Behind the Exhibition Focusing on Shinzo Fukuhara’s Ideas. With Linked “Speech Bubbles” Art


"Going Beyond and Participating in Beauty: Shinzo Fukuhara's Aesthetics Shinzo Fukuhara/ASSEMBLE, THE EUGENE Studio," a special exhibition focusing on Shinzo Fukuhara, the first president and founder of the Shiseido Gallery, is currently being held.

This exhibition approaches the words and ideas of Shinzo Fukuhara from a contemporary point of view, using keywords such as "society" and "community." In addition, window displays connected with the exhibition are currently featured at Shiseido Parlour and the Shiseido Head Office (Ginza Office). In this interview, we asked Kenichiro Ito (Shiseido Gallery Curator), who was in charge of the exhibition's plan, and Katsura Marubashi (Art Director), who handled the window displays, about their multifaceted display background.

Electronic Bulletin Board Window Art, Exhibited at Ginza Shiseido

Shinzo Fukuhara, the first president of Shiseido. His ideas and words clarified, 100 years later, through the use of AI.

Q: Please tell us about what led to organizing the exhibition "Going Beyond and Participating in Beauty: Shinzo Fukuhara's Aesthetics Shinzo Fukuhara/ASSEMBLE, THE EUGENE Studio."

Ito: Shinzo Fukuhara, in addition to building the foundation for the craft and design of Shiseido's cosmetics, is also known as a pioneering photographic artist in modern Japan. As the Shiseido Gallery celebrates its centennial in 2019, we have carefully looked back on and examined Fukuhara's activities. This has revealed Fukuhara's face as a contemporary artist, which far exceeded his activities as a businessman or as a photographer.

Exhibitions held until now have focused on Shinzo Fukuhara as a photographer, but when I thought about what should appeal to the aesthetic sense and creativity of future eras, I wanted to involve his ideas and words.

Q: What kind of words did Shinzo Fukuhara leave behind?

Ito: Fukuhara not only took pictures personally, but was a leader in spreading the art of photography to the lives of others. He established a group for amateur photographers at that time and continued to convey the artistic value of photography through various promotional activities. One of these activities was redefining the artistic value of photography as a new artistic expression genre, through writing.

He left behind nearly 200 publications with more than 1.4 million characters of Japanese text (the equivalent of about 560,000 English words). We wanted to exhibit these words not just as they were, but in a contemporary context. Therefore, we collaborated with THE EUGENE Studio, which specializes in the field of Art x Technology, to apply AI automatic language analysis to Fukuhara's words.

Q: Automatic language analysis via AI -- what kind of work is that?

Ito: We have analyzed the importance of thoughts based on the frequency of word usage and other elements. People with expertise in reading the output interpret the results, and then through discussions we have elucidated Fukuhara's ideas. With this, the relationship of his words become manifest, and the ways in which he saw society through photos, which seemed to occupy most of his thinking, are clarified.

One of Fukuhara's ideas was revealed in the keywords "Making a space." Make a communication space and get people gathered there. This is exactly what the Shiseido Parlour embodies in the town of Ginza. Focusing on this idea of "Making a space," Fukuhara decided to collaborate with the British architecture group Assemble. Incorporating art into everyday life and crossing art with everyday life are ideas that both Assemble and Shiseido deeply sympathize with. The workshop currently held at the Shiseido Gallery is based on this thinking.

"Going Beyond and Participating in Beauty: Shinzo Fukuhara's Aesthetics Shinzo Fukuhara/ASSEMBLE, THE EUGENE Studio" (Photo: Ken Kato)
"Going Beyond and Participating in Beauty: Shinzo Fukuhara's Aesthetics Shinzo Fukuhara/ASSEMBLE, THE EUGENE Studio" (Photo: Ken Kato)
Shinzo Fukuhara
The Tower, 1938
Shinzo Fukuhara
The Light with its Harmony, 1922

The Gallery, Parlour, Hanatsubaki, stores. We bring cultural and aesthetic living to people through each of these places and media.

Q: The expression "Going Beyond" in the exhibition's title seems to imply an attitude of deepening mutual ideas and expanding boundaries while collaborating with others.

Ito: The exhibition can be described as a collaboration of ideas between Shinzo Fukuhara, THE EUGENE Studio, and Assemble, spanning time and national borders. Using the advanced technology of AI also contributes to boosting their collective creativity. We have organized this exhibition because we want many people to know such ideas. It was also the aim of Shinzo Fukuhara to disseminate new values in places where people gather, and to propagate art and cultural values.

Q: In recent years making spaces and communities has taken on importance, but I am surprised that such an idea was around 100 years ago.

Ito: The Gallery, Parlour, Hanatsubaki, and Shiseido's chain stores - we create mechanisms to distribute new values and information via space and media, and then deliver them to the people. Our aim is not only to produce and sell products, but also to culturally and aesthetically enhance people's lives within society.

Window art that frames Fukuhara's words as "speech bubbles" familiar to modern audiences.

Q: In addition, this time, works related to this exhibition are featured in the window display and on the walls of the Shiseido Gallery and Shiseido Head Office (Ginza Office).

Marubashi: We decided to display such related works in order to reinforce the worldview and increase the number of contact points for people to know about the exhibition.

When producing this work, we wanted to express Fukuhara's words with added humor and contemporary value. That's how we came up with this idea of incorporating "speech bubbles," which represent communication in texting apps such as Messenger, WhatsApp, Line, etc. and which are familiar to everyone in modern society. When we see these speech bubbles, they are digital data on the screens of our smartphone or computer, but I wanted to create a sense of incongruity by exhibiting the digital data as real materials in the form of electronic bulletin boards. It's the idea of changing the viewpoint of an existing thing and replacing it with something else.

Q: And so the prolific words left behind by Shinzo Fukuhara are integrated into modern society through these works.

Marubashi: Starting with Shinzo Fukuhara's representative phrase of "Let the product speak for itself," words from various domains, such as life, cameras, creation, and poetry, including English translations, are displayed in speech bubbles.

Ito: Shinzo Fukuhara had the idea that cosmetics are for drawing beautifully on the grand canvas of society. Taking a bird's eye view and looking at the words selected by AI enables us to have a good understanding of the domain and extent of his ideas. In this respect, too, I think that the content of this exhibition is appropriate for looking towards the future at the milestone of this gallery's centennial.

Shiseido Creative Division
Kenichiro Ito
Katsura Marubashi
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