Intercommunication Center (ICC)

by Monty DiPietro

Epic.

When Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, one of the world’s richest corporations, opened its InterCommunication Center in Shinjuku’s new Tokyo Opera City Tower, it came as no surprise when the project proved, well...Epic.

Covering 5,200 square meters - about the size of an American Football field - the 5-Billion yen exhibition space occupies three floors of the towering bubble-building situated at the intersection of Koshu Kaido and Yamate Dori. Wooden floors, 10-meter ceilings and user-friendly indirect lighting affect a postmodern warmth to the expansive foyer. Splashy art books sit untouched along a wall of the empty gift shop as smiling bilingual receptionists collect 800 yen each from the ICC-estimated 2,500 office workers, students, and others who visit each day to witness NTT’s epoch-making virtual marriage of art and science.

"At the planning stage for ICC’s ‘basic concept,’ NTT suggested making a kind of cross between [Disney’s] EPCOT Center in Orlando, Florida and the Pompidou Center in Paris" says ICC committee member, architect Yutaka Hikosaka.

Ten themes define the "ICC Matrix," and the second level permanent exhibition space showcases work in these categories; Machine, Media, Perception, Space, Time, Material, Communication, Information, Game, and Life.

In American Gregory Barsamian’s "Juggler" - pegged as a "Time" installation - the effect is more EPCOT than Pompidou. A life-sized mannequin tosses a telephone receiver into the air and it morphs into a baby’s nursing bottle. A drop of milk escapes, transforms itself into a bone descending beneath a tiny parachute - which disappears as the bone reverts to telephone receiver in the humanoid’s wire hands to complete the cycle. A strobe-lit, 4.27 meter steel cage revolving at 50kph realizes the trompe-l’oeil through the persistence of vision. Barsamian has an artspeak rap on the piece, but few of the mesmerized viewers seem concerned with what the artist refers to as the "Jungian...safety valve of the psyche, venting a primordial distrust of human constructs and forming a roadmap into our deepest nature." No, I believe most are simply tripping on the awesome visual experience.

ICC is charting a brave, but thin line into the next century. The lavish 200 page "ICC Concept Book" declares "...the overall form of artistic expression until now was nothing more than a container for a one-way message sent from the artist to the viewer [such that] the work of art is the lifeless product of the artist...we may now be facing the end of the world of art that was constructed on the basis of the rigid terms ‘artist’ and ‘work of art’...It is no longer sufficient to simply look, listen, or read works of painting, sculpture or music...active participation is required."

Many of the works in the space, and outside in cyberspace [http://www.ntticc.or.jp], are interactive. Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau’s "Life Spacies: An Evolutionary Communication and Interaction Environment" invites Internet input in creating artificial organisms which are introduced into three-dimensional virtual existence on large screens at ICC, where visitors can interact with the creatures. In Ulrike Gabriel’s "Terrain_02: Solar Robot Environment for Two Users," visitors seated in Dr. Who chairs don Aum-like headgear which measures brain waves and translates the alpha rays into movements of a score of tiny solar-powered cockroach-like robots. Overhead, hundreds of lights connected to the headsets through a tangle of wires blink on and off in response to the participants’ cerebral energy.

Encountered with "Installation OR," a poignant but relatively unamusing treatise on death by Tokyo art collective Dumb Type, a group of salarymen shrug their shoulders and head off, perhaps to twirl knobs or play the visual piano in Toshio Iwai’s Media Art funhouse on level one.

ICC is a sort of Mensa Arts and Science Fair, terrifying to those steeped in the tradition of oil on canvas, who will ask whether we have here artists working with technology - or technologists toying with art. Like every avant-garde art movement of the 20th century, Media Art has alienated and infuriated reactionary artists and critics by threatening the status quo while broadening the appeal and accessability of contemporary art.

In the back of a 700 square meter room dedicated to architect Arato Isozaki’s "Mirage City," a work-in-progress that seeks to define, plan and execute a 21st century utopian city on an island off Macao, Yukira Kinoshita and 20 other Tokyo Metropolitan University students take a break from computer interfacing, slicing Styrofoam and assembling mock-ups. Gazing at an improbable sandwich of multicolored plastic on the scale model before him, an exhausted Kinoshita sighs, "The most difficult thing is conceptualizing utopia."

But there is hope in the young man’s eyes.


Notes: ICC: 5353-0800
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