culture power
artist Noboru Tsubaki/椿昇

Copyright © Aomi Okabe and all the Participants
© Musashino Art University, Department of Arts Policy and Management
©岡部あおみ & インタヴュー参加者

Noboru Tsubaki (Artist born on 1953 in Kyoto)

Aomi Okabe: I understand that you were involved in the Hannover Expo.

Noboru Tsubaki: Yes, I was a designer for the interior of the Japanese pavilion. Since there was only a low budget, they thought that a contemporary artist might be able to come up with something. These days, I am involved in a lot of such productions. The merits of this work are that it is very public, non-product based and you can contribute your work to the public in an NPO style.

Okabe: Although expos have huge budgets behind them, it is also very difficult to see exactly who did what work since they are held for highly political purposes.

Tsubaki: Yes, it is very unclear.  In Japan, there is too much bureaucracy in the system of organization formed through centralized power. When they later try to revise the system, they cannot adapt along with the times. They just continue to do what they did 50 years earlier. So now, even though we have progressed into an advanced network and digital-based society, taxation and laws still remain mostly unchanged.  The same can be said for the gender problems. For example, the taxation system for women is irrational.

Okabe: You can be requested to design a pavilion and actually do it, but not all artists are capable of achieving this, are they?


「Cochineal」UNapplication No13 -No Win No Lose-
2003 at Maison de la Culture du Japon
© Noboru Tsubaki

Tsubaki: In my case, I start by making my own agency. I create graphics with professional digital artists using special printers I borrow through my connections and design intensively for three months. I tell my clients that since I am an artist you need to have faith that I will not go wrong. Our work cannot be checked everyday because if it is, it will not be completed. In the end, if people like your work, then that is all that matters. I can judge these things but a bureaucrat wouldn’t. Overall, I think this kind of work style for artists is a wonderfully effective system.

Okabe: I agree. You have ideas that must suit the circumstances as well as great flexibility.

Tsubaki: The Dentsu company (Japan Advertising corporate group) is full of very smart people but a lot of them are aggressively competitive and will quickly tread on others. Yet Dentsu and Hakuhodo (Japan Advertising corporate group) both are now taking jobs for extremely low rates. In my case, I have worked as an independent so I am interested in keeping similarly small operators in business as the world in which the small creature could live. Despite that, all the money goes into Dentsu rather than to the actual creator or the artist. It’s like a slave system. The same goes for the broadcasting. The production team does all the work. But the cultural authority (editor-in-chief) gets all the money. It is one kind of luxury and a kind of shock absorber or insurance. I don’t think that is totally wrong since it is doing some good for society but I think creators should be recognized more and we should make an environment that is more beneficial for young creators. The most important thing is to be flexible. If you can learn to write, create and talk flexibly, then you can make the world your studio.

Okabe: So as an artist, you did not expect to become a legendary designer, did you?

Tsubaki: I started out as an artist believing that kind of thought was old-fashioned. Many media artists that I work with think the same. People do not mind doing things anonymously if it benefits others. Some work as employees for big name companies but create art pieces in their own time. It is therefore possible for art itself to take the form of an NPO activity, since, in this case, the artist doesn’t have any pressure to make money. I, myself, am doing work for “Spiral” which is like non-profit.


Penta, UNapplication No7
2003  at Art Tower Mito
© Noboru Tsubaki

Okabe: What kind of work do you do at Spiral (multi-purpose cultural center in Tokyo)?

Tsubaki: Right now, we are doing a project called Rendezvous in which we work with people in different fields.  Since we have a mailing list, we can exchange information easily. I subscribe to 5 different mailing lists which I use for different work situations. By using these different mailing lists, holidays are not restricted to Saturdays and Sundays. Society is now becoming increasingly digital and new ideas can develop. Time is increasingly multilayered and is becoming more three dimensional, like a three dimensional matrix. Differences in physical strength are not important for doing work on the net. Through the use of the computer we can expand and proliferate what we have so that it becomes something completely different. I think our lives as well as things around us are changing, and these changes cause this era to be quite astonishing.

Okabe: Yes, there have been many changes in just the last few years, especially during the past one or two years. Such a drastic difference.

Tsubaki: Yes, indeed. The support for much of this drastic change is provided by i-mode. i-mode is the most successful mobile system in the world - no other system comes close. Rather than negatively highlighting the worst areas of the Japanese economy, there are a lot of good examples that we should praise. We have to think about our advantages. About the future directions we need to take. It is the little emotions that move a whole society. How to express these issues is the work of artists.

Okabe: Changing the topic, I see how you have been creating distinctive sculptures and  installations that are enormous and use beautiful, pop-style colors. I wonder that you are now dealing with rather the media art, but  I also see that you are still making public art.

Tsubaki: The work (an enormous grasshopper installed in front of a hotel) I submitted for the Yokohama Triennale shows how my works are becoming even bigger. My work is not dependent on the usual big gallery system, instead I have been creating while working as a teacher. I guess I have been working NPO-style from the start. I slowly soak up various things that nourish my creativity and eventually manifest in my art. I don’t fight it, I just let things penetrate slowly. You need to develop such a method.

Okabe: There are, as you have mentioned, some systems that do not change no matter how society or the world moves. One example is the museum system which is now said to be in the process of shrinking.

Tsubaki: I am kind of a cold person so I don’t care much about the fate of museums. I would prefer they be used as apartments or even as accommodation for homeless people. But in terms of hardware, having a physical presence gives strength to the system. It is all up to the quality of the curator, and the person involved. It comes down to the strength of management, personal character and humanity. Of course, it would be great too if the museum has a nice restaurant and provides the opportunity to have an elegant experience. Japan is still an immature, child-like society. There should be special museums such as figure museums and “Otaku” museums that will satisfy the childishness of Japan.
Okabe: You, yourself don’t think of selling when you create, do you?

Tsubaki: I do not like collectors. I just care about satisfying myself. I don’t care about hard disks. I like mobiles and I don’t care about leaving behind my work in society. I believe we create media in the knowledge that they will ultimately all disappear.

(At a hotel in Kobe, March 31st, 2001, translated by Miki G Murata, revised by Emma Ota)

椿昇 アーティスト