(Tokyo, Japan)(Painting, Multi)(Studio Visit)2023-09-19

Studio Visit with Melme

We visit the East Tokyo studio and home of creative duo Mao Yoshino and Sei Yanase behind the curatorial project Melme

Entering an old wooden structure on the far edge of Eastern Tokyo, we find a once decrepit house about to be demolished, transformed into a bright and mellow live, work and exhibition space. Painter and Ceramicist Mao Yoshino and Architect and Writer Sei Yanase came together in love and work to launch the multidisciplinary creative studio and curatorial platform Melted Meadow (orMelmefor short). Whether designing artwork for Comme des Garçons or curating exhibitions on regional trains – the duo work across a plethora of mediums with ambitious candour.

We sit around a pot of tea to discuss activations to both democratise fine art and bring some playfulness and reprieve to the long and harrowing workday of the average salaryman through performance art. With the enormous volume of abandoned homes across Japan, Melme has found ways to creatively transform spaces to offer both a place to showcase other talents as well as dedicate time to developing their skills and sharpening their senses.

Can you please introduce yourselves?


Sei_ We are Melted Meadow, abbreviated as Melme. As a creative unit formed by Sei Yanase and Mao Yoshino, they are active in cross-disciplinary activities such as corporate branding, art direction for events, design, and art curation. At the same time, I am also working as a writer.


How did you two come together?


S_ Originally, we both graduated from the same Tokyo University of the Arts, with Kihin majoring in architecture and Mao majoring in ceramics. We met through a mutual friend, and we spoke about doing a project together when we met for the second time.


Mao_ I felt invincible when we were two. We can complement each other because we can do different things.


S_ We were talking about the future and the current state of artists. there are a lot of wonderful young artists around us, but there are very few opportunities to see them. So, we also wanted to create environments where more people can see them. I was thinking that it would be nice.

At that time, Yoshino was exhibiting his work at the café where he works part-time, and various customers who came to the café had it in their hands. I realised that this is not something that everyone can do, but many things are difficult for artists to do on their own. I thought of making one. It costs money to exhibit in a gallery, but if it's a place other than a gallery, like a cafe, it doesn't cost much, and both the people at the cafe and the artist are happy. I said that I would like to do such activities, which was the reason for the formation of Melme.


What was the first aim of starting Melme?


S_ Since the post-war generation, education in Japan has been based on the principle that "economic activity is life." So, I wanted to pop a hole in that rigid idea and let air flow. We wondered if the city would change if we curated and created art interventions in various places around the city.


Please tell us about Tokeso, which is both your residence and studio.


S_ It was originally a cat house that was about to be demolished, and I found it on Instagram from a friend who works in real estate.


M_ At first, the smell of cats was terrible, and I was devastated, but I felt some power or potential. And the rent was so cheap that we decided to live here without looking at other properties.


S_ We didn't have any money anyway, so we decided to renovate everything ourselves. We thought it would be a waste just to live there, so we decided to use the house as a gallery. What we have consistently done so far is to exhibit our works in places of daily life, so let's do the same thing at home.


What was the first art project?


S_ NiNiPoiPoi in 2020. At first, I was asked to decorate an empty space within the train station (jointly owned by JR) and the design office for Christmas, but neither of us had much interest in Christmas.

This project was born from the idea of doing something more fun and making the station come alive through movement through dancing. I put a trash can in the back of the space, put the desk and paper in front, and put up the words "Let's draw our feelings and  Poi (throw it away)."

At that time, the coronavirus had just started, and the station was filled with a depressing atmosphere, so we wanted to do something for people to be able to release their feelings. Over the event's four days, 500 Poi Poi were gathered, and everyone from children to adults and station masters participated. When I looked at what was written, it was interesting to see that there were various things written, such as pictures, wishes, and anger. 

Stations are just things you usually pass by, but the act of playing and throwing paper inside the station is really refreshing, and you can relax there. Moreover, not everyone thinks of it as art, but we regard it as art. The meaning of art is to set people free or to show them a new world.

Art broadens our horizons, and we are not interested in showing art to people who know it. I wanted to take people who live in the same routines to the outside.

2020年にやったNiNiPoiPoiですね。最初、JRと設計事務所が共同で持っている駅構内のデッドスペースにクリスマスの装飾をしてほしいって頼まれたのですが、 クリスマスにはふたりともあまり興味がなかった。もっと楽しくて、駅が踊っちゃうようなことをやろう、ということで生まれたのがこのプロジェクトです。スペースの奥にゴミ箱を置いて、手前にその机と紙を置いて「気持ちを描いてポイしよう」っていう言葉を掲示しました。当時はちょうどコロナが始まったタイミングで、駅に憂鬱な雰囲気が流れてたタイミングだったから、もっと人々の気持ちを発散できるような ことをしたかったんです。開催の4日間で500のポイポイが集まって、子供から大人、駅長さんまでみんなが参加してくれました。書かれていたものを見てみると、絵や願い事や鬱憤までいろんなものが書いてあるのが面白かったです。駅って普段通りすぎるだけのものだけど、駅の中で紙ゴミを投げるっていう行為ってすごく新鮮だし、そこで気分晴らしができる。しかも別にそれをみんなはアートだと思ってないんですが、 僕らはそれをアートと捉えています。多分人々を解放させてあげたりとか、新しい世界を見せてあげることがそのアートの意味ですね。


A selected artwork shown in 'Nakazuri Gallery', the project Melme curated including various artworks within Tokyo's train cars | Photo courtesy of Melme
A selected artwork shown in 'Nakazuri Gallery', the project Melme curated including various artworks within Tokyo's train cars | Photo courtesy of Melme

What was the reaction to the event?


S_ JR [rail company] heard that we were doing something interesting and asked us to work together on a project to make the station more interesting.

About half a year after that, there was a vacant tenant in Ueno Station, and we received a request to turn this into an art gallery, so we created Ueno Art Park (2021). While thinking about the concept, I wanted to create a place where visitors can relax and have tea, not just an art gallery. That's why I named it a park and made it an art gallery where you can spend time freely like a park. During the period, we had four groups of artists came and held pop-ups and workshops. Each of the artists is challenged in various ways, holding an event where they can create things together with a sculptor or create a "Flower River" with a textile artist to pick flowers and wrap them in their favourite textile for purchase.


その半年後ぐらいに、その上野駅の中に空きテナントがあるから、ここをアートギャラリーにしてほしいという依頼をいただいて、ueno art park(2021)を作りました。コンセプトを考える中で、アートギャラリーだけじゃなくて、訪れた人がゆっくりお茶ができるところを作りたかった。だから名前にパークといって、公園のように自由に過ごせるようなアートギャラリーにしました。期間中は4組のアーティストに来ていただいて、ポップアップやワークショップも開催しました。アーティストさんはそれぞれいろんなことにチャレンジされて、造形作家の人と一緒にものをいう作れるイベントを開催したり、テキスタイルアーティストの方と一緒に「花の川」を作て、お客さんはそこにある花を摘んで、好きなテキスタイルで包んで購入することができるっていうこともしました。

S_ In the next project, UENO ART WALL (2021), we turned the passageway of the station into an art gallery. The aluminium frame, which is usually used for advertising posters, was purposefully used for the exhibition. This exhibition attempts to create a sense of incongruity by exhibiting art using places and things we see every day without even realising it. 

It's a public place where everyone passes by. Normally, when you go to a gallery or museum, customers want to take their time and look at the art, but it was important to create something that has an impact to get the attention of the public in such a busy place.

I attached a QR code to the description of the work so that people passing by could purchase the artist's work and goods. In terms of curation, one of the most important things is to connect the artist and the audience. The project spread more than I had imagined through Twitter and TV reports, and many people came to see the project and bought art pieces.

次のプロジェクトUENO ART WALL(2021)では、駅の通路をアートギャラリーにしました。普段広告ポスターの掲示に使われているアルミフレームあえて使って展示しました。普段気づかないうちに毎日目にしているような場所やものを使ってアートを展示することで、違和感を生むことを試みた展示です。作家さんをキュレーションしたんですが、大切にしたのは外側に向かってエネルギーを発してるアーティストさんです。みんなが通る公共の場だから、一足も早いから目に止まりやすいっていうのも意識しました。普段ギャラリーや美術館行くとお客さんはじっくりアートを見ようとするけど、この場所ではインパクトがあることも重要かなと思いました。


S_ At NAZURI GALLERY (2021), we took over an 11-car train for two weeks, selected 11 artists, and created a solo exhibition for each car. Trains are packed with a tremendous amount of information centred on advertisements, but the train was run with only the art pieces and without any commercial advertising. We definitely wanted to display the real thing hanging in the middle, not a copy of the work. Oil paintings were the main ones, but we also exhibited objects, silk-screened vinyl, and other interesting materials to create a sense of incongruity. What I like about art is that, unlike advertising, it doesn't talk about things one-sidedly. I like that you don't talk.

NAZURI GALLERY(2021)では、2週間限定で11車両編成の電車をジャックして、11アーティストを選定し車両ごとにそれぞれの個展を作りました。電車って広告を中心にとんでもない情報量を詰め込んで走っているわけですが、その電車は一切コマーシャルの情報を持たずにアートだけを詰めて走らせました。作品は複製したものとかではなくて、絶対に本物を中吊りでディスプレイしたいと思った。油絵とかがメインでしたが、オブジェやビニールにシルクスクリーンを施した作品だったり、素材として面白いものを展示して、より違和感を生みました。広告と違っていろんなことを一方的に話してこないのが、僕たちのアートの好きなところ。喋らないところが好きですね。


Will you hold events at Tokeso?


S_ Occasionally. After all, we live here, so we can't do events frequently. I feel like I'm selling my life by the piece, so until now, I've been holding events at a pace of about once every six months.


So, you work between many different disciplines and mediums; what are your respective creative outlets?


M_ I majored in ceramics at university, but now I focus on painting and graphic design. I started to like drawing when I was little, and it all started with a letter. My family sent me letters on birthdays and other occasions, and I started writing letters to my family and friends on their birthdays as well. As I was writing letters, I realised that I wanted to express things that I couldn't control with just the words, so I started decorating the letters with pictures.

After that, I realised that painting was a way to convey my feelings, and I started making works that were so elaborate that they could hardly be called letters. Before I knew it, I had become a person who could only do that, and I decided to go to art college, thinking that I had no choice but to pursue a career as an artist. This spring, a picture I drew was sold as a T-shirt by a world-famous brand. Many of my works are born with strong power from what I made for someone.


S_ I majored in architecture at university, so I'm just a beginner, but I'm involved in various activities such as painting, copywriting, and spatial design. I studied architecture, but I've always liked art, and Melme's activities are about curating and conveying art to various people. I've been talking about it for a long time.


M_ Curation is also our work in a sense. As an artist representative, We curate other artists, and I'm a fellow artist; I feel that the artists who cooperate with us trust us because we are also creators. 


What is next?

S_ We will leave Tokyo and move to Gifu, where I would like to think about human creation. I make art, I build, I cook, I garden. Through our activities, we would like to show that "creation is life." We will probably come back to Tokyo someday, but for now, I'm going to train. 

After all, there is a lot of information [in the city], and there is a tendency to perceive various information superficially. Instead, I want to capture the little information deeply. This will sharpen my senses, and that will affect the things I create, and it will give me a sense of being alive.

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