C-DEPOT is an artist group organized by young Japanese artists of the same generation, born around the ’70s and ’80s. Each unique artist produces artwork in various genres including painting, three-dimensional work, media, film, music, etc. The group continues to discover other young talented artists, in hopes to expand their group. One of the founders of C-DEPOT, Yuji Kanamaru, talks about his experience with starting the group. Over the past 17 years he has helped manage the group and kept it active. He talks about the challenges, successes, various projects, and what the future holds for C-DEPOT.
Q: When you started C-DEPOT, were you able to find any other artist groups near you?
A: I saw some people working in artist groups, but I don’t think there were any large scale groups like C-DEPOT that were around for a long time. If there was a group like C-DEPOT, I would have joined them but…
Q: How successful did you think your group would be?
A: 2002 was right when the internet was becoming popular; and I saw this as a new opportunity. However, when i went to start this new movement using the internet, I ran into some technical problems and it was quite difficult to actually implement. That is why I decided that exhibitions would be our main focus.
Q: How did C-DEPOT change after the first five years?
A: Up until 2012 we held annual exhibitions alternating years between the venues at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and Spiral in Omotesando. 2012 was the tenth year since starting the group, and even if we continued this annual exhibition I did not expect it to provide further opportunities so I decided to end it for the time being. The last exhibition was held at both locations during the same time. During this time we had expanded our group; we worked hard to booked both venues, and set off fireworks at the end. After that, we shifted our direction to become close to and collaborate with businesses. We began to accept requests rather than just organizing exhibitions to our liking. While organizing these requests, we received growing support from businesses. However, while we received financial support from these businesses, it was not enough to cover exhibition costs. Eventually, we decided that the exhibition costs would be covered by the artists. If I can I would like to put on shows in nice venues where the artists do not need to cover any expenses.
Members of C-DEPOT
Q: It is interesting that you invite artists of various genres.
A: Yes, it is. I studied at Tokyo Geidai in the Design Department. This design department was often referred to as mini-Geidai because it was not a unified department – the department seemed to operate more like its own mini university. While it is typical for universities to have various departments, people poked fun at the Tokyo Geidai Design Department because there were students working on many various mediums. Some people said the design department was not really a design department. When I was in high school I saw a graduation exhibition put on by Geidai University and I thought this department was the most interesting, making me want to study there. I think this department’s acceptance of various mediums was where I got the idea for C-DEPOT as a group containing artists of various genres.
Q: How do members influence each other in the group?
A: Working in a group creates a sense of competition. For example, members care what other members are creating next and may get the idea to create artwork bigger than their peers’. This type of competition increases motivation and creates synergy to encourage members to continue making art. Other times, members will feel a connection to other artists and collaborate on new pieces. I think we influence each other in a good way.
Q: What did you find difficult about managing a group?
A: Being the leader to put on large events with the help of only a small number of people is a lot of work. But I think that keeping the group going is also a lot of work. While keeping the group going, I have to make sure we avoid monotony and getting stuck in a rut. As year go by members’ thoughts and ideas may change which can also cause some difficulties. While time can mature our artistic skills it can also make some aspects decline. I feel like I have experienced all the difficulties of continuing a group for many years. It has been 15 years since starting C-DEPOT, so I always have to consider how I can maintain motivation and what I can do to create a refreshed environment for members to work.
Q: What attracts artists to join C-DEPOT?
A: Each member has their own art form in which they work to hone their skills, but this leads artists’ perspectives to become very narrow as they are focused on only one art form. In times like these, seeing other genres of art, different ways of thinking, or being moved by other forms of beauty can allow us to view ourselves and our work objectively. We can realize things such as “there’s this way of thinking” or “things like this are also considered beautiful.” Because we are artists we can understand these ideas even when others have different values or use different art languages. It is fun to be able to connect with other artists on a fundamental level.
Experience with Exhibitions
Q: By 2012, what kind of audience visited the exhibitions?
A: We chose two popular venues in which many people visit often. Of course, we advertised by ourselves for our exhibitions but both the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and Spiral are places people will visit either way. In particular, Spiral is an art complex with a cafe, so I think people who are highly aware of new movements and trends saw our exhibitions. In addition, we advertised on art magazines, so we could appeal to those in the art industry. Also, group members sent out personal emails to their acquaintances.
Q: What were some impressive aspects of the exhibitions?
A: We got offers for projects, were interviewed, and were featured on TV.
These small things occurred, and looking back on it now I see that our exhibitions were networking and spreading the word about our group. Because of all the activities we did as groundwork, people trust our group and it has currently been providing opportunities for commissioned work.
A Change in Direction
Q: What about after 2012?
A: I wanted to start selling our art so I wanted to announce that we would be showcasing our art with price tags to promote purchasing. Along this line, I thought it would be nice to organize artist centered art fairs. I envisioned organizing art fairs similar to the scale of Design Festa or GEISAI, however it was very hard to implement. Instead, we organized a large exhibition on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Seibu Department Store in 2014. After 2012, all of our previous efforts had come together and we were finally seeing the result as we begun collaborating and working together with a large companies like Shibuya Seibu Department Store to put on exhibitions.
From then on, we started to get various commissioned offers. For example, when the Royal Park Hotel, directly connected to Haneda airport was built, they asked C-DEPOT to help provide the art decoration for each room. C-DEPOT members worked together to to create the art decorations for the suites and a large painting for the lobby. The painting in the lobby is there permanently and can be viewed even today. The nature of hotels and the many limitations it has was a great learning experience for us.
On the other hand, when we worked with another company, Park Hotel Tokyo, a hotel in the Shiodome neighborhood, we had a lot more freedom on what we wanted to do. We did four exhibitions in one year, each lasting two to three weeks. As the hotel’s theme is “Japan’s beauty,” we based our exhibitions on the four seasons to highlight Japan.
Also, in 2011 we worked on a one-year project where we created the interior decorations of a cafe in Roppongi called RANDY. We changed the artwork about every two months, changing the themes and doing solo artist exhibitions. They gave us a lot of freedom to decorate as we liked and we showcased the artwork with price tags for purchasing. It was interesting because customers of cafe became increasingly interested in our exhibit wondering “what’s going to be shown next?” Unfortunately, this cafe was closed in 2018.
Since 2013 we have been involved with this art event called “Shin-Ikebukuko Montparnasse West Exit Exhibition” held at the station’s west exit in hopes to attract people to Toshima city. This area called Ikebukuro Montparnasse happens to be where C-DEPOT’s office is located. From the end of the Taisho era, at the end of the war, young artists such as painter Morikazu Kumagai and novelist Edogawa Ranpo gathered together in this area to work on their art. This event is to highlight this cultural history in art. The event has lasted 13 years and C-DEPOT is involved to work on special projects.
For example, kokeshi dolls was the theme of one exhibition. Yajiro, a kokeshi craftsman from Miyagi prefecture produced the kokeshi figures out of wood, and artists painted them. It was a way for Miyagi prefecture and Toshima city to increase their communication, and the profits from the kokeshi doll sales were donated for restoration assistance for the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. In addition, we put up various artwork throughout the city.
We put up art flags throughout the city in the parks, fire stations, and on the windows of various brokerage firms.
Additionally we have been receiving various commissioned work such as providing art decorations for company offices. While we are not making enough to be profitable from these activities, I do feel that the situation around us has been changing. Businesses have a need for art – recently businesses have been looking for art to differentiate their business or the events they hold and I think this is a great thing. Clients contact C-DEPOT with the expectation that we are able to produce a wide variety of artwork and that we can help them in some way. Because we have gradually become well known, we have been receiving commissioned work without breaks in between projects. We have always discussed ways we can show our artwork overseas, so we appreciate this opportunity to participate in TRiCERA.
In the first five years we were just beginning the group and were not acknowledged by society so we took many risks and experimented with many different ideas. We have many members who have experimented down many paths and are now in their 30s or 40s. I think our previous efforts have paid off as each artist, as well as the group as a whole, has really blossomed and developed. Of course we still face problems, but I think because we have experience we are better able to avoid trouble and solve problems.
The Concept of the Group
Q: Has your concept of “artist group close to the community” changed?
A: No, our concept has not changed. In fact, I think the concept is becoming a reality. However, we are facing challenges of wanting more. Members want a better stage or see better results, so I am always thinking of how we should go about our next steps.
Q: So does “artist group close to the community” mean implementing art around town and organizing art events?
A: I think it’s important to aim to have art all around everyday life. I think it would be great if we could see artwork in places we go on a daily basis. Also, as we are a group of artists, I am always considering to how I can create an environment where artists can continuously make art, and I strive to accomplish this goal.
For painters like me, we have predecessors that paved the way, so we are able to become professional painters, make a living, and create our own path. However, it is a different story for artists creating media art or art in a new genre, three-dimensional art in particular, where the art form is not quite established in the art industry.To begin with, an artist’s work is not just an object to be sold but rather something that should be experienced. For these reasons, I strive to create opportunities where these artists can continuously create art and make a living. I think this is very important and I aim to have C-DEPOT be a place where these opportunities can be created.
Therefore, we are of course putting our efforts in increasing artwork sales, but I believe supplying art can come in various forms such as providing performances or art for different events. Thus, I want to organize all sorts of projects that suit different artist’s special skills to build a bond with the community.
Recently, we have received many requests to put on workshops, even workshops for kids. I feel that parents who want their kids to experience cultural education are increasing.
Even my wife searches for these kinds of workshops to take our kids to. It seems that she is fascinated by the unique art genres rather than attending conventional painting classes.
C-DEPOT collaborates with Toshima City to hold workshops for five days every year during the summer break. I think art education for kids is very important, and I have started to look for way in which we can contribute to providing this type of education. Our workshop is quite popular, and many people sign up for them without us having to do any advertisement. I found that there is a high demand for these workshops.
Looking into the Future
Q: What is your future vision?
A: C-DEPOT follows Vienna Secession as a model for the group. Vienna Secession had their own building called the “Secession Building” where they held exhibitions. I think it would be great if I could build an art center where members could gather and work together, and that is big enough for our members to do various activities.
Q: What are your expectations for TRiCERA?
A: I want to offer quality art and if we see positive results, I think more members will become active. While we have many members, those who are continuously active in creating art is about half the group. I think it would be great if TRiCERA encouraged those who are accomplished but currently inactive to participate and feel that they are benefiting. For this reason, I think turning towards overseas audiences is very attractive to us.
More the arts of C-DEPOT to See