Mass Consumist Society Reflected in the Figurine Clusters|The Latest Exhibition from the Artist Unit three


three『three is a magic number 19』Whitestone Gallery Karuizawa

three is an artist unit that produces numerous three-dimensional works teeming with familiar figurines from manga, anime, and video games. Needless to say, the copious amount of melded figurines are used to express the very foundations of our contemporary society ー mass consumption, production, and our ‘tastes’ that denotes our identity.

Whitestone Gallery Karuizawa’s latest exhibition "three is a magic number 19" showcases the artist unit’s latest works with 10 years in the run. For this interview, member Hiroki Kawasaki, will share more in depth about the exhibition.

three, Hiroki Kawasaki

Alter-Egos of the Self and the Other

Exhibition view

Implications of an artistic subculture is now accepted as a contemporary art form, thanks to the influence of manga, anime and the spread of the Internet. Many artists use characters as motifs in their works, and in the case of artist three, vinyl figurines play an important role in defining collectivism and anonymity.

Thousands of figures are dismantled, at times diced, and then melted by heat to be used as a medium that strips away any individuality the forms have once held combining them to create a work of art. Almost all of the titles of three's works indicate the weight of the figures used, leaving behind their trace as it forms into another entity.

three 《17.7kg_angel》2020, W850 × D450 × H1530 mm, figure, PVC, wood, stainless steel, iron

Kawasaki:With the development of the Internet, various personalities easily come together to become a giant "something”. However, the power created by anonymous individuals is fragile and weak; falling apart easily when interfered. The icons, in which a large number of personalities are condensed, offer a glimpse of the ambiguous and dangerous relationship between the "crowd" and the "individual”.

Exhibition view

Disfiguring, Melting, and Crushing

As the name "figure toys" suggests, figures are associated as collectibles or goods. However, the process of creating a figure is no different from that of creating a work of art. First, the creator decides on the character or creature to mold, and then decides on the dimensions, stance, and minute details. A prototype is then formed by a specialist called a prototype maker, who creates the mold for the figures to be manufactured, colored, and released for mass consumers.

Regarding the relationship between figurines and art, the artist takes in the artistic nature of this form of creation throughout human history.

Kawasaki:I sometimes wonder if the reason why three-dimensional art does not sell in Japan is because everyone is buying figures. For example, Akabeko, kokeshi dolls, and bear figurines, the Japanese people have always felt familiar with figurative art. Even though the materials used are different, they can be called sculptural works in a broad sense. It is sculpture that takes on various aspects depending on the people and time period, which I believe the figure is the latest form of context within sculptures.

At the artist's studio

As if to flaunt the connection between figures and art, three's works are not so different from regular three-dimensional works are made. For a three-dimensional work such as "17.7kg_angel", a prototype is first made in clay. Once a plaster mold is made, figures are severed in half and pasted onto the mold, assembled like a puzzle. After that, the melted figures are glued together in layers.

From the exhibition view, the figure material on the surface has a prototype, but the inside is filled with figures that are fused together creating a marbling effect.

The method of production is detailed for each series. For example, the "Bit Series" is a work in which a single figure is converted into a rectangular shape.

The material figure is first dismantled and cut into pieces for easy handling. Once the material is divided into small pieces, a heat gun is used to heat the figure until it melts. Then it inserted into a mold until its fixed in place. The "face" of the figure itself barely retains its original form, but the identity of the character is lost as if melting into one another, transforming into a rectangular form with different shades of color and heaviness.

Exhibition view

It All Began with the Plastic Soy Sauce Fish Container

three《Tokyo Möbius》2009, Fish type soy sauce container, FRP, Water, Ink, W640 × D160 × H300 mm

three is an artist unit of Hiroki Kawasaki, Shuhei Sasaki, and Kitaro Koide. Although they spent their junior high school years together in Fukushima prefecture, the bond between them was not that strong. The origin of the unit was "Tokyo Baby," a graduation project created by one of the members. It was a three-dimensional work made of a fish-shaped plastic soy sauce container, so large that a child would have to look up to. The spiky appearance and the colorful dispenser created a visual effect that stopped people in their tracks. The three began working as artists after being together at an exhibition in the graduation projects.

The member, who are strongly interested in the conflicting and multilayered relationships between production and consumption, the crowd and the individual, the city and the region, etc., are also actively creating installation works, such as "TakeMe," in which visitors cut out the exhibition leaflet by themselves, and "4746eyes," in which a large number of daruma dolls are arranged all over the wall.

three《TakeMe》2019, PE tube, Exhibition leaflet, W5700 × D4200 × H2900 mm

three《4746eyes》2019, Takasaki daruma, W15350 × D70 × H3000 mm

The latest work returns to its roots.

Exhibition view

The current exhibition displays a variety of works that give an idea of three's activities over the past 10 years, and the latest work is an idea that was conceived at the time of the group's formation.

Kawasaki:It would be interesting to create artwork with figures melting into each other. The very first idea that came up in the unit was to create art with figures that melted into each other. However, if the figures were too far from the original look, it would be hard to tell what material they were made of. Therefore, we decided to use figures cut in half for the surface of the work so that the concept would be easily conveyed. And by daring to show the cut surface, I conveyed the fact that inside the figure is filled with molten sludge.

As we continued our activities, it became established that "three is making works using figures," so we decided to give shape to what we wanted to do at this point and began work on our latest project. In the end, we ended up working on it until the very last minute before the exhibition was set up (laughs).

three member Hiroki Kawasaki from the exhibition view.

“three is a magic number”

The title of this exhibition, "three is a magic number," is derived from a counting song by Bob Dorough, which sings that the number three is a special number and that it can become anything with each change of its coefficient.

As for their future prospects, Kawasaki said, "For now, we just want to keep going. There are many difficulties in continuing to do what we want to do, but we want to pursue it. At the latest exhibition, we were able to show what we wanted to create first, but we have more ideas and things we want to try, so we will continue to create enthusiastically.

Please visit the Karuizawa space and the online exhibition to see the infinite expansion of three's activities.

Exhibition view

View Exhibition Details »

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