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TUAD mixing! 2010: MIKANGUMI x Toshiiro YASHIRO
Written by Mizuki TANAKA   
Published: March 03 2011

An exhibition was held of a group of four architects called “Mikangumi”*1 along with the photographer Toshihiro Yahsiro in Yamagata last summer. The venue was the gallery on the 7th floor of a campus building at The Tohoku University of Art and Design, which is where Masayoshi Takeuchi of Mikangumi and Yashiro work as instructors.

I took a bus to the school from Yamagata station. As I was visiting this exhibition all the way from Tokyo, it had started for me from when I started watching the sights blankly from the bus window. The sights outside the bus window changed as the bus traveled from the area around the station with many tall buildings to a town with small houses. Eventually, the scenery changed to mountains. The cityscape of low flat buildings I saw when passing through the urban districts of Yamagata, and the air created by soft conversations of the people on the bus matched each other very well, I thought. Before I knew it, I arrived at the school. I went up to the gallery floor by elevator.

fig. 1  MIKANGUMI, view from the exhibition
Photo by Kang Chulgyu

fig. 2  MIKANGUMI, view from the exhibition
Photo by Kang Chulgyu



Mikangumi's work is a miniature model of urban district of Yamagata made with white styrofoam. The model surrounds the elevator room at the center of the exhibition room. It is like watching a city center from the sky. Viewers will be circling around the space naturally while they look at this work. Also, small plants, ready to sprout green buds, are planted here and there in the model. Viewers can water these small plants. They will grow in the period of this exhibition. It will be interesting to see how much the plants have grown by visiting this exhibition from time to time. Also fantasizing an image of the model with the grown plants would be nice. These plants are the devices to attract the viewers' lines of sight. When viewers gets close to look at a small plant, they will also be watching the cityscape unconsciously as well. As viewers move around looking at the miniature model from a giant's view point, they may start to wonder why they (Mikangumi) selected this region. Is it from the local sense of size of a city? Or is it because they wanted to include some featured buildings? Or something else? There are no explanations. Strangely, looking at the miniature model as I walk around it, I felt as if I was actually walking in the town. It reminded me of the cityscape I saw from the bus window.

The works covering the four walls in this space are the “Sento Series” (public bath series) by the photographer, Yashiro. The subjects are sentos. They are pairs of photographs, in which one pair consists of a photograph of the men's section, and the other, a photograph of the women's section of a sento. They were taken when there were no customers. Both photographs of the men's and women's baths were taken from the entrance looking toward the empty bath tubs in the back of the bath room. For the men's bath photograph, Yashiro has angled his view toward the women's bath. That way the wall between men's bath and women' bath takes up a half of the photograph. Similarly, he has angled his shot toward the men's bathing area for the women's bath photographs. A pair of photographs of a sento were taken that way to put together at the wall's end, and exhibited in that way as well. Just a little change in these familiar sights will make one feel lost.

Yoshiro has been taking his “Sento Series” since 1980. He started it as his graduation project. It is interesting to realise that these photographs taken from the same distance with an axis seem to have lead him to create his later “Kaitenkai Series”. They are photographs of figures rotated around? themselves to turn into black whirlpools. In a way, the experience of circling around a town provided by the Mikangumi's work, and the rotation of Yashiro's photographs, make viewers and the exhibitors share an experience of “going around.”

However, despite the fact that each work has a common and shared concept, there are also some parts of the two works which differ conceptually. For example, while Mikangumi's work is on the theme of Yamagata city itself, more than half of Yashiro's photographs are of sentos outside Yamagata prefecture. Out of the 49 pairs of sento photographs, 20 pairs are sentos in Tokyo, there are also sentos in Niigata and Miyagi, and 13 pairs are ones in Yamagata (including other types of sentos which have different public bath systems). Out of the photographs of sentos in Tokyo, 16 pairs are of sentos in Meguro-Ward of Tokyo. This figure easily exceeds the number of sentos in Yamagata.

The word “sento” evokes a kind of “good old national nostalgia” considered to be common all over Japan. However, the style of sentos differs in each area. They differ in their architectural design, in the position of their bath tubs and in the pictures on their walls as to whether they are painted or tiled. For example, the characteristics of sentos in Tokyo are: buildings mimic a temple, bath tabs are positioned in the back and have a painted picture on the wall. While in the Kansai region, buildings are unlike temples, bath tubs are positioned at the center and decorations made with tiles instead of painted pictures. Bath tubs can be smaller and positioned differently, walls can be made of different materials and colored differently in other areas as well.

For sento lovers, their favorite sento is their second home, and it is an area where they are also strongly conscious of their regional characteristics. In view of Mikangumi's work in the motif of the urban district of Yamagata, I think that an exhibition of many sentos in Tokyo seems to blur the whole concept.

It would still lack balance even if he had expanded the scope to include more sentos because he could find only one sento in Yamagata-Shi*2. I wonder if it was necessary to exhibit the sento works of other areas from the past*3. If Yashiro's intention was to express the world outside of Yamagata by exhibiting those around the work of Mikangumi, he could have exhibited sentos from various other areas as well.

The brochure I obtained at the venue* 4 says that the common concept of the work of Mikangumi (in which viewers can water plants) and the work of Yashiro is “water”. However, I believe there are more diverse elements in Mikangumi's work. It is doubtful to think that viewers will pay attention to the substance “water” when they water plants. The foci of viewers are varied. Many viewers may focus on the act of raising by giving, the simulated experience of building up a small town by themselves and the flow of time with the growing plants.

I left the venue remaining in doubt, and caught a taxi quick in order not to miss the last train. Then I had a flash of insight. The taxi driver said he was a local. The elderly driver said to me gently, “It must be hard to work this late.” Then he pointed to the arcade of a shopping street and spoke about how hard it was to cope with snow in winter in this area. “Oh, yeah?”, I answered nonchalantly, and then started telling him about what I had come to see. I asked him if the exhibitors of the works also went to the university by taxi. It made me realize that the exhibitors were not locals either, just like myself.

I was an outsider hoping to see some “Yamagata-ness” in the exhibition, and Mikangumi who tried to see the urban district of Yamagata from the sky, and Yashiro who exhibited Yamagata sentos as well as those in his familiar Meguro. I came to realize that each of us was equally trying to understand Yamagata in our own way. I also realized that I hadn't seen Yamagata at all. Now I would like to visit Yamagata again. This was an exhibition that I would like to visit with Yamagata locals.
(Translated by Yoshikazu Noda)


(*1) The group Mikangumi was formed in 1995 by Takeuchi, a professor at the university (also the venue for this exhibition) in the Department of Architecture and Environmental Design. He invited the three architects Kazuko Kamo, Masashi Sogabe, and Manuel Tardits to join this group. Their works not only cover the architecture of houses, elementary schools and clubs, but also ranges to inlcude furniture and products. These three architects participate in exhibitions too.

(*2) This included a photograph of “Momonoyu” sento in Yamagata which was photographed in 1994. The sento later closed down.

(*3) Yashiro said in the talking session held from 18:00 to 19:30 on July 27, 2010 that he decided to display his “Sento Series” as the exhibition was at a school and because he had started creating the “Sento Series” when he was a student. That may be the reason why he has exhibited his old works. However, did he really exhibit all of his “Sento Series” works? The answer to it should have been available to general viewers.

(*4) “Space-time Continuum: living with water” by Nahoko Wada, July 2010.

Referred exhibition

"TUAD mixing! 2010: MIKANGUMI x Toshihiro YASHIRO"
Period: July 15 - August 1, 2010
Venue: Center for University as Museum, Tohoku University of Art & Design (gallery on the 7th floor)
Official website of the ehxhibition: http://www.tuad.ac.jp/museum/exhibitevent/index3.html (Japanese)

Last Updated on October 21 2015

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