During their residency in Tokyo, Lausanne-based Sandra Golay and Alexandre Armand have leveraged digital art and motion graphics to celebrate Kisho Kurokawa’s landmark building. Their work fuses colourful narratives to make the legacy of Nakagin more sustainable.
Sandra and Alexandre, can you tell us a bit about yourselves?
Where does your passion for Japan come from?
How was this project born?
On the same day, we also learned with great sadness about the Nakagin Capsule Tower’s imminent dismantlement and destruction. This amazing building has always stimulated and fed our imagination. It embodies a retro-futuristic vision of the world whose multiple iterations found their way onto our TV screens in the last millennial and made a permanent mark on dystopian and sci-fi cinematography. As such, its importance goes beyond its conceptual structure and despite its removal from metropolitan Tokyo, it deserves to be celebrated.
We decided to apply to Almost Perfect with a Visual Art project about the Nakagin Capsule Tower. At this point, our idea was still pretty vague but the residency organizers loved our concept and they selected us to come to Japan in June 2022. The end goal of the residency was an exhibition in their gallery from June 25th to June 28th.
The Nakagin capsule tower had become a landmark of Tokyo’s skyline…
The capsules were the original micro-apartments, an ancestor to today’s capsule hotels, and a forebear of the shared, temporary spaces of Airbnb. “In the future, the space and tools for free movement will be the status symbols,” Kurokawa wrote. He had conceived the building as a metaphor for an organic structure with renovation and evolution capabilities with the idea of replacing the capsules every 20-25 years.
In practice, the concept execution ended up being more problematic. The tower’s inhabitants realised that to replace a single capsule, it was necessary to remove all the capsules on top of it. Coordinating something like this with the row neighbours proved to be so complicated that not a single capsule was renovated according to plan.
As a result, lack of maintenance combined with the wear and tear of time turned the utopian dream into a nightmare. Moisture and leaks are frequent problems in all units. During its last few years, around 40 capsules were still inhabited, while a similar number of others were being used as offices. Most of its users were artists or architects, but there were also professionals of all kinds.
How did you frame your work around this iconic building that has now disappeared?
Tell us what you found out about the Nakagin Capsule Tower…
There was for instance this story about a young woman who tried to capture the specific smell of the tower in aluminum cans. She actually came to see our exhibition and by luck, we engaged in a conversation and asked if she wanted any explanations. Once in front of this specific image, she started laughing, saying that it was her who tried to capture the smell. What an extraordinary encounter! We gave her a copy of the image as a gift. She came back to the gallery the next day to offer us two cans of her actual project.
There was also the story of water leaks and tenants running around with plastic bags to collect the water. Or the students who, to eat in the capsule without a kitchen, had to settle for Cup Noodles. All these stories have fed our imagination and our creativity. We have also developed our own images based on our positive and colorful vision of this tower.
The tower is gone, yet your work is much more about celebration than nostalgia. Why is that?