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Tom Metcalfe working on his prototype for ‘Wa Study 1’ ©

British Council Photo by Kenichi Aikawa 

The output of this residency is called ‘Wa Study 1’. It is my first exploration into a new series of work looking at ‘Wa’ (loosely translated as harmony, peace and balance), between people, nature and technology. This work and these specific areas of interest are a direct result of the Playable City Tokyo residency. 

This residency has helped to bring a clarity to what my practice is, and what I really want to do. I spent the time between the first visit and this last visit further researching Japanese history, culture, art, design, religion and taking weekly classes to understand the Japanese language. This all lead me to Shinto, and back to Wa.

For ‘Wa Study 1’ I wanted to create something that represented where I am with my practice and something that really encapsulated the effect Tokyo and the residency has had on me.

For me, art is about crafting great experiences. These experiences are multi-sensory and experienced over a period of time, undistracted. Successful works are those where audiences have a visceral connection, they’re sucked in and don’t critique or over think the experience. I think this is very hard to achieve, and is rarely achieved. When audiences do experience that connection, they can be more present and more mindful, and when they are, I think this is when art is truly transformative. I want to try and create work like this.

I decided to explore making real trees, shrubs and grasses, move. Many iterations down the line, I created a small raised bed with around a dozen plants that would sit indoors. I imagined the raised bed like a cookie cut section of a larger garden where I could test ideas of movement and audience connection with nature. For this exploration, I presented a ‘subtle breeze’ which went through the plants. It was controlled by bespoke software and motors. I felt that if I could get the plants to look like they had a real breeze going through them, then I’d be confident I could create some pretty interesting experiences in a large garden. ‘Wa Study 1’ is definitely a small prototype as the final work has to be a larger garden. Audiences have to be in the garden to experience it properly, I don’t think it would work if it was looked at from the outside, like a painting.

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British Council Photo by Kenichi Aikawa 

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Technology is used to create a subtle breeze ©

British Council Photo by Kenichi Aikawa 

The week in Tokyo went by very quickly. I finished building and installing the prototype at 3331 Arts Chiyoda. Had the ubiquitous trips to Tokyu Hands and BIC Camera for parts I’d not quite got around to getting in the UK. I had interesting and fulfilling conversations with people at Arts Chiyoda about Wa and the work, and as the work continues to develop, I will continue to have these conversations. 

On the final day, Sophie – the other resident – and I presented a session at the Making the City Playable Conference. We presented our ideas of play and innovation in public space in Tokyo. We had three things that were common and most important to both our practices, they were; people are at the centre; the importance of physical space; and technology is always on the side-lines. We also discussed the types of citywide conversations we could have through play. I asked the audience ‘what does “Wa” means for you?’ capturing the results in Japanese. They’re now being translated and I hope these responses will form the first of a collection of research outputs for this work.

So, what’s next? I’m continuing to work on this series of work and I am currently developing the full indoor garden to be installed in Tokyo for Spring 2020. 

I’d like to thank, Arts Council Tokyo, British Council in Japan, Playable City, Watershed, JKD Collective Inc and Rhizomatiks Architecture.

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