For the second part of this three part series of posts touching on DIY/alternative cultural practices in Osaka, Japan, I spoke to artist Kaori Yoshikawa who set up Noooooooooooo Kitty last year with her teammate Snoo. Noooooooooooo Kitty is an artist-run gallery and events space that they opened following the closure of their previous space, named Bar Kitty. The latter was located in the suburbs south of Osaka, while Noooooooooooo Kitty is located in the Baika area in the west (around the corner from Go Tsushima’s home/studio, who I interviewed in the first part of this series). Over the past few years Baika and its surroundings have become popular for artists and musicians, and a number of small galleries and live venues are also located there. In this way a certain informal cultural community appears to have developed in this area, which Noooooooooooo Kitty is now part of and benefits from in various ways. In this interview Kaori goes into detail about their motivations for the move to Baika, and how Snoo and her artistic practices are reflected in their plans for Noooooooooooo Kitty.
Edward Sanderson (ES): At the end of last year you moved into this new space in the Baika area in Osaka and you are now calling yourselves Noooooooooooo Kitty. Why the name change?
Kaori Yoshikawa (KY): Our original name, ‘Bar Kitty’, came from a Yakuza film called ‘Jitsuroku Shisetsu Ginza Keisatsu’. Coming up with a name is a bit bullshit; we weren’t interested in trying to come up with something ‘appropriate’, or that had the ‘right vibe’. In this film this guy goes crazy because he walks in on his wife sleeping with an American soldier. He kills her and their baby, then he kills a cop, so he’s a fugitive and Bar Kitty was the place that he runs into, saying, “Hide me!” When the cops come in the bar owners are like, “We don’t know what you’re talking about.”
ES: So it’s like a sanctuary?
KY: I guess we started as a hide out for people who feel they don’t belong – in society or wherever.
When we moved, we asked ourselves whether we should still call it Bar Kitty. For us it was a very private decision: we were closing because we didn’t want to run a bar anymore, we wanted to focus on events and relationships with people that aren’t defined by a buyer-seller relationship. We made a pretty straightforward Facebook post announcing the closure, and then over a period of weeks we started to get messages like, “ah, we just heard! This is such a blow to Osaka!” But we didn’t really think about it in that way. Then we were being asked about the possibility of a ‘new’ Kitty, and so we just kept that sound and adapted the ‘Noo’ in Snoo’s name. It’s also nice to have that negative connotation to it visually – “Nooo! Kitty!”, as if we’d killed kitty.
ES: Why did you come to Baika? Did you have a particular connection to it?
KY: Well, even with the original Kitty we were never desperate to own or manage somewhere ourselves. The Bar Kitty space really just fell into our hands. Here in Konohana Ward where Baika is located, too, we were not actively looking for a space – we were just lucky and received a great tip off.
Snoo used to live around here, so we already had a few connections. But actually, although we had both spent a lot of time in the Baika area, we originally moved away and opened Bar Kitty in the Sumiyoshi Ward because we wanted to go somewhere that we had no ties to, where there wasn’t a pre-existing community. When you’re somewhere isolated in that way, people come and end up spending a lot of time there. They would stay for two or three hours, because they’d made such an effort to get there and had sometimes even taken the day or evening off to come. When you are in the middle of the city you often find that people have somewhere else to go – they’re making the rounds.
Over the years we’ve been invited back to Mikke Konohana, an annual festival here in Konohana. A local estate agent runs it over a weekend to promote the area; they open up loads of abandoned spaces and people can use them for events, as cafés, many different things. It’s promoted online but it’s mostly a local event, lots of people who live in the area come. You get a map that tells you where things are going on. Every year they use different spaces, and do tours where they introduce spaces that are available to rent. So through this festival we still had a connection with the area; sometimes we took part in a group exhibition, or to do an event, and once we opened a pop-up Bar Kitty.
Bar Kitty ran in Sumiyoshi for nearly 4 years, and eventually we thought it would be nice to come back where we know people – where we could retain the independence we had developed, but have a bit of local support, and to be in an area where there were other things going on. So it was a deliberate decision to come back.
I remember looking around this building and a lot of it was (and still is!) a mess: the roof had been leaking, and we were told there were areas we couldn’t use, that people couldn’t go into, because they were unsafe. But the roof terrace was a major thing for us; to have the luxury of that kind of space in the middle of the city is rare.
ES: When are you opening and what are your plans for the new spaces?
KY: We’ve been open for a little while now and we’re trying to stay flexible about the spaces.
It’s also fundamental for us to continue practicing as artists; we are continuously making things here. And in this building we have space for all of Snoo’s music equipment, and our paints and canvases, our materials. When you move into a space there’s a temptation to outline the areas, and to be productive with them. But there’s something extraordinary about having spaces that are essentially… nothing; there’s always the possibility of something other. Maybe the spaces don’t need functions, like “This is the living room”, or “This is the kitchen”.
ES: Well, compared to the old Bar Kitty, which was essentially just one room, now you have a huge amount of space.
KY: To me, these empty spaces represent something that’s almost completely outside of myself. That was the thing with Bar Kitty too: to have a space that’s open – it’s not just yours. A home is private, whereas with Noooooooooooo Kitty, many different people make the spaces.
ES: Do all the spaces overlap in terms of their use? Your living space seems to be open to the main staircase, for instance.
KY: Right, it’s not closed in at all. It is possible to lock some of the doors, but it’s a special feeling to wake up and make coffee in the place where we had an event the previous night, a space that was previously filled with people.
I also love having these spaces that you can’t possess, that are completely wild, that can’t be tamed. It’s like having a shrine, or something that’s completely closed off, that’s almost a bit scary; a space that reminds you of your fear of the unknown.
ES: Before you moved in, you said that there was a snack bar on the ground floor?
KY: Yes, that’s now a gallery space called ‘Seas’. They did karaoke, so I guess that’s why it’s soundproofed down there. It seems like it was a really high-end, luxury bar – with velour-covered walls! Next door to that was a tailor’s shop, which is now our ‘Lies’ gallery, and a dance studio on the second floor with painted clouds on the ceiling – which became ‘Skies’, our studio space. Seas, skies and lies – all bottomless and immeasurable. In ‘Seas’ and ‘Lies’ there’ll be two simultaneous exhibitions every month. The main focus is on these gallery and events spaces. As I said, we no longer run a bar, but we want people to feel comfortable spending time here, so we have a DIY, self-service bar. You put money in the jar and you can take a beer or make yourself a coffee – this is super-low maintenance for us.
ES: What has happened so far?
KY: We had three events and a two-person exhibition at the end of 2016. We’ll open again in April when Snoo and I come back from our exhibition and tour around Cuba and Mexico. Our exhibitions will start on the first Friday of each month, which we hope, over time, will be a day when other things can go on in this area. We’re also putting together a three day contemporary poetry festival in November that’s based on Shigaku – in English this would be ‘poetics’, which will encompass poetic elements in other forms such as sound and performance.
ES: With this festival in November are you going to try and link up with other places in this area?
KY: It’s not so much about promoting the area, it’s just a practical consideration, and there really are some exciting spaces here. A commercial gallery, ‘the three konohana’ is just down the road, but there are also lots of studio spaces, or people using their homes as workspaces, spaces that have been converted into galleries, or fantastic undefined spaces like FIGYA around the corner.
The main venue will be Noooooooooooo Kitty, but we hope for other places to be open, and people can visit different sites over the festival period. We’ve invited this wonderful poet Shun’ya Oikawa, a poet based in Fukushima who does Norito performances based on Shinto prayers addressed to the gods, like the God of plutonium or uranium. We’re also ecstatic to have a brilliant Japanese blues singer-songwriter, Fujishima Koichi, from Kochi City in Shikoku.
I think a lot of events happen because people essentially want to have a party, a get-together. My opinion is, if you want a party, have a party. But an event has to have a separate worth. You cannot reduce an event down into a party. We don’t see what we do as even about building a scene, necessarily. We want to do things that are meaningful and that we’re excited by, that we feel are of high quality. And of course, it can be intimidating to ask people that you really respect to perform. Like the legendary Ohno-san (Solmania) who came to play at Kitty last year. When he was having a drink at our bar that night, people see this guy who had a huge impact on the underground noise scene in Osaka, and he’s sitting there getting nervous before the show! You’re in a small room standing a meter away from him, with just 10 other people. How often can you experience that!
So it’s likely that these things will only ever be seen by a certain number of people who are really into them. I don’t think we will ever spread much, but the people who are really into it care about it so much and that in itself is enough. You’re not doing it for the money, because there is no money! And you’re not doing it for some kind of fame, or to brag about it, because there is no one to brag to! So you need quite pure intentions, otherwise you probably wouldn’t bother.
ES: With this kind of activity would you say that the meaning of success has to be readjusted?
KY: Well, of course it you put on an event it’s discouraging if you don’t get anyone to come. But Snoo and I quite quickly realized you can’t become despondent; we just keep going. We keep doing it regardless of whether there’s only one person in the audience, because there are also events when the space is full. It’s not really down to how enticing the event is; it’s often just about luck. We’re concerned with the content: the quality of the event, and whether the right people see it, rather than whether it’s popular. You have to be stubborn and quite thick skinned about it and believe in what you are doing. People need time to find out about things. At least with somewhere like Kitty with 15 people in a room it fills up, whereas in a big live house it will always feel empty. Though, personally, I think there’s something incredible about going to an event in a public space and having an experience that feels so private!
Names of people
- Kaori Yoshikawa
- Shun’ya Oikawa 及川俊哉
- Fujishima Koichi 藤島晃
- Masahiko Ohno 大野雅彦
- Artwork by Kaori Yoshikawa: http://www.kaoriyoshikawa.com
- Artwork by Snoo: https://soundcloud.com/newsnoo-xenophile
- Noooooooooooo Kitty: http://nooooooooo-kitty.wixsite.com/nooooooooo-kitty
- the three konohana: http://thethree.net/
- FIGYA: https://www.facebook.com/baikaFIGYA/