We are delighted to start this interview series with MIRRORBOWLER, a Japanese collaborative art group who creates installations with mesmerizing lights and reflections.
The more we learn about each member's distinguishable artistic taste, the performance they demonstrate as a group, and of course, their artworks, the more we are enthralled to know who they are. The blueprint MIRRORBOWLER is drawing up lies beyond the world we know. Where are they heading for?
Culture Style (CS): In one interview, you mentioned, “I was struck by a sensational message straight in the head, which led me to launch MIRRORBOWLER.” Could you tell us about this inspiration and how it drove you to start MIRRORBOWLER?”
Toshiaki UCHIKOSHI, ‘Patriarch’ of MIRRORBOWLER: I didn't receive any specific message as a ‘calling' or ‘revelation'. I can't remember clearly, but I think I saw a dream. On the morning of February 29th, 2000, I found myself crying struck by how wonderful it is to be alive and how beautiful the earth is. It happened utterly out of the blue. At that very moment, I felt a kind of connection with something or an irresistible drive, and I just couldn't help but propagating and creating autonomously.
I wanted to make something computer (graphics) cannot calculate and goes far beyond my imagination and vision. Within a few days, I stumbled across mirror balls [disco balls] and shaped up the concept of the first work. It's an installation, a space filled with over 100 mirror balls. It was such a challenge for me as I had had no experience other than graphic design, and this first artwork wouldn't have been completed without my seniors, team and my wife. This is the prequel to MIRRORBOWLER which would be launched a few years later through plenty of pleasure, discoveries, challenges, and adversities.
CS: I see that MIRRORBOWLER came into the world with the help of quite a few supporters. You also mentioned in the other interview that you launched MIRRORBOWLER in order to express “something [planned] full-scale as something full-scale”. While you could use any materials to realize the artwork from your two-dimensional blueprint, why did it have to be specifically mirror balls?
UCHIKOSHI: A mirror ball is covered with several hundreds of mirrors in one to two-centimeter square attached by hand. The patterns of the reflection of light between multiple mirror balls are immeasurable. Our first goal was to visualize the rays of light.
The light, traveling as far as it can go, shows the size of the artwork. We chose mirror balls as a device to radiate the lights, so the audience could feel the scale that we imagined and planned it to be, rather than they only see the condensed artwork like CD covers.
Mirror ball is an ordinary material that nobody really uses, and it's hard to shake off its public image — which seemed intriguing, too. We realized when creating the artwork that lights can speak directly to the audience without language or explanation. A mirror ball with hundreds of mirrors reflects the world at hundreds of different angles, and if something in the space moves, it impacts all those hundreds of images. To put it in the other way around, the entire world is aggregated in one single mirror out of hundreds of them. That's what makes mirror balls fascinating as well as the light they reflect.
FUJI-JUKAI "ECHO", 2003, Art Direction & Design: Toshiaki Uchikoshi, Photo: Hiroshi Nomura
CS: The world of light is infinite, isn’t it? The scale of artworks by MIRRORBOWLER is almost like that of an architecture — how long do you take for planning, and for actual installation?
Norio NAKAMURA, Art Director & Object Designer of MIRRORBOWLER: The duration of planning depends on the work, but it’s about a month at shortest, about half a year at longest. Then all the members assemble the components in a few weeks.
Suguru FUNAKI, Art Director & Object Designer of MIRRORBOWLER: A month at shortest, and if I were to start designing from the scratch, I start working about three months before the production.
Shinnoichi YOSHIDA, Producer of MIRRORBOWLER: I think it takes about 3 to 5 days to build up the artwork including the process of setting up the lightings. The duration varies according to the scale of the project and the schedule.
CS: MIRRORBOWLER consists of members with various professions, such as designer, photographer, artist, lighting expert — how many members do you have as of now? And how do you conduct a meeting or production while each member is busy in their own field?
Ryo ASADA, President of MIRRORBOWLERS Inc.: At least 30 in total, most of whom are located in Tokyo and the others all over the country such as Shizuoka, Nara, Yamanashi. Majority of them have a primary job apart from MIRRORBOWLER works, and we keep it flexible so they can participate in the project they like, whenever they are able.
CS: I like the idea of the project-based participation. Here’s a simple question; I believe you keep the design of the artworks digitally, but what happens to the actual materials like mirror balls? Also, do you exhibit the past artwork in a different place?
YOSHIDA: We keep the materials like mirror balls or components of objects in storage as well as the lighting equipment. It depends on the project, but there are cases where we exhibit the same artwork with some changes in it, for a few years.
(E.g., Kenji Miyazawa Fairy Tales Village at Hankyu Umeda Department Store)
"ACORNS AND WILDCAT", Kenji Miyazawa Fairy Tales Village, 2017, Art Direction & Design: Toshiaki Uchikoshi,
Photo: Hiroshi Takagi, Botanical installation: Nenouwasa
"GIFT", Hankyu Umeda Department Store, 2017, Art Direction & Design: Norio Nakamura, Photo: Peta Matsumoto
CS: When a new project is commissioned, what do you start with? How do you find a ‘seed' or inspiration for the artwork?
Norio NAKAMURA, Art Director & Object Designer of MIRRORBOWLER: I make sure to go to the venue and feel the ‘qi’ of the space with my own skin. I jot down the inspiration I get by that and the make a sketch of the place in the notebook. I also keep simple drawings of what I notice or what I want to do every day, which I use as a reference at times.
FUNAKI: I often get inspiration from travel and music. I feel and dig deep into what and how things move us.
CS: What approach do you take to grow the ‘seed’ into an artwork?
NAKAMURA: I conduct research on the climate and culture of the region where the venue is, figure out the clients’ intentions, then turn the ideas into a shape in my own style. Ultimately, I think I pursue the impetus or the thoroughness that feels right to me. Also, it’s extremely fun to immerse myself in the story I made and create the artwork.
CS: So the momentum is an important part of the process, too. Can the outcome be completely different from what you initially had in mind? Or do you basically stick to the first draft and develop from there?
Suguru FUNAKI, Art Director & Object Designer of MIRRORBOWLER: We don’t stray from the first picture, but it’s often developed as we are working as a team, not alone. I listen to the others as much as I can. We do disagree at times, but that can be something I could enjoy.
CS: Because you trust each other, I believe. What do you value in the creative process? Do you put any limit on purpose for a better result?
NAKAMURA: Personally, I like to create a story for each work from a cosmic perspective that could be connected with heaven. I have recently been thinking that the shortcut to there is to incubate the first inspiration. I often come back to the initial idea after examining various possibilities. I don’t particularly set a limit, but it’s my philosophy to finish an artwork so it’s full of spirit.
FUNAKI: ‘Don’t make it too explanatory.’ What matters before anything is that we see the artwork and simply think, “It’s beautiful!” just by a look. I reckon it’s just like the feeling when you hear some great music and we instantly think, “It sounds cool!”
"GEMSTONES OF SENHIME", Saijiki / Himeji Castle, 2017, Art Direction & Design: Suguru Funaki, Photo: Hiroshi Takagi
CS: When I look at an artwork of MIRRORBOWLER, it feels as if the light it produces turns the space into a parallel world that exists as a continuation of the everyday life and talks to us. What do lights mean to the artworks of MIRRORBOWLER, or how does it work?
UCHIKOSHI: Our artworks are seen differently depending on the surrounding or the spectators’ state of mind. I hope our ‘artwork’ is a living creature, light is breath, emotion or non-verbal language that embraces the spectators, talks to them, harmonizes and becomes one with them.
CS: I can see that. We could be filled with benign feelings. As artworks of MIRRORBOWLER create a ‘space’, there should be unpredictable happenings when you install them outdoors as you’ll be dealing with nature. The weather, the changes season’s transition brings... What’s the challenge or fun part in creating a space outside?
Shinnoichi YOSHIDA, Producer of MIRRORBOWLER: By taking disco balls that are supposed to be used indoors to outside, we create a space with mesmerizing lights that is hard to imagine while we know what it is like in the original location.
On the other hand, there were cases where the event itself was canceled due to the rainstorm or heavy snow. It makes us realize the meaning of coexistence with nature that human being has been dealing with since ancient times. However, it's the outdoor installation that brings a real joy to witness the miraculous moment created by the sheer timing of the weather.
It also means a lot that we recorded the miracles just as is in the images or videos which we basically could not experience without physically being there. It's our members who are professional photographers that take the photos or videos. The interpretation of the images/videos comes from them because they are actually involved in the production.
CS: Among various occasions you bring out artworks as MIRRORBOWLER, I believe there are many cases where you have an order from a company or event organizers and create an artwork for a certain theme or their request.
But the ‘Burning Man', the event you participated in back in 2016, was not the case. Your exhibit "-Egg of Hope-" definitely had the different quality compared to your commissioned works. It could be the pure intention of MIRRORBOWLER or something we could call ‘100% MIRRORBOWLER' — you can probably put yourself into the artwork more freely and densely. Is there anything you can achieve only with those projects?
UCHIKOSHI: As you pointed out, there are things we can do only with non-commissioned works. However, I think we are fortunate enough to be allowed to create quite freely with commissioned works, too. Artworks with no strings attached, like those of the other artists, directly convey the emotion or message of the creator. Self-introspection must be the key to achieve that. There are tons of things we want to try, and we are hoping to bring out at the best timing led by good connections.
"EGG OF HOPE", Burning Man, 2016, Art Direction & Design: Toshiaki Uchikoshi, Photo: Peta Matsumoto
CS: I believe your clients give you the freedom in production because of they highly value MIRRORBOWLER. How about the installation of outdoor festivals or fancy parties where your artworks are not the main attraction? What does it feel or what do you keep in mind when you work for that kind of occasions?
NAKAMURA: We don't have specific rules as it depends on the occasion. We may aim for something that perfectly and comfortably fits into the space, or we may go bold bringing in strong impact. For good festivals or parties, artists are of course an important part of it. But those events can't go without a perfect combination of the artist, lightings, and decoration — I always hope to contribute by creating a space that feels good.
FUNAKI: At music festivals, I get jealous of the flamboyance of the musicians, to be honest *laugh*, but I don't think there's any ‘main act' in the art as it's integration of visual or aural factors. The audience doesn't really care either, so it doesn't mean a thing to me to think that way.
"BAZARA-UNIVERSE", COUNTDOWN JAPAN, 2017-2018, Art Direction & Design: Suguru Funaki, Photo: Peta Matsumoto
CS: The fundamental factor that lies in the ‘act of creating art’ can be a belief of the artist, what they think is beautiful, criticism or endorsement to the society today, or even simply what the artist likes — what’s that for MIRRORBOWLER?
ASADA: It doesn’t really feel like we have any premise or intention of doing ‘act of creating art’. I don’t mind our installation of lights being eventually recognized as an artwork. But the best part is that the combination of the environment of the production, situation and the people who come to see it creates the excitement induced by the beauty of extraordinary quality or strong impression, healing energy that’s felt when you’re immersed in a space full of lights which slowly rotates, or the positive energy full of love.
FUNAKI: I simply want people to be happy by seeing the lights of mirror balls. With the real lights, not of computer graphics or video game, I want them to enjoy the moment, not the future or the past.
CS: Ultimately, what is your ‘artwork’ to MIRRORBOWLER?
UCHIKOSHI: As I mentioned before, I intend to make a ‘living creature’ infused with my emotions. I want to create something like a ‘cluster of energy’ that glows more by being adored during the production or pleasure or love (“How beautiful!”) received by the people who see it.
NAKAMURA: Source of energy like the sun that makes the spectators' hearts shine, perhaps? I feel I'm polished by facing the artwork, and I believe that you can set someone aglow only when you glow yourself. If everybody shines, the world would be led towards the better future.
FUNAKI: A communication tool. I believe everybody can be themselves in the lights coming from mirror balls. It makes me somewhat bold, which gets me to talk to people of different generations that I normally wouldn’t talk to — and it’s fun.
"HOSHI FURU KI" (Tree with Falling stars), Fukutoku no Mori, 2017, Art Direction & Design: Norio Nakamura,
Photo: Peta Matsumoto, Botanical installation: Nenouwasa
CS: Given you have absolutely no restrictions on theme, duration, budget or space and have the freedom to create whatever you want, what would you do?
NAKAMURA: I want to do something with the moon. I fantasize, “What would it look like from earth if we cover up the moon with reflective materials like disco balls with the help from NASA.
FUNAKI: I’d attach disco balls on Akita Kantō [long bamboo poles bearing dozens of lanterns, used for a traditional festival in Akita, Japan] and march through the cities like New York, Paris, Jerusalem or Marrakesh.
CS: Last but not least, tell us about your vision or where you’re going as MIRRORBOWLER.
UCHIKOSHI: There are just so many of them, so let me talk about my personal goal; I want to contribute to world peace with light. Something that creates ‘harmony' in the areas with severe dispute or poverty, something with which we can experience and share solid peace, love, and joy — I want to create artworks like that.
NAKAMURA: I want to reach out to the people all over the world. How happy would it be to communicate through an artwork, a non-verbal language?
FUNAKI: I'm strongly attracted to traditional festivals as a place for expression. It's most definitely of general interest, and people get together regardless of their age or sex. Besides, it has the spirituality of conveying the gratitude to gods or for fertility. It's awesome.
ASADA: Before anything, my personal growth as a person while I always look ahead. When it takes a shape as an artwork, I hope it'll be reflected fully. I wish to share the space of lights full of energy of positivity and love with many people. I'd be delighted if we have more occasions for the people all around the world, regardless of the nationality, race, language or religion, to experience the space, too.
CS: Thank you so much for your time and sharing your views. We are looking forward to the day when the lights of MIRRORBOWLER will reach every corner of the world and we all will be embraced by it.
Translated by Mayumi Hikida
"LIGHT OF MAGIC", Akasaka Ark Hills, 2017, Art Direction & Design: Toshiaki Uchikoshi, Photo: Hiroshi TAKAGI, Botanical installation: Nenouwasa
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MIRABO MASTER TOSHIAKI UCHIKOSHI