Chim↑Pom is an artist unit made of five guys and one girl in their late 20s to early 30s.
Tell me when you formed. Was it before the earthquake or after?
We formed in 2005. There was a popular artist in Japan named Makoto Aida, a famous visual artist, who dealt in particular with societal problems. We had all gathered around Mr. Aida. ...
There was a period of time when there was a number of young people around him. Of them, the six of us wanted to do something interesting. We hadn't really gone to art school, so we didn't have a proper art education. So when we thought of the first thing we could do, it was to take a video camera and start filming interesting things. So that's how we started.
Were you friends before meeting through this artist? Had you already met each other before? Did you know each other in social circles? Did you have similar artistic interests?
I was friends with Hayashi from high school; we were in a band together. And Ellie was a model for Aida in high school. So we had seen each other a few times. And the other three were apprentices of Aida-san.
Ellie was telling us about the connection with the MTV show Jackass when we were at the gallery. How much of that is really a motivator for what you guys do?
When we started, we wanted to do something interesting, but all we had was a video camera. We were a group that couldn't draw; we couldn't sculpt. So back then, we enjoyed using our own bodies to film something interesting, and that was all we could do.
But once we moved on from just video into exhibiting our work, for example, we filmed ourselves catching rats in Shibuya [railway station in Tokyo], and we stuffed the rats that we caught. So we had video, but another element like sculpture. After we started exhibiting our work, the influence that Jackasshad on our work diminished.
The first time we had an exhibit, it was the rats of Shibuya, which we called Super Rat, which we stuffed like Pikachu [from the comic Pokémon].
From there, all over Tokyo there are black crows, many large crows. Whenever I go abroad I notice how different the crows are in Tokyo. So we collected the crows from all over Tokyo, in cars and on bikes, and we brought them around everywhere, and we would take them to the Parliament building, Tokyo Tower, and 109 [a famous shopping center], and we would photograph them.
So we started dealing with the real Tokyo, the real life here, the reality that we try not to see. And we did this not just in Tokyo, but also throughout Japan. In Hiroshima, we drew on the sky with a contrail the word "Flash," [in the piece Pika].
Abroad, we went to Cambodia. Ellie loved celebrities and wanted to do something like Princess Diana. So we got a landmine, took some of Ellie's personal belongings, like her [Louis] Vuitton bag, and exploded them. We auctioned off the remnants in Japan and donated the proceeds to charity.
So these are social problems, but we wanted to work with things that are part of our fun, everyday life that we choose not to look at.
I'm hearing rats, crows, Hiroshima and some social commentary. What's the connecting line for all of these for you?
We had always thought it had something to do with the idea of peace among the youth in Japan. For example, as we grow more affluent and produce more waste in Tokyo, we have more rats and crows. Or the "Flash" in Hiroshima had to do with the fading of the memory of atomic catastrophe. And by the way, the word "Flash" is often used in manga [Japanese comics], where it appears in one square. So it was about depicting in the style of manga the reality back then upon the peaceful society we have today.
So we had focused on peace and affluence, and at the same time the realities that people try not to see, so the realities of peace. [But] since Fukushima happened, this started to feel like it was no longer valid.
And then March 11 happens -- earthquake, tsunami, and then the nuclear crisis. Everyone in Japan, obviously, remembers where they were at that time in the afternoon. How did you live through it?
At that moment, I was at home, and at home, it shook a lot. So I first turned on the television to get some information, and there was one unbelievable image after another. It was footage like I had never seen, like I couldn't believe they were real. I was glued to the television. And my family couldn't come home, and people working in offices couldn't get home. In any case, I was glued to the television, not knowing what was happening.
From there, I think this is something that every Japanese thought, but I started wondering if there was anything I could do myself. I was one of them, too. Even as I was glued to the TV, I was e-mailing the members [of Chim↑Pom], wondering if there was anything we could be doing ourselves.
But at that point we weren't able to speak calmly about what it was that we could do or make specific plans. So the things that we thought about were volunteering and delivering emergency supplies. That was all we could think of.
But yet, being artists we happened to come face to face with a moment like this; we happened to be alive in a time like this. So what can we do as our expression? I couldn't help feeling that this was being asked of us.
Japan has had many difficulties, like war and nuclear weapons. But I thought about what kinds of art these led to. And I felt that artists of the future will question what artists in Japan produced in the post-3/11 world. And I felt as though the eyes of the past, the future, and also of course from abroad were turning their attention on us Japanese. This isn't limited to the world of art, but also to the press, and I think it's best that all Japanese feel a little bit of this pressure. And as soon as I felt this, I thought I needed to produce work.
Talk about how the media was handling everything, because as you said, the first thing you did was, you were watching TV. And you also said you didn't go to art school; your paintbrush is a video camera. So in a way, you're also the media. You're documenting things in a different way. ...
The reports that first appeared on television had all these images that I had never seen before. And it made the images that we had made through art, our attempt to show people what they might not have seen before, completely lose their power. The images coming out of the real world, from the press, were so overwhelming. And the real sceneries that the tsunami left behind were so incredible, so not only video artists but artists in general felt a sense of powerlessness.
But from there, I couldn't accept that. Of course the reality was overwhelming, but I couldn't accept that art was powerless. But press and what we do aren't opposed to one another. I think they both walk parallel paths.
But in terms of media post-3/11, there was the nuclear accident, and the people within the 20-kilometer zone were mandated to evacuate, and no one was allowed into that zone. But even though you weren't supposed to enter, you could at your own risk. That lasted a little over a month.
And after that, what you saw on television were images [of the plant] shot from outside the 30-kilometer zone but digitally made more clear, and the press only carried comments from the government. But it was really unclear what was going on inside. ...
So there are all these people working there, and I deeply questioned why the media won't go in to hear what they have to say or report on what these people are working on. Are there people working inside areas that are so dangerous that reporters can't go? And it bubbled in me all these doubts and curiosities about what exactly is going on there. So since it was a time when people could enter at their own risk, I really felt that we needed to go.