Obayashi Foundation Research Program 2021




Freely and flexibly using anger and laughter and text editors, the artist duo exonemo works in a variety of media with a “hacking” sensibility. Artists Kensuke Sembo and Yae Akaiwa launched the project on the internet in 1996. Since 2000 they have expanded their activity to installations, live performances, event production, community organizing and more. Moving freely between digital and analog, the world of computer networks and the real world, they reveal the relationship between technology and its users. Their many experimental projects include humorous approaches and fresh perspectives. "The Road Movie" won the Golden Nica in the Net Vision category of the Prix Ars Electronica 2006. Since 2012 exonemo has organized DIPW and “Internet Yami-ichi (Black Market).” The artists have lived and worked in New York since 2015.

Comments from the Chairperson of the Selection Committee

In the history of art, what sort of turning point will the year 2020 be? Since the first coronavirus state of emergency was declared in Japan, a distinction has been made between what is “necessary” and what is “unnecessary” in social life, and in this context the approach to support for the arts has been questioned. Various cultural programs were unavoidably postponed or canceled. But just before the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic in March 2020, a lecture performance by the second grant recipient, Theaster Gates, was held successfully, and promptly thereafter a number of meetings took place to select the third recipient. I feel it’s extremely fortunate that we were able to continue this grant program without interruption, in order to reaffirm the role of art as an important part of life rather than see it categorized hastily as either “necessary” or “unnecessary.”

Naturally, the selection process this time largely reflected recent discussions around economic, gender and racial inequality, and provided an opportunity to discuss anew the direction that this grant work should take. This resulted in the selection of exonemo, a male-female art duo that has been engaged in radical activities since the dawn of the internet. In the time of Covid-19, people’s lives have become even more dependent on digital technology. Rather than simply explore new internet-driven possibilities in areas such as industry, these artists have expressed a critical perspective, crossing freely between digital and analog, on such topics as the mutual influence of material technology and human desires. They received a high evaluation for this activity, the importance of which will continue to increase in the years to come. After moving to New York in 2015, exonemo has had the opportunity to delve further into these issues. It seemed to us that these artists were well suited to the challenge of proposing ideas on the future role of art in cities.

In the selection process we also considered candidate artists from countries in Asia and other regions; however, with the uncertain outlook for travel between Japan and other countries, we decided this time to select artists with Japanese nationality, partly to ensure that the grant recipients would have numerous opportunities to share their investigation and creation process widely with people involved in the program and with the public. In this time of great change, we expect their project to offer suggestions for the path that we should embark upon together.

Fumihiko Sumitomo
Professor,Graduate School of Global Arts,
Department of Arts Studies and Curatorial Practices,
Tokyo University of Arts