jinbocho, and it was relatively common for people to live on the upper floors of buildings with businesses in them. It would be a city filled with businessmen during the day, but empty at night, and that contrast was delightful. I think there are a lot of places like that in the Bakurocho neighborhood. Compared to western Tokyo – like Shibuya and Roppongi and so on where entertainment development is advanced – it’s intriguing to have people living throughout the city, here, and there are a lot of little clearings in the city. I feel like it’s a good location for creating pieces that hack things like systemic parts of the city as they operate, and use them for other applications.
One of SIDE CORE’s pieces discretely exhibited in a corner of the DDD HOTEL that houses PARCEL. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
Sato: I agree with Ms. Takasu, and feel like this neighborhood is like an air pocket, and that in contrast to western Tokyo with its mature art and culture, it has the space for me to create new communities and styles from individual-level activities. When looking at the Nihonbashi area broadly, Bakurocho has particularly pronounced distinctions and a unique atmosphere, in contrast with the developed COREDO area.
-Mr. Sato talked about how street “style” is similar to Japanese “iki,” earlier, and the Nihonbashi area was the location that fostered the “iki” spirit of Edo. Given that Bakurocho has its own unique style, do you think it’s particularly compatible with the street attitude you value at PARCEL?
Sato: Yes. Nihonbashi generally has an image of tradition and formality, but the Bakurocho neighborhood in particular feels like it actually has a lot of people who hold to their own style and go about their roles freely, without any concern for what people say.
Takasu: Now that you mention it, Nihonbashi is the place roads begin. I’m actually into expressways, especially the Shuto Expressway; roads are kind of a romantic topic, don’t you think (laughter)? The Shuto Expressway runs right over the kilometer zero point of Nihonbashi, and boats also sail on the river over it. It’s exciting; I wonder where these people are going, with all the various crossing paths as people travel by car, boat, train, and airplanes when I look up at the sky. I’ve always wanted to do something using the river, and actually even studied for a boating license while I was pregnant (laughter). The river opens out into the sea, and I love the image of slipping by the city, so it would be great to work it into a piece someday.
- I’d love to see one of your works that takes on this city from your unique perspective, Ms. Takasu. Thank you very much for your time today.
The solo exhibition “A New Career in a New Town” by Mr. Jun Tsunoda, held from November to December 2019. (Image provided by: PARCEL)
Interview and text: Yuki Harada (Qonversations)
A gallery located in a corner of the DDD HOTEL in the Bakurocho neighborhood of Nihonbashi, Tokyo. The unique space was once a vertical parking garage, and is engaged in a variety of exhibits and programs that span diverse cultures and values with modern art as a central theme. It does so by serving as both a project space for artists and an art gallery. Former CLEAR EDITION director Taku Sato serves as gallery director, while Sakie Takasu of art collective “SIDE CORE” serves as program director.