Sharing perceptions by senses.

One peculiar aspect concerning the use of technology formulated by Japanese artists it is shown by the constant interplay between the oneiric (relating to dreams) and science-fiction alike worlds depicted both by Japanese and American novelists and the content and/or the technique deployed in the artworks. The fictional, technological-empowered and otherworldly novels are taken as a main reference in Electronic Art; or are it true the other way round?

One can even witness a connection between Inter “DisCommunication Machine[1] [2] [3] by Kazuhiko Hachiya exhibited for the first time in 1993 and the movie “Strange Days[4] by Kathryn Bigelow dated 1995. Beyond that, engaging the senses of the visitors and sharing perceptions (switching oneself into another) it is one of the main interests of Japanese new media artists as we will se shortly.

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The detached author. It cannot be overlooked the way by which Hasegawa (2007, p.220) [5] refers to the Superflat movement as showing “a certain radicalness of expression, the playfulness, superficiality, and sparse sociality of their work indicated a lack of awareness of the responsibilities of production for the society.”

Hasegawa (2007, p.220) [6]  points out that: “It was only after this rewriting that the theory of Superflat, which is said to combine the premodern and the postmodern, the ‘fanciful notion’ approach to design typical of early modern painting and otaku culture, was able to function effectively.”

Such behavior: a ‘detached’ approach to the reality of the society, it seems common ground for many contemporary Japanese artists, saying so from a Western point of view, nonetheless, as we witness, also Japanese scholars are critical (or expresses an ambivalent feeling) about it. The paradigm, by which an artist must be politically involved, radicalized on the present time and free from any master: is a quite typical, hypocritical western statement. Such approach has not been alien to the Japanese cultural koinē (both of theoreticians and practitioners) but it dried out slowly since the Osaka Expo 1970 [7]. Still, to me, the reasons why such shift happened are obscure.

Taking from a western stance towards contemporary art: the leftists intellectuals, especially Europeans (in majority affiliated with the Marxist French philosophical koinē), claim to be in charge of the artistic production; such production shall be devoted to free the masses, according to Marxist’s procedures and themes as (i.e. as Walter Benjamin and Arthur Danto promulgates in their writings).

Might then Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt affirm that all these works (the ones I am going to showcase in the present essay) are amusement parks for the Empire [8]?

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As Itsuo Sakane (Schöpf & Stocker 2004, p.143) [9] witnesses: “At the same time, the artist’s target or sensitive dream itself seemed always to be kept naïve and simple in order to maintain a good relationship with nature, society, and even other human beings. We can even say that the creative activity in the field of technology used for such new art seems itself to have greatly advanced within this last half century, but not to have so drastically changed in artistic expression even compared with olden times, because its basic motivation seems to be more or less based on the innate sensibility of the artist.”

Far beyond of being naïve: the authors I will present did experiments on human beings rather than producing mere aesthetically pleasing artworks. I will try to shed light to a peculiar aspect of the contemporary Japanese creative output: slavery.

Characteristics of the experiments. In my opinion, summarizing the meaning of these artworks, I might say that those shall be interpreted as experiences or experiments and not as art tout court.
In fact, considering the role of the audience, usually turned into active/passive performers, we shall witness:
1- Experiments that make one re-think about his/her perception of the world , moving from physiology.
2- Experiments that challenge the notion of identity, both physically and psychologically as thought in continental philosophy.
3- The works offer the opportunity – those exemplify – about how to explore the space around oneself and then how to explore the relationship (both mental and physical) among human beings. All this is done through computers and sensors, which are very sophisticated systems.

What we find, are:

1-  Elements from factual, practical knowledge: as neuroscience and cybernetics.

2-  Speculative-recreational culture: as science fiction in the form of manga and anime.

3- Aspects pertinent to magic practices.

These three above-mentioned clusters offer the inspirational source and practical knowledge for the creation of the works.

What we do not find:

1- Drama: in the form of conflicts, war, social issues, political messages.

2- Gender investigations: it is otherwise genderless, sexless as angelical or flattened hybridization.

3- Nature (some of its emanations): no references to plants or animals.

4- Kids as allegory; the very idea of childhood is somehow present but the operational attitude cuts out the youngest: to be part of the work, to activate it, it is required patience, control and refined cognitive processes.

…but all these works challenge the notion of reality on the cognitive ground/basis.

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From a postmodernist standpoint all these works might be described as (mind that this may not be the intention of the authors): male chauvinist, sadists, bourgeois, Nazis/Fascists; those express a form of believe in science and technology as a mean of knowledge and control.

Those could be defined (still from post-structuralist point of view) also as: utopians, individualistic (in the direct experience), pluralistic (in the ideation and implementation: as those require various expertise as for design and movie-making, therefore are team-oriented).

Further more these works are lacking wordplay and intellectualism (natural language is absent), those are lacking irony and cynicism (all taught to be peculiar characteristics of a work arisen in a postmodernist scenario), those are not occurring in reinterpreting history (on a new structuralist or post-structuralist stance), those are not occurring in remixes… these works ultimately could be then defined as being Modern.


The works I will present might represent a sort of Occidentalism as opposed to the western Orientalism. As Orientalism has been the image (imagical stereotype [10]) projected onto Asian cultures from the west; so Occidentalism could be the way by which Japanese authors would discuss upon European new media art incorporating native western themes the way those are perceived to be representative of European new media artists’ thought.


These experiments could not be ascribed in the Cyberpunk culture either. Why? Because these Japanese authors are very neat and the works are much more similar to clean and safe medical trials. These experiments are playful more than dreadful, as it would be depicted otherwise  as in the bleak dystopian soon-to-be future of the cyberpunk literature. I might assume that cyber escapism is the less representative form of metafiction [11] in Japan because it turned to be a metanarrative as postmodern philosophers define [12]. Cyberpunk it is the most appealing form of fiction from the West that Japanese can empathize, nonetheless western science fiction has been digested and assimilated with a scope in mind: Science fiction lost its fictional character to be turned into proper science.

What were once western science fiction has became the blueprints for Japanese design, art and science itself. So, nowadays Japanese cyber escapism is the western cyberpunk turned into everyday life: factual life, normalized, sanitized (purified from the anarchist and revolutionary ingredients). What I can name “Japanese cyber escapism” is perceived (from Japanese people themselves) as the natural, logical continuation, evolution perhaps, of a modernist industrialized culture (mainly the one rooted in the Victorian age).

A more attentive analysis of the Japanese science fiction novelist Satoshi Hoshi [13] would shed light on the way cotemporary Japanese artists draft their projects (in particular for Video Art and Interactive Art).

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As I stated before, I would rather call these works not artworks, but experiments. Furthermore, these experiments are not imbued with Japanese aesthetic, on the contrary are influenced by: the European modernism, Bauhaus, theory of perception, neurophysiology, cybernetics (without any political or moral and ethical implications as it would be if the research would be pursued by western researchers), metaphysics (theories concerned with out-of-the-body/extra-body experiences).

The subject of the investigation, done by the Japanese authors taken as reference, is the human body, in particular, these four features:

1- proprioception [14]

2- exteroception [15] (in particular the perceptive aspects of sight and hearing)

3- mimic

4- proxemic

These are put under scrutiny and manipulated by the system, which has been assembled by the author/s. These settings resemble a medical trial, as in factual operational settings in hospitals and alike, a form of ceremony is enacted: a medical ceremony, reminiscent of shamanic heritage. We assist, thus participate to a ritualistic role-play of the relationship doctor-patient or, as we might say, between shaman and practitioners.

Neither Art nor Science.

It is not made by artists but by scientists: the works I present are realized by engineers of whom only few have been trained in the visual arts, and if so, only later in life. It has little if none aesthetic value (as westerners are able to recognize in an art-craft). It is experimental in scope, relating to scientific experiments. It has a symbolic value, relating to ceremonies and rituals. It derives motives from neuroscience. It makes extensive use of technology. It drives inspiration from science-fiction (in particular from manga, anime and western sci-fi novels).

It is not part of the art market  (as it has been understood until today) and it is loosely part of the art world: being not preeminently exhibited in galleries, nor museum or cultural institutions. It is done not by a single author but realized by team of experts in various fields. It cannot be seen as  being ascribed into the definition of professor Massimo Negrotti [16] (1995, p.11/12) [17] whom describes the typologies of Science (imitative and conventional). It engages the audience as active part of the experiments: these artworks are inert if not activated by the visitors or by the author(s) themselves. It might be rooted in or it might originate in the weaponry research: all the technology implied is a by-product of the military industry.

It is not conform to Body Art as there are not political and gender-identity statements displayed. Drama is absent, rather those work provoke a sense of wonder, curiosity, surprise in a rather peaceful and sanitized settings.

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Science and magic.

Why do scientists produce tools and actions to be shown (performed/ritualized) in art spaces? These are ceremonies enacted in art temples such as galleries, festivals, and exhibitions. In some occasion the settings, the props, the dressing (or undressing perhaps) is far more casual (and less ritualized) than the performances done by western artists [18]. If in ancient time the shaman asked for enhanced senses (supernatural powers to be bestowed on him from the spirits on behalf of Nature itself): now the artist/scientist asks the same to computers instead. The contemporary kami/genuius loci/numen are to be found inside the computers: computers are the nowadays torimono.

Pereira (Negrotti 1995, p.255) [19] points out that ars imitates nature in the attempt to realize absolute perfection. Aristotle provided the theoretical background from which such practice would arise. To him the following precepts were fundamental: there is an immutable objective reality, nature, created by a primordial creative act; then there is the human will and its intervention, which is subjective, oriented, and intentional. Nonetheless, human beings act within the immutable laws that the creator posed. Human intervention on nature is intended to perfect it; human activity, the artificium, and nature share the same teleological foundation.

Hideyuki Ando Tomofumi Yoshida Junji Watanabe.

“Save yourself!!!”

Watanabe is known in Europe for exhibiting his works in art festivals, but his academic background and daily basis activities as researcher are quite different from what we would be tempted to believe.

Junji Watanabe was born on 1976, he received a Ph.D. in Information Science and Technology from the University of Tokyo [20] in 2005. From 2005 up to now he is an Invited Researcher in NTT Communication Laboratories [21] [22]. Between 2005 and 2009 has been recipient of the grant PRESTO Japan Science & Technology Agency [23] (the aim of the foundation is supporting the creation of digital media content). Between 2009 and 2011, Watanabe has been Research Fellow in Japan Society for the Promotion of Science [24]. Since 2011 is a Research Specialist in NTT Communication Laboratories. He studies cognitive science and communication devices on regard of applied perception. His fields of interests are visual and haptic perceptions and communications.

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His studies have been presented in international journals (Nature Neuroscience [25], Current Biology [26] etc.) and international conferences (SIGGRAPH [27] from 2006 to 2009).
He received honorary mentioned in Ars Electronica “NextIdea” [28] 2004, and his works “Save YourSelf!!!” and “Slot Machine Drawing” [29] were exhibited in Ars Electronica Center [30] from 2007 to 2008, and “Saccade-based Display” [31] is currently presented. His works were exhibited at Japan Media Arts Festival [32] in 2006 (Jury Recommended Works), 2007 (Jury Recommended Works), and 2008 (Excellence Prize). He also works as stage-designer for the media performance unit cell/66b [33].

The collaboration started in 2001, and the works titled “Test-patches” were performed in Ars Electronica 2002.

He took part in the Kobe biennale [34] on 2009, at the “Sensory Circuit Collection” exhibition at MiraikanNational Museum for Emerging Science and Innovation [35] (2009-2010), and at the ” Cyber Arts Japan – Ars Electronica – 30 years for Art and Media Technology” at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo [36] (2010).

As Watanabe writes in his website: “We have developed a novel sensation interface Save YourSelf !!! [37] (2007-2008) using galvanic vestibular stimulation (GVS). The vestibular system is stimulated by weak current through the electrodes, placed behind the ears. GVS causes lateral virtual acceleration toward the anode, which shifts the sense of balance. The GVS interface can induce lateral walking diverging from intended straight line.

Based on this GVS technology, we produced an artwork Save YourSelf !!! on the subject of wavering identity in the modern society. In our artwork, a tiny doll is floating on the water. An acceleration sensor is integrated into the doll, and the obtained data is sent to the GVS interface. GVS is presented according to the data from the sensor. Any kind of vibration of the doll disturbs the balance of the wearers. When the doll falls over, they feel big swaying sensation. This GVS interaction makes them feel truly connected to the doll. They keep on walking, while holding the tank of water. This artwork is intended to observe and hold your wavering identity (the doll on the water) from the outer perspective.

GVS technology can be applied not only to the information presentation but also to the field of artistic expressions and entertainments. We hope that the experiences of GVS remind users of how the human perceives and behaves in the world, and it enriches human life and mind.”

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On the subject of “wavering identity in the modern society” (as I might define it): these experiments materializes postmodern theories by the means of a doll [38] waving on the water. Putting in other words: you or a shaman can control your body in a voodoo-like scenario [39] [40].






5–                 Hasegawa, Y., Akio, S., Moriyama, T., Namba, S., Mori, C., and Chaira. (2007). Space for Your Future: Recombining the DNA of Art and Design. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo: INAX Publishing.

6–                 Hasegawa, Y., Akio, S., Moriyama, T., Namba, S., Mori, C., and Chaira. (2007). Space for Your Future: Recombining the DNA of Art and Design. Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo: INAX Publishing.



9–                 Schöpf, C. and Stocker, G. (2004). Timeshift—The World in Twenty-Five Years. Catalogue Ars Electronica. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag.

10–             imaginal + magical







17–             Negrotti, M. (1995). Artificialia – La dimensione artificiale della natura umana. CLUEB. Translated from Italian by Mauro Arrighi.

18–             Marina Abramović

19–             Negrotti, M. (1995). Artificialia – La dimensione artificiale della natura umana. CLUEB. Translated from Italian by Mauro Arrighi.