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Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture and design exhibitions and events at art museums, galleries and alternative spaces around Japan. The contributors are non-Japanese art critics living in Japan.

Atelier Bow-Wow: Practice of Lively Space
Thomas Daniell
Gallery seen Model of the competition
White Limousine Yatai, a 10m-long mobile food stall
Puppet theater with live shows scheduled throughout the exhibition
No matter how the work of Atelier Bow-Wow (the mild-mannered, brilliant husband-and-wife team of Yoshiharu Tsukamoto and Momoyo Kaijima) tends to be interpreted or misinterpreted -- an exploitation of contextual constraints, an elaboration of personal quirks, an exploration of the potential of narrow spaces, and so on -- it is above all based on taking things seriously. Being serious, as Susan Sontag has said with regard to literature, includes being funny, but excludes being cynical. The houses of Atelier Bow-Wow may embody a subtle critique of the city that spawned them, yet for all their compositional humor, they always avoid subverting or mocking the desires of their clients. Quotidian pleasures and individual idiosyncrasies are all treated equally.

Like many of their contemporaries, Atelier Bow-Wow draw inspiration from French philosophical thought, yet not from the theoretical ambiguities and compositional analogies provided by figures such as Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze. Instead, the texts accompanying Atelier Bow-Wow projects often directly and indirectly reference canonical works of sociology such as Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, or Henri Lefebvre's Critique of Everyday Life and The Production of Space. Indeed, the current exhibition of Atelier Bow-Wow's work at Gallery MA is called Practice of Lively Space. This is architecture to be judged as a platform for enabling activity rather than for its sculptural beauty.

The three major components of the show exemplify Atelier Bow-Wow's range of interests and ambitions. On the upper level is a collection of scale models of small house designs, with walls removed to reveal their inner spatial and functional configurations. In the outdoor courtyard is the White Limousine Yatai, a ten-meter-long mobile food stall built by Kaijima's students at Tsukuba University, which was premiered at the 2003 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale as an example of what Tsukamoto and Kaijima call a "micro public space." On the lower level they have designed and installed a functioning puppet theater, for the use of a local puppetry club comprising mostly suburban Japanese housewives. Another example of micro public space, it includes shelves for displaying the puppets and seating for an audience, and live shows are scheduled throughout the exhibition period.

The house models are reflected in the accompanying catalog, entitled Graphic Anatomy, which contains a series of double-page spreads of sections and plans as cutaway perspectives. These show the details of structures and finishes, as well as the inhabitants engaged in various everyday activities: relatively ordinary scenes and construction techniques, but handled with a delicacy and sensitivity that transforms banality into uniqueness. Outward eccentricities in the compositions reveal themselves to be side effects of achieving particular family interactions, or new relationships with daylight and views.

Finally, it is the puppet theater that is emblematic of the show, and of Atelier Bow-Wow's work as a whole. Unpretentious, unassuming, unembarrassed, this architecture is not about the designers' egos, but about creating ad hoc stages for other people to do their own thing -- however goofy those things might sometimes seem to be.
Gallery seen Model of the competition
Walls removed to reveal inner spatial and functional configurations
Collection of scale models of small house designs

All photos by Nacasa & Partners Inc.
Atelier Bow-Wow: Practice of Lively Space --
Glocal Detached House and Micro Public Space
Gallery MA / http://www.toto.co.jp/gallerma/ex070308/index.htm
8 March - 12 May 2007

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Thomas Daniell
Thomas Daniell is a practicing architect based in Kyoto. He is currently on the design faculty of Kyoto Seika University and an editorial consultant for the Dutch publications Volume and Mark. His texts on contemporary art and architecture are widely published, and he is a frequent guest speaker at schools and symposiums throughout the world.


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