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The Human Element

At Deutsche Bank in Tokyo, Japanese and German artists enter into a creative dialogue with one another. For the selection of works, it was essential that they address and reflect upon everyday life. Andre Kunz paid a visit to the company collection in Sanno Park Tower.

Sanno Park Tower, situated at the center of Tokyo's governmental district, can be seen from afar. The skyscraper, 194 meters high and one of Tokyo's twenty highest buildings, is only three years old. Deutsche Bank has been renting six stories since August 2000; it's no exaggeration to say that they reside in one of Tokyo's most well known buildings.

The location is prominent indeed. The new residence of the Japanese prime minister, the Parliament building, and the offices of the members of Parliament are to the right, while the venerable luxury hotel Tokyu is to the left of the Sanno Park Tower. Situated behind the building and thus, according to Japanese custom, protecting the building is the five hundred year-old Shinto shrine Hie ( image).

Faced with so many architecturally outstanding buildings in the area, the architectural firm responsible for the tower's construction, Mitsubishi Jissho Sekei, refrained from installing art around the building. The entrance hall on the ground floor, over 15 meters in height, is designed in austere modernist and functional style. And since the terrorist attacks in New York, access to skyscrapers in Tokyo that house foreign firms is heavily guarded by security personnel. For the moment, art has no place in this environment.

The mood, however, changes abruptly when one leaves the elevators on the 19th floor, where the minimally furnished reception hall of the Deutsche Bank in Tokyo radiates warmth. Highly polished limestone emits a sense of distinguished elegance; its light beige color resembles the paneling of the Japanese parliament building's facade (Diet).

Sato Tokihiro: Horned Melon, 1994, Deutsche Bank Collection

Three black and white photographs by the photographer Sato Tokihiro, born 1957 in the prefecture Yamagata, are installed on the right wall as a triptych. The images of Berlin's Reichstag prior to renovation, a piece of fruit covered in lines of light, and the Celtic holy site of Stonehenge in England lead us into a poetic world. Night has apparently befallen in the images, yet they are punctuated by a ray of light, as though illuminated by a full moon. Dots of light seem to wander over the images like so many lost souls. Sato's photographs were taken with extremely long exposures that lasted up to two hours. The dots arise out of a process in which the photographer positions himself at various points throughout the exposure holding a mirror, which he shines into the lens. At night, Sato uses a flashlight. Because the photographer remains in slow but constant motion throughout the long exposure, he is invisible in the photograph. Only the points of light testify to his movement. Sato, who originally comes from the area of sculpture, once explained in an interview: "I only photograph landscapes, certain objects, and light. These photographs nonetheless have a markedly human element. The light becomes corporeal, while the traces of light that I create as I move embody passing time, creating a sculpture in time."

Reception Hall of Deutsche Bank in the Sanno Park Tower, Tokyo, 2003

The left side of the reception hall is dominated by a rectangular fountain let into the wall and an opening in the wall of equal length, out of which water is nearly inaudibly flowing. The quiet splashing of the water underscores the room's calming effect. The architect George Dasic from the Tokyo-based firm Dasicarchitects originally planned the fountain for the summer months only; for the winter, he initially intended to simulate a kind of hearth on the same spot using gas flames. He had to drop the plans for the fire due to security regulations, however.

Instead, he was permitted to design the client reception rooms on the same floor, for which he found an unconventional solution. In order to lend the hallways a sense of dynamism, he inserted slanted walls that branch off into various corners. With a combination of limestone, glass, metal, and a plaster polish, Dasic created an atmosphere that opens unaccustomed views onto Tokyo's skyline. The parliamentary building with its complex of office buildings for members of parliament is clearly visible from the branch's largest room, the Board Room. The front side, on the other hand, offers a view onto the new Mori Towers and the Tokyo Tower in the Roppongi district. In the Board Room, nine color photographs by Naoya Hatakeyama from the River Series (1993–1996) are installed on the walls between the windows such that their contrast to Tokyo's urban horizon establishes a new perspective on natural space.

"This is how new artistic dialogues arise," according to the art consultant and agent Yoshiko Isshiki, who assisted Deutsche Bank in Tokyo in the selection of Japanese works. Nearly two thirds of the Tokyo collection's approximately 350 works stem from Japanese artists. The selection criteria for the choice of Japanese works were many-sided, but for Isshiki it was particularly important that they address and reflect upon everyday life.

Makoto Sasaki: Heartbeat Drawing 24-Hour, 1998, Deutsche Bank Collection

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