Monday, 17 May 2010

Tokyo Design Festa

About a decade ago I went to an Italian food festival at Tokyo Big Sight. It was so crowded it was almost frightening and I hadn't been back to any "festa" until the anime fair in March this year. Bolstered by enjoying that, this weekend I was back again to check out for myself what the attending crowds were there to assess at the Tokyo Design Festa.

This the first time I've been to the bi-annual Design Festa (under which "Design" covers mostly "art" – illustration, painting, postcards, photos etc, alongside fashion, 3D artwork, and a few products etc which would make "Art" Festa also a misnomer. The Design Festa is like the funky young sibling to the "grown-up" design of Tokyo Design Week.). At first I thought it was not going to turn out to be the way I'd want to see what the individual or small-scale creators (1,145 of them) – at the entrance, Festa workers, calling out directions with spread arms to prevent the thousands attending going the wrong way, direct you to the right place to buy a ticket. But inside at least there's an atmosphere of over-sized, creative flea-market, with space to walk among the stalls. There's a sizeable performance area to welcome you in the atrium (band, dance, fashion take their turns), and the stalls are off to the 3 sides (and the floor above).

So what's on offer?

Well, the Harajukian off-centre dominates. Or perhaps those attendees just have the visible upperhand. The stall-holders mostly have a one- or two-tatami area each to set up and display their work (or just sit on the floor among the work) as well as any promotion (costume, balloons etc). The undemonstrative are settled next to the flamboyant, and it's easy to miss the small display of self-created postcards or simply fashion (hats, shoes, T-shirts) next to in-your-face "transgression" of certain dolls/fashions/poster designs/illustrations etc.

The seemingly damaged psyche sits next to the apparently healthier. With a broad selection of healthily damaged between. Make what you will of small sunset paintings; drawings on the theme of self-cutting harm; business card-sized paper-folding cars and animals; decorated flip-flops; cos-play attendees perusing cos-play illustrations; a non-slip, easy-to-tear toilet roll holder; oni dolls; quick portraits or happy cartoons; dolls with runny noses; cat photographs; a bath-time-rubber-duck gimp-style mouth-plug (and the model's welcoming photo area in a child's paddling pool); brightly shot day-in-the-park-style photos; darkly painted blood-themed paintings. The list goes on (to 1,145 in fact) – and includes and outside band space, a Ghanaian food stall, and the upper floor which I didn't explore.

Promoting beer for sale in the outside live space

Certainly, someone is probably making a good profit – it's a reasonable 1,000 yen to enter as a viewer/buyer, but each stall-holder also pays (up to around 50,000 yen for two days). Some of the creators, perhaps the less prone to promotion, may be passed over in the melĂ©e. Promotion – whether by display or live illustration – counts when in competition with 2,799 other stalls. And in the end it can seem overkill, but a plethora of middling creativity sits alongside the more-than-occasional gem. Surely an outpouring of general creativity – just the sheer amount of making of things – is surely worth celebrating in some way?

The Festa seems to be a youth thing – by reputation and energy, though there's no special limit on who can apply, either by genre or age. It's also an international event with various overseas contributors.

The next already is planned for November.
Someone reading a stallholder's business card
Crowds on the escalators
Watching the live performance
An exhibitor in promotional costume peeks from a neighbouring stall

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