You learned graphic design on your own. What was the most remarkable lesson in your learning process ?
Yes, I am autodidact. I am still in the learning process and I hope this will never stop.
Most remarkable was for me to realize that I don't depend on any authority (teacher) in order to decide whether something is right or not, but instead I am the one to decide myself. To design or create means that you constantly have to make decisions about what is good or not, black or white, big or small, horizontal or vertical, thick or thin and so on. The basic equipment for such decisions are the eyes, the ears, the brains and very important: intuition. If one doesn't have the courage and convidence to trust his own senses and his own brains, then I'm afraid no teacher in the world can help to become a good designer.
How comes "Ideal" as a title of Tokyo Air Cigarette ?
For each new edition of Air Cigarettes I'm looking for a characterisitc brand name. For the Tokyo edition I didn't want to apply any Western stereotype but rather something which is significant for the Japanese people themselfs. It was a lucky coincidence when I met Kenji Herbert, 20 year old son of an Austrian father and a Japanese mother (he grew up in Japan, now studiying music in Europe). I asked him to help me find one word which expresses something characteristic for Tokyo. He instantly said "ideal, because in Tokyo everybody wants everything to be ideal". I found "Tokyo ideal °" was perfect, it also fits really well to the other cigarette names like New York Single °, China Chic °, Barcelona Puff ° and so on.
How do you generally conscious about Tokyo ? In what kind of occasion Tokyo gets your attention ?
Since my childhood Tokyo seems to be one of the few really big and interesting metropolisis in the world: London, Paris, New York, Toyko, Shanghai, New Dehli, ...
Tokyo stands out for it's extremely high level in social and cultural organisation, some of it is very stange for Western people to understand of course, but that's what makes it interesting.
You told me that you once did much design work for 2 months for Tokyo Air Cigarette. What was the exact point that made you give up all and just be here ? It's such a big courage, I think.
I gave up all the previous design attempts which I made for Tokyo ideal ° when I had a night dream introducing the magazine concept to me. I woke up by that dream and it was 100 % clear that this was the right thing to do. I realized that I have to "touch" Tokyo at first before I can make authentic design. To use Japanese magazines was perfect to get in touch with the current trends in Japan. It's the magazines which make this air cigarette authentic. My part in it was to search for the magazines and the pages to cut air cigarettes into. This was an extremely exciting process ... after only four days of working I felt like I have been in Japan for half a year already ... I have learnt much about the contemporary life-style, culture, sports, business, fashion, sex, music and so on.
How was your impression of Tokyo, after 18 years since your first visit ? (well, you haven't seen much this time though....) Was there something very different you felt ?
The first time Tokyo was very exotic to me. This time I felt very familiar with Tokyo, I think the reason is, that the whole team of gallery éf made me feel most welcome and supported.
Actually, you are the only artist who has never seen the space before carrying the project. Was it disadvantage or frustration ? and how did you overcome it in your creative process (in Wien) and on the spot ?
Yes, it was very difficult to prepare the exhibition without having experienced the place before. I tried to anticipate the atmosphere of the rooms by building a dummy of the space. When I eventually entered the gallery I was totally surprised: the room is little and huge at the same time, that was exactly what I couldn't figure out before I was there.
What was the most interesting thing at the book shop where you went to collect the magazines on your arriving day ?
The shop itself and the magazines are pretty much the same like in Europe, but what was unique was the employees who packed the magazines. It was the perfect team work of three people and especially the packaging technique was fascinating to me. This was the moment when I understood how highly skilled you Japanese people are in many things you do ... even with such simple and banal things like packing.
What was the most interesting discovery in those magazines ?
Most interesting to me was, how similar your life and your envirements seem to be to the one I know from Europe ... despite all the differences I found much more similarities.
The funniest thing I found was an article about hand reading in a practical life guide magazine: if you find out that you don't have good lines in your palms, the magazine suggests to simply draw the perfect lines into your palms. The article gives the instructions how to do this. Great graphic idea!
At which point (in the working process on the spot) your Tokyo Air Cigarette has become concrete ?
There was a point right in the middle of the process in Tokyo (two days after arriving, two days before the opening of the exhibition) when I suddenly had the feeling that I have just started something which will become an important part of my future works. It was fascinating for me as a designer to directly interact with the contemporary visual culture of Japan by using the magazines as my material. But to be honest I found out how Tokyo ideal ° really works on the last day before the exhibition.
About the Fresco paradise which became the main image of the show. You added something hairy to the collage of fresco and lipstick marks. Why the paradise sprouted out hair ??
When I created the fresco I found the frescos paradise too unreal (too heaven-like). So I figured the fresco image needs dust in order to become more real ... like the real world has dust everywhere I found a real paradise needs dust as well (cosmic dust is everywhere, even in paradise!).
Below you see a picture with a close-up of dust (amphibian dust) from our class at University. I was surprised myself when i realized how hairy regular dust is.
In the german language we have a saying, it's talking about "the hair in the soup" which means, something disturbing the soups perfectionism ... so I used the hairy dust to disturb the strong perfectionism of the fresco paradise ... that's how the hair got into the picture ... to make that paradise more realistic.
You worked intensively for whole 4 days. I was totally amazed by your extreme concentration.
Have you had it by nature or has it been trained by being an artist ? (well, it was still extreme, I would say)
My old friend Stefan Sagmeister once pointed out a work of the American artist Jenny Holzer, where she says: "People are boring unless they're extremists." Stefan said, this sentence made him think of me ... this was before I was an artist or designer, so I guess being an extremist is me by nature.
How did you like Cherry Typhoon's performance at the opening ?
Cherry is a real darling! She is so open minded, her focus is so much on the joy to live an intense and interesting life and she has great style. Her contribution to air cigarette project was a big surprise to me and now when I know it I think it is a perfect match. I even think: How exciting, I came to Japan with Air Cigarettes and while I was there they evolved into ultra cool Typhoon Cigarettes. I could not wish it better. Thank you very much Cherry dear!!!
You smoked like a hell until you completed the show, then you quitted smoking on the first day of the show. It was another WOW for me. Your presentation contains much enough messages and ideas that opens up our eyes and that we can apply to our life. Still, you wouldn't let it stay as a presented concept or designed design but lead to a realized (achieved) action. How you've become so responsible to "action" in your art ?
In 1992 I was interested to attend a privat school for art and photography in Vienna. At the same time I was suspicious of being pregnant. That's why I asked the principal of the school, if she believes that I could manage to do both, having a baby and attending that school. The lady told me that she would not accept me as a student when I am pregnant because the school is dedicated to produce famous artists and women who have to care for children when they're sick wouldn't be serious in art.
Sorry, in order to describe my reaction I have to use bad words now:
I thought "F... you and f... this kind of art and art business, where the artists pay for having a carreer by sacrifying what is important: humanity." I find art only interesting when it's real for life, when it's about phantasy, vision, fear or whatever, but I find it totally boring when it's about art only. That's why all my work comes from my life and not from art school ever since.
Someone said, your motif is gone when you completely succeed in quitting smoking. What is the current position of Air Cigarette ? Is it completed ?
I don't know why, but I have known from the begining that Air Cigarette wants to go to Tokyo one day, so that's completed now. But when I was up in the air flying back to Europe I had a vision about a perfect appearance of this little piece of paper, it seemed to be the conclusion of all the editions including Tokyo ideal °. This idea doesn't go out of my mind anymore ... I am curious myself ...
In the meantime, we had Olympic Torch relay in Nagano and we had a group of Chinese guest in gallery on the same day. Then we had the Olympic Torch action which is another ongoing project of yours.
Also the used 2,000 magazines provided by secondhand book shops right before they sold. Such coincidence often happens in your project. I regard it as gravity you create and it makes your art so precious and active. I assume that artist should be in the center of the gravity to the world. How do you conscious the gravity in your creative process ?
I think it's not me creating gravity, it's rather me looking for the spots where the natural gravities of time and space are concentrated. Whenever I feel intense energy I know it's not only interesting but also there is power to be used for my work. Once I am logged into the circuit of gravity I trust completely that all things that happen will be right. That's a wonderful way of working ... and it works! I feel like a ball player who is playing in the field rather than watching from aside ... that's why I can catch some balls sometimes.
I think we are often trapped by the boarders of what we're doing. Have you ever felt any limitation in graphic design ? Although, apparently you've exceeded it.
Yes. The products which we graphic designers normally create feel like little museums to me. They're quiet, everything is in order, you can look at it (visit it) whenever you have time and as long as you want to, they'll be there for you. What I miss is what music can do so wonderfully, vividly and magically: to get my brain thrilled, my body rocked and my soul inspired all at the same time. Music creates an own cosmos, music is creation. As a designer I have the urge to create something vivid, too. I guess that's the reason why I break the rules and the limits of graphic design all the time.
Aside from the project, what else did you find in Tokyo ?
The beautiful temple around the corner of the gallery and it's monks (and us) praying at 6 o'clock in the morning ... the joy of being served fantastic food by your mother and aunt every day ... the joy of riding a bike in Tokyo ... being guided by someone who is local made me feel like a young duck toddling after duck mother ... wonderful ... four floors of soccer shops, this would be paradise for my son ... and I found new friends: Takeshi, Tomo-san, Cherry, Naoto.
What is your coming/ongoing project ?
I have to get my homepage ready.
Please come back to Tokyo again !!
I'd love to!
Big hug and kisses, Elisabeth.