19th Japan Media Arts Festival – a must



The Japan Media Arts Festival holds a prominent position amongst Asian digital arts festivals. The 19th edition, taking place from 3rd to 14th February 2016, features contemporary digital creation, animation and video games. On this occasion Award-winning Works, currently one of the finest international exhibitions, assembles all works awarded prizes by the festival in 2015. 

The Japan Media Arts Festival reflects Tokyo: expansive in its programme and intoxicating in its liberating artistic approach. Every year since 1997, when it was created, the Japan Media Arts Festival has presented new generations of artists, divided into four categories (Art, Entertainment, Animation, Manga). In each of them, and initially amongst 4,000 works from 90 countries, a Grand Prize, four Excellence Prizes and three Encouragement Prizes are awarded.

photo: kiruta_wataru

The allocation of rewards, credible alternatives to the famous Linz Prix Ars Electronica (for the art division), is announced officially in November and leads, several months later, to the exhibition Award-winning Works. The 2015 prizewinners thus present their works from 3rd to 14th February during the 19th festival. These twelve days bring together excellence in digital creation and through international symposiums and projections enables current trends to be acknowledged.

Exhibition Highlights

With almost 160 handpicked works, the exhibition Award-winning Works insightfully draws attention. Located at the National Art Center, it presents all works awarded in 2015. At the outset the selection, in particular from the Art division, illustrates the creativity of the digital artists. Picking out a particular project proves to be a hell of a task. However certain creations stand out for an original artistic stance.

50 . Shades of Grey (Grand Prize/Art division) is in this respect one of the exhibition’s most illustrious pieces. In this work, the British artist Bryan Wai-Ching Chung has invented a graphic model with 50 shades of grey. Six obsolete source codes are used to create a picture where only lines of codes are visible and the kaleidoscope of colour is a priori indecipherable. The simplistic work symbolises technological developments and digital obsolescence. 

ART Grand Prize © 2015 Bryan Wai-ching CHUNG 50 . Shades of Grey CHUNG Waiching Bryan © 2015 Bryan Wai-ching CHUNG

By chronologically superimposing a few elements from his private life with the use of certain computer language, the artist provides a second, more intimate interpretation, of his work. 50 . Shades of Grey is finally the proof, if needed, of the existence of conceptual digital art. 

With (Im)possible Baby, Case 01: Asako & Moriga (Excellence Prize/Art division), Japanese Hasegawa Ai chose an artistic vector to provoke a debate about homosexual parenthood. It concerns specifically looking at the social, cultural and ethical implications of the biotechnology that could soon enable a couple of the same sex, to conceive their own children. Advances in genetics that today raise this type of hypothesis, seem closer to reality than science fiction. Based on the DNA of a lesbian couple, analysed by 23andMe, the artist simulates the physique of the “potential” children and makes family photo albums. 

ENTERTAINMENT Excellence Award (Im)possible Baby, Case 01: Asako & Moriga  HASEGAWA Ai © Ai Hasegawa

Against this backdrop, Hasegawa Ai weaves an inventive narrative and uses different supports: documentary film, website, editing... This work, that caused fierce controversy in Japan, questions the role of art in decision making about bioethics by citizens

The exhibition Award-winning Works continues this element of surprise thanks to the diversity of the works on offer. These are grounded, at times in sound art like The sound of empty space (Excellence Prize/Art division), that explores the harmonics produced when a feedback effect is generated between microphones, at times in video art with Wutbürger by Andreas Lutz and Christophe Grünberger (Excellence Prize/Art division). Here German artists contrast the term “Wutbürger” (translation “infuriated citizen” and implying sustained activism) with the powerlessness and repression of a man’s feelings. A distressing 5-hour video installation gives the viewer the feeling of facing an action personally addressed to him. A sort of half-forced digital introspection. 

ART Excellence Award, Wutbürger KASUGA (Andreas LUTZ / Christoph GRÜNBERGER)
© Andreas Lutz, Christoph Grünberger


A hybrid festival

Let us remember that the Japan Media Arts Festival achieves an ambitious feat. International events are few and far between where animation, video games and manga are treated with the same respect as digital art installations. Normally stakeholders in digital arts are interested to a greater or lesser extent in so-called “mainstream” disciplines, as video games are apparently. But on close inspection nearly all the award-winning artists show that they belong to the realm of great digital creators.

Also how can we fail to consider the recognition deserved by the minimalist and abstract game Dark Echo (Excellence Prize/Entertainment division)? The authors Jesse Ringrose and Jason Ennis leave room for the imagination by stimulating primary fears.

Dark Echo is available now for iOS, Android, and Steam. ENTERTAINMENT Excellence Award Jesse RINGROSE / Jason ENNIS

Trapped in the shadows the player must, thanks to light waves from their steps and through the reverberation of sound, survive and escape from a labyrinth with 80 levels. Another illustration with Thumper (Encouragement Prize/ Entertainment division) that introduces an unprecedented dose of violence in rhythm games normalised until now by Guitar Hero and co. The colourful graphic approach remains nonetheless oppressive.  There is a feeling of unease that contrasts with the pleasant sensation of plunging into a particularly rich psychedelic universe.

 Interviews Marc Flurry about Thumper at PlayStation's E3 2015 Live Coverage show. ENTERTAINMENT Excellence Award, Marc FLURY / Brian GIBSON

On the animation side exactly the same is observed. The short film Rhizome (Grand Prize/Animation division) by the young Frenchman Boris Labbé demonstrates the extent to which animation should not be considered one of the poor relations of digital creation.

RHIZOME - Bande Annonce from Boris Labbé 

In this approximately 11-minute film, abstract forms are constantly changing. Inspired by a philosophical theory by Gilles Deleuze, Rhizome stands out though its individual movements connecting, from time to time, with the overall movement. These many artistic revelations prove that the Japan Media Arts Festival is now one of the very best events for digital creation.  

By Adrien Cornelissen

Other installations:

Gill & Gill / Louis-Jack Horton Stephens / Art Division

Solar Pink Pong / Assocreation/Daylight Media Lab / Entertainment Division

Drawing Operations Unit: Generation 1/ Sougwen Chung / Entertainment Division



Yaskawa×Rhizomatiks×Elevenplay / Entertainment Division

Ultraorbism / Marcel·lí Antunez Roca / Art Division


Japan Media Arts Festival

From 3rd to 14th February 2016

*The next Awards will be announced in November 2016