Two young French artists in residence at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto frame their encounter with Japan through paper windows that come to life on the small screen. Their prototypes of augmented paper are exhibited at Institut français in Tokyo.
Kyoto, special report (words and photos)
Through starry dream windows, sliding rear windows, city bay windows and always traveling windows, Julie Stephen Chheng’s cut, folded, printed and juxtaposed papers come alive in the augmented world of a smartphone screen that reveals Thomas Pons’s animated landscapes. Such is the pretext of their new exhibition Uramado (“rear window”), conceived at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto, through June 19 at Institut français in Tokyo.
“We started out with prototypes of paper train cars,” says Julie in her artist-in-residence studio at the Villa. “We often use augmented reality (AR) to enter the imaginary world of dreams, to go from paper to animation via AR and windows. It’s always from interior to exterior, from inside to outside, and especially from light to shadow. We were very much inspired by Japanese papers, printed washi… For the graphics, I looked at decorated manhole covers (clouds, prints…) and paper lanterns full of bugs that make shadows on the wall like giant monsters.”
“This project came about when we first came to Japan two years ago,” Julie explains. “We took the shinkansen [high-speed train], we visited all kinds of gardens… Here they have a way of placing windows like photographs, perfectly balanced, both visually and spiritually. Even architecturally, they think about how people will move, they create openings so that there are always beautiful spaces to look at. The gardens are designed so that as you move around, everything is beautiful, just like a photograph. That’s where it all came from, all these transparent washi windows… What does the window represent? How can we pass from one world to the other? And especially, if we change reference points, if we go from a stationary window to a moving window, what kind of story does it tell?”
“Uramado”, Julie Stephen Chheng & Thomas Pons, video excerpts from the augmented reality mobile application Aurasma:
The couple met eight years ago as first-year students at the school of decorative arts (ENSAD) in Paris—she specialized in printed image, he in animation—but they didn’t start working together as artists until more recently, channeling their mutual understanding and artistic complementarity.
During their four-month residency at Villa Kujoyama, Julie, far from her paper-cutting equipment at Volumique, partnered with the fabcafé MTRL Kyoto in order to use the laser cutters and work in a larger space, while Thomas illustrated and animated vignettes about discovering life in Japan.
If augmented reality is gradually gaining ground on mobile devices, while traditional Japanese paper dates back hundreds of years, the juxtaposition of the two intrigues and seduces, especially in the native land of washi. Julie and Thomas’s workshops have been quite successful with Japanese students in art and design, as well as curious children rediscovering origami and kirigami (paper cut-outs) animated in the parallel world of their cherished smartphones.
Less precise than micro-mapping but infinitely more portable, the idea of extending our playful experiences with paper via the interactive technology of AR, already present in a number of books published by Volumique, is expressed in augmented pop-up books and stickers, interchangeable postcards, animated photos, living posters… “My world is childlike but my audience is not limited to children,” says Julie.
While Julie doesn’t quite consider herself a maker, Thomas feels a real affinity with Japan’s own culture of making and doing: “In France, discourse is revered, to the point where the discourse is more important than what you do. Here, on the other hand, you show things, and that’s what’s important—it’s what you make, not what you say about it.”
“Uramado, Fenêtres sur…”, exhibition through June 19 at Institut français in Tokyo