Urban redevelopment under the banner of ‘diversity’ and ‘sustainability’ has led to the eviction of poor and homeless people from their places. However, among the people on the streets, there are various detailed relationships of mutual help based on corporeality that are being stretched out. This talk discusses examples of activities and art projects that resist urban cleaning and cultivate their own place in the city.
Misako Ichimura is an artist and activist who has lived in a blue tent village in a park in Tokyo since 2003, and runs a barter café called “Enoir” with other residents of the tent village. In 2007, she founded Nora, a group of homeless women, and has been active in anti-gentrification, feminism, and anti-Olympic activities in Japan and abroad. She is the author of “Dear Kikuchi-san, Blue Tent Village and Chocolate” (Kyototto Publishing, 2006), and the editor of Feminist Journal, et cetera, vol.7: KUGURINUKETE MITSUKETA BASHO (Places found by passing through), 2022.
May, 26th, 2023 Fri. 16:00~18:00（open 15:50~）
Build.2 3F Meeting Room, Ohashi Campus, Kyushu University + Online (Zoom)
*Anyone interested is free to attend. If you wish to participate, please apply using the application form here.
*If you wish to participate online, you will receive an invitation on the day. Please download the latest version of Zoom in advance.
Toru Koga (Kyushu University)
Center for Design Fundamentals Research, Kyushu University Faculty of Design
School of Design, Design Futures Course
The Right to Exist
I believe ICHIMURA Misako spoke about the dignity of “being”, that is the dignity of existing alongside someone.
After graduating from the Tokyo University of Arts, Ichimura wanted to utilize her artistic and design abilities among those who camped in parks, rather than entering the existing art scene. For about 20 years, her practice has been based on these experiences and she has conducted various activities with these individuals.
A choice of this nature begs the question, why parks over art museums? Because Ichimura believes that in a park-dwelling lifestyle people’s existence are exposed, and the essence of art and design can be best realized by being engaged in the fundamental dimension of living.
In streets and parks, homeless individuals sustain their survival by combining various familiar elements, even those that have been abandoned. Among these combinations is the mutual assistance between individuals such as barbers and carpenters, live together to support each other both subtly and delicately.
For the artist, this way of life constitutes artistic expression and, consequently, she presents a variety of art forms that directly supports and uplifts others. Take, for instance, the Énoir Café (a café with artwork), where visitors can enjoy a cup of tea in exchange for bringing something, even a wildflower, the “Nora” is a gathering of women who camp, the Matryoshka cloth napkins for women, and the publication of Zines for campers and other people.
In addition to the harshness of nature, such as scorching heat in the summer and freezing in the winter, living in a park is subject to constant attacks and harassment by “citizens.” In response to the shocking incident of a cardboard house being set on fire, Ichimura devised a “work of art” in which she regarded a cardboard box as a rocket and encircled it with stars. The series of works, titled “Rocket” and “Meteor,” are intended to discourage passersby from using violence, while at the same time expressing her unique fantasy of traveling through the urban night in sleep.
On the other hand, I believe that the primordial form of design is demonstrated in the life of the park’s campsites. It is a combination of materials and capabilities to counter the limits of survival, and devising ways to help each other. The accumulation of hard endeavors to live, sometimes fragile and sometimes resilient, shapes the dignity of the living individuals in the park. In this process, the design will retain its clear and solid contour.
However, some people may argue as follows: “homeless people” occupy public spaces and do as they please, they dirty the “clean” city, they refuse to be accommodated, their appearance and smell are unpleasant, it is unclear what they desire, and they should be pushed away to somewhere invisible.
Individuals that park in public spaces are inevitably “secreted” when society is in motion. I believe that their presence enables the visualization of “our” true nature. Consequently, “we” who have adapted to society become uncomfortable when we encounter homeless individuals. We doubt our cleanliness is actually clean.
I am not exempt from this. What I feared and denied in my daily life was presented to me as the true face of my existence. Thus, I exclude it and unintentionally resort to violence. This compulsion is at the essence of what we call discrimination. Witnessing and hearing about severe violence against homeless individuals, I am deeply disturbed, as if I have committed it myself. Although I know that I will never do such a thing, I fear that I may already be doing it every day.
Designers who aim to realize a “clean city” also carry within themselves human elements such as feeling “useless,” “mere,” and “unpleasant.” By suppressing and excluding such negative elements and presenting oneself as “clean,” these designs will never reconcile with the designer themself but only reinforce their previous compulsive self.
I believe that the “existence” of homeless individuals, which existing society has secreted and forgotten, forces the obsession of society to reflect on itself in its silenced form. Assumingly realizing this potential is the final purpose of Ichimura’s “works of art”. The hope of the works is to release one’s own compulsiveness, to reconcile with one’s own existence, and to transform oneself.
Ichimura’s “works” show us the meaning of simply human being alive and existing. The encounter between streets and femininity, which has been mistakenly perceived as an inferior gender, is likely due to this point. I believe that depending on how we deal with these “works of art,” society will be helped and supported by their “existence.”
Her notion of the “disruption of a clean city” refers to breaking open the dimension of mutual support between what is useful and what is useless, what functions and what exists, and makes us fantasize about an as-yet-unseen city.