Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Walking back from a lunch break, Genpei Akasegawa and two friends had walked passed what has now come to be known as 'The Yotsuya Staircase', unconsciously walking up one side, walking along the small platform and then walking down the opposite side. A small flight of stairs, seven in all on each side, with a wooden banister, much the same as many other stairs, although when looking at it, something was amiss, usually the platform would lead to a door, but here there was no door, looking at them, they seemed to be a completely useless flight of stairs. Perhaps at some distant point in time there had been a door at the top but now that it was no longer there, it had rendered the stair's use obsolete. On closer inspection they came to see that a section of rail from the banister had come off and been replaced by a new piece of wood, they surmised that not only it being a staircase that actually led to nowhere, it was also being preserved and maintained as such. So begins Akasegawa Genpei's book, that had appeared originally as columns in photography magazines from the mid-eighties, it was published in Japan by Chikuma Shobo Publishing back in 1987.

Realizing that he was moving on from l'art pour l'art, to le stairs pour le stairs maybe, Akasegawa termed this art 'Hyperart', and debating it over with his students they decided they needed a more precise name for their discoveries, and they came up with the name: Thomasson. Gary Thomasson a baseball player who had then recently been signed by the Yomiuri Giants encapsulated everything that the art signified, since starting his career with the Giants he had failed to contact bat with ball, although being paid a mint he served no great purpose. So the momentum for the hunt of Thomassons begins and they discover the 'defunct ticket window of Ekoda' (sealed with plywood), 'the pointless gate at Ochanomizu', (looks like a gate but completely sealed with concrete), mysterious eaves that jut out of walls protecting vanished mail boxes removed long ago. Many examples prove to be puzzling to solve, a floating doorway appearing high in a wall that belongs to the basement of a house?, and the photograph used as the book's cover from a report sent in from a reader in Urawa, noticing a wall of a dry cleaners that appeared to have a blip in the middle, closer inspection revealed that it was in actual fact a doorknob for a door that was sealed over, 'what's more, the doorknob actually turned' the report concludes. Soon with numerous reports of sitings and photographs being sent in by the magazines readers, some from Paris and China, it becomes clear that Thomassons are not only a Japanese phenomenon, Thomassons can be found wherever humans create buildings. Collecting together paintings, models and photographs, Akasegawa hosted the worlds first exhibition of Thomasson artefacts which he called 'A Neighbourhood in Agony', and the interest garnered bus tours to visit the locations of sitings. Told in compere like prose, the book explores the unconscious nature of architecture, which in turn has created some truly unintentionally inspiring objects which questions what we have come to think of what constitutes as art, or architecture.

Translated by Matt Fargo, who provides a summary of his thoughts about translating the book, Reiko Tomii also provides an in depth essay on Akasegawa Genpei, who has also won the Akutagawa Prize in 1981, under the pen name Katsuhiko Otsuji, and is also a key figure within the Japanese art world since the early sixties, involved with groups like Hi-Red Center and Neo-Dada, in 1963 he was at the centre of the 1000 Yen Note incident. Published by Kaya Press the book is full of photographs of Thomasson's and also has trailer which you can see here, (at 2.02 check out the picture Iimura Akihiko took of himself standing at the top of a chimney, no guide ropes!), and if you have seen a Thomasson take a photograph and fill in a report and mail it here.

Kaya Press

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