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Giant 'face' floating in Tokyo sky: What does this surreal sight tell us?

The art project "Masayume," in which a giant face created by the art team "me" floats above Harajuku, Tokyo, is seen on the morning of July 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Kaho Kitayama)

TOKYO -- One day in July, a huge "face" could be seen floating in the sky over Tokyo's Harajuku district. It had thick, well-defined eyebrows and a thoughtful expression. Whenever the wind blew, it changed direction like a balloon. People passing by on the street stared at it in surprise and took pictures with their smartphones. What was this face?

    The "face," at 20 meters tall about the size of a six- or seven-story building, went up at 6 a.m. on July 16. It is a project by the contemporary art team "me" (eye) and is titled "Masayume" (prophetic dream).

    "Me" is a rising art team started in 2013 by Haruka Kojin, 38, Kenji Minamigawa, 41, and Hirofumi Masui, 40. They have been confronting viewers with the uncertainties of reality at local art festivals and solo exhibitions, including the creation of a "pond" in a wooded area where viewers could walk on the surface of the water.

    The "Masayume" project is similar to that pond project in that it creates a scene that makes you doubt your eyes. The idea came from a dream Kojin had when she was in junior high school. "On my way home from cram school, I was watching the sunset from the train window. The moment we came out of a forest, the city spread out and a human face the size of the moon was floating above it. It was a very brief moment," she explained.

    It wasn't a fantastic scene, but felt very real, as if someone had created it artificially. She recalled that she had kept the image in her mind, hoping that she would one day be able to see such a scene.

    The face that floated in the sky over Harajuku is that of a real person. In 2019, the art team asked for submissions from people of all ages, genders and nationalities, and received more than 1,000 images of faces from around the world, ranging in age from 0 to 90s. A "face conference," in which anyone could participate, was then held to exchange opinions on what kind of face to float in the sky.

    Kenji Minamigawa, left, and Haruka Kojin of the art team "me" are seen in Kitamoto, Saitama Prefecture, on June 16, 2021. (Mainichi/Sakiko Takahashi)

    Minamigawa recalled, "The word 'repel,' which came from the participants, was the deciding factor. We don't look at faces that closely, and sometimes people are afraid to look, like, 'Can I look?' There was an opinion that the face needed to have the power to repel the gaze of people around the world."

    In the end, Kojin narrowed it down to one person. "I decided that this person was the only one. We called them the 'face of philosophy,' and I think they have the kind of face that makes us question our own existence," she said.

    This project is part of a public competition sponsored by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other organizations. It was scheduled to be held last summer to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, but was postponed for a year along with the games. As the emotional toll of the coronavirus pandemic spreads around the world, people look up at the sky and the floating "face" looks back at them. Minamigawa said that he was reexamining the meaning of the project.

    There is a story about a young boy who, while waiting to be rescued during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake disaster, looked up at the sky through a gap in the ceiling of his collapsed house. Minamigawa said, "If it had been me, if I'd only thought about the fact that I was in the rubble, I might not have survived. I thought that changing the way I looked at things was essential for survival."

    There was another story, about a mine collapse in Chile in 2010. Thirty-three workers trapped underground for more than two months were reported to have had different roles during the ordeal, including as doctors and pastors. "A person who worked in a mine becomes a doctor the next day. By changing the way they looked at things, they were able to create a small society and find hope. I think it is important to use our senses to look at the present," Minamigawa commented.

    According to him, the same is true of the coronavirus pandemic we are facing. "Some say it's a disaster caused by the flow of people, but we see the pandemic that we ourselves caused once again by ourselves. In other words, a 'face' that could have been one of us looks at us. That's what I think of this work."

    (Japanese original by Sakiko Takahashi, Cultural News Department)

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