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When No One's Looking, Do You Miss Me?

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Jan 05 2021

Since its inception, every year the IDEO Tokyo Studio comes together for a 3-day offsite, each time in a different part of Japan, usually in the Fall. It’s typically a pause to reflect and connect, share and inspire one another. Yet for obvious reasons we had to think of a different way to bring people together in 2020, while still thinking of an experience that could go beyond the Zoom screen.

In late summer we started brainstorming ideas and looked for ways to leverage our beautiful Studio space, without compromising the safety of our people. The Studio overlooks the Omotesando crossing, and since we moved in in early 2018 it has been more than just a workplace, but a place to create, connect and regularly host clients and guests. A space we’ve all come to miss very much, since working almost entirely from home since last March.

Gatherings before the pandemic: making things together and sharing ideas and laughs in the kitchen.

One outlandish idea quickly emerged: what if we transformed the Studio space into a private “art gallery” for nobody else but ourselves? Our own people would be both artists and visitors, and we’d allow (well scheduled and socially distant) visits for a couple of weeks. All of our past offsites included moments of creating and sharing, often engaging with local craftsmen. What if this year people could gift one another their own ”artistic creations” and create memorable shared yet asynchronous experiences?

A few people came together to drive the initiative and Yumi Sadani, the heavily accented and impossibly fashionable fictional chair of the curatorial committee, was born. Next was naming the gallery and choosing a theme for our first exhibition. Few days later Yumi Sadani announced to a rather confused audience over our regular weekly (virtual) Studio lunch that the OOLONG Gallery would open its doors in November to host its very first exhibition, aptly titled “When No One’s Looking, Do You Miss Me?”

To our delight, amazing ideas poured in from the community. The Studio blueprint we used for planning quickly filled up with placeholders for works, and the curatorial committee got working with artists to develop and situate their art.

Then came getting the space ready: an unglamorous day of heavy lifting and sore backs the next. Though, as the exhibit spaces slowly came to life and the last letter of the gallery signage went up, we realised we had created a pretty neat initiative.

Works spanned from whimsical, abstract, to literal. Literal interpretations of the gallery theme were a photo gallery of those who mean the most to us, a talking brain scan on the floor, and a hidden box storing everyone’s valuables.

The more abstract were a time slip room with a retro phone, a crank that zoomed into ourselves, and a wall painting of a koi everyone made together. And a few just for fun like a staged Friday night on the kitchen counter you add drunken selfies to, and a rather provocative installation using charcoal powder.

But the true magic was the personality that ebbed out of each work. The artists were making you laugh, think, or react unexpectedly, as if they were there in person. And during the two weeks the gallery was open, it felt like somehow we were back together.

One of the largest works, a product of late nights and blistered fingers, urged gallery visitors to climb and breach through a ‘cloudline’ of yellow balloons. What we saw was a simple message that reminded us of why the community and the space is so special.

We didn’t set out expecting the creativity and effort that went into the gallery. But the response from the community, of those creating artworks and those visiting the gallery, was largely unanimous: they felt connected and inspired, in a time when these things are such challenging things to feel.

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