Giving free rein to his creative imagination, Issey Ogata joins us to appreciate a selection of artwork by people with disabilities and invite viewers into the unique worlds of his stories. As he sets his wild imagination free to “fire” the artistic can(n)on, he breaks down barriers to show us that we can take a freer approach to art appreciation.
This article is a translated version, which was originally published in Japanese language on 3 July, 2020.
Reading time:4 minutes
(Date updated)19 January, 2021
(About this story)
Stolen blueprints that hold the key to world peace are one day rediscovered—somewhere that no one could have predicted.
Yamazaki was born in 1944 in Niigata Prefecture. His works are drawn on graph paper using the same instruments and much the same technique as professional draftsmen. This technique involves piercing evenly spaced holes with the point of a compass, then using these as a guide to draw lines and create shapes. Countless regular pinpricks line the back of the paper. “When I’m drawing a plan like this, I have to do it properly with these tools. I’m doing an important job, after all,” Yamazaki would proudly declare. Three motifs appear in his drawings: neatly lined-up building windows, large ships carrying excavators and cranes, and control centers. He first experienced symptoms of a mental disorder in his mid-20s, when he was working as a migrant construction worker. He was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, where he drew at a steady pace every day, creating almost 3,000 works that he neatly filed by hand.
“These are blueprints,” I thought, but it took me two or three days to work out what kind. And then it came to me: “Oh, I see, these are the blueprints for a nuclear power plant, and not just any nuclear power plant—an utterly safe plant where there would never be any accidents.”
I think these were probably drawn up in Switzerland or somewhere like that. The architect redrew them over and over again, putting everything hehad into them, and at long last reached his goal. “This is it, a safe blueprint.” But there was a spy, and the blueprints were stolen.
Although there had been a theft, anything built according to these blueprints would be completely safe. Because the blueprints couldn’t be used for evil, the police investigation was far from thorough.
After some time had passed, the missing items unexpectedly resurfaced. A certain Dutch art gallery was publicizing each of the blueprints as a work of art. Their advertisement went out: “Newly discovered! Never-before-seen Kandinsky”!
”Wow, so these are Kandinsky’s abstract paintings,” everyone who visited the gallery said. “Leave it to Kandinsky,” they said with admiration, nodding their approval, and the works sold at high prices. But in the midst of all this was one person with a former connection to nuclear power development.
“Wait a minute here, these look like those blueprints…” shesaid, and called in a group of people in the industry. A crowd of them flocked to the scene one after the other, and one day she reserved the whole art gallery and organized a day for them to examine the pictures one by one.
”Without a doubt, these are the blueprints that disappeared years ago.” “With these, the world can know peace.” “These should never have been shown in an art gallery like this.” “We must use these to build a completely safe nuclear power plant.” And the experts took the whole lot and made off with them.
However, when they came to have a design drawn up based on the blueprints, there was one extra sheet of paper. That’s right, they weren’t missing anything, they had one sheet too many! The truth was that a genuine Kandinsky had slipped in among the blueprints. This was their extra.
I mean, it’s not at all surprising that it got mixed in, is it? Despite all their efforts, the power plant they tried to build using the blueprints was never finished. There was something superfluous somewhere. But it never occurred to anyone that this was a Kandinsky painting. They were all absolutely convinced, beyond a doubt, that it was part of the blueprints. And that’s why that completely safe nuclear power plant remains unfinished to this day.
Issey Ogata’s Wildly Imaginative Art Appreciation Techniques Part 4
As actor, playwright, and director of his one-man show, Issey Ogata brings new worlds to life every day. We asked him for tips on having fun with the power of unfettered imagination.
Get excited as a viewer to appreciate art like a creator
There’s probably a whole range of ways to appreciate art, but my appreciation method is close to creation. “Creative appreciation,” maybe. We can create even as we appreciate. This way is much more fun and free, and there isn’t a single “mustn’t.” How much can you get into it, or how bored are you? Can you enjoy yourself; can you not enjoy yourself—these are the only questions, and there’s absolutely nothing that you aren’t allowed to do.
With so much knowledge and information available these days, there are now fewer and fewer opportunities to encounter art with pure eyes. We hear about things before we see them; we know that “such and such a Van Gogh painting will be shown,” and it’s not even the first time that we’ll see the painting itself—we’re re-viewing paintings that we’ve already seen. At times like these, it feels like we’re being tested, myself included: “can I appreciate this anew?”
Because art is becoming a “product” that viewers are likely to have already seen, I think people in today’s art world have been turning this upside down and making their surroundings into art. They’re declaring that “there’s nothing new,” and turning things like soup cans, windows, toilet bowls into works of art, throwing the challenge of how to deal with them back into the viewers’ court.
So we ultimately arrive at a period where “we have to get excited on the viewing side.” A lot of people are now searching for the way to do this.
Take Vermeer’s paintings for example: there are stories within the artworks themselves. A story has been embedded within the painting, right? There’s a woman concentrating on reading a letter. “I wonder what’s in the letter?” you might react. If you can come up with your own way to get into the painting like this, one that you find interesting, you can really have a lot of fun.
I’ve had so much fun letting my wild imagination take off from these works of art and spinning these short yarns. Some of my wild imaginings take shape easily, and others are trickier. I had this installment’s story of the “Stabilized Energy”in my head for two or three days—I was looking for the entry point that said to me, “this will be the most fun,” then the idea of the “absolutely safe nuclear power plant” came to me, and then Kandinsky made his appearance.
There is enormous power in works like these, I think; not a power that wrestles viewers into submission, but a power that calls to them, inspires them.
Born in Fukuoka in 1952, Ogata began his career in theater in 1971. With a foot on every stage—from his one-man plays to movies, TV shows, radio, voiceovers, commercials, and more—he has won widespread acclaim.