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Kindergarten

by Monty DiPietro

Even if you don't clearly remember the kindergarten that ushered you curious and unsuspecting into your first seat of intellectual apprenticeship, one thing about the place is almost certainly true—the stuff there was real small. I realize this as my wide rump squishes ungraciously into the bench of a kindergarten bus (a seating space designed for three tots), and later, while ascending the low-rise steps of a Sumida preschool space, the toes of my feet stuck silly-like into munchkin slippers. I'm here for an art exhibition but there's a lesson that goes with it: You can go home, you just don't fit so well.

So, well, this is a super idea: Take a kindergarten during August vacation, invite a dozen young artists to do site-specific work, mix, and serve. The recipe is the brainchild of Roger McDonald, a 28 year old Brit who has just settled in Tokyo. In the sardine bus ride over from the Sumida Adult Learning Center, a senior citizen's space whose cooperation McDonald has also enlisted in the project, the ambitious curator explains:

"I'm from London where there are lots of group shows in independent spaces and this is where younger talent and interesting works are found, but Tokyo doesn't really have that. One thing I wanted as a curator was to do something outside the museums or galleries and introduce younger artists. Actually, some of them aren't artists at all, one of the people here is a comedy writer from England [Roger Drew], he's put in some drawings. I hope that in a small way I can throw a little jazz into the Tokyo art scene."

At the wheel of our little bus is the kindergarten headmaster, a pleasant old guy in a happi coat, Susumu Nakazawa, who also happens to be McDonald's uncle. We pull up at the kindergarten, which has been thoroughly and lovingly done up by the artists. Hideki Inoue has marooned his stuffed animal "N-Bears" in the toilet's disabled urinals, while Izuru Kasahara's Smurf-like sculpture, "Sunny Sandy Smile," stands outside in the playground, near the jungle jim. Yuichi Higashionna has his haunting interiors here, black silhouettes of colonial dining room sets and the like that are his unsettling comment on a childhood of suburban alienation, while a group called Living Type has transformed the music room into an eerie blacklight and organza space they call "Childscape Garden."

Impressive is Naoko Waraya's "Namida no Hana," an enveloping installation of the obsessive art type that sees the floor of a room carpeted with shredded cardboard, a gold painted cardboard construction sitting in the center of the room, all this bathed in a warm yellow light. The cardboard fort makes a reference to the homeless who live by the nearby Sumida river. Says Waraya, "Kids have enough imagination to see the homeless as happy and rich and free, living like they themselves might like to live."

McDonald organized a children's workshop as part of the kindergarten project, and has put the stuff the kids produced in a nearby art gallery. There are also a number of drawings by Japanese and British children here on the kindergarten walls, and these fit seamlessly with the rest of the work. Interacting with the scale of the space is a treat in itself, and the whole kindergarten exercise works wonderfully—it brings to mind the words of Pablo Picasso:

"Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he
grows up."


Notes: Until Aug 27 at various locations in Sumida. Call 090-2528-2219 for details or visit the Kindergarten website at: http://tango.jpn.org/kgp/
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