028 A village with a policy of irresponsibility

Recruit Holdings Co., operates the “Creation Gallery G8” in Ginza, Tokyo. A benchmark event comprising of an exhibition that looks back on the gallery’s history of 30 years and 30 talk shows, entitled “30 Years, 30 Stories” opened at the “Creation Gallery G8” on February 1. It was 30 years ago that graphic designer Yusaku Kamekura, who was a great friend and ally of Hiromasa Ezoe, founder of Recruit Holdings, launched the gallery. Ever since, the Creation Gallery G8 has served as the venue for discovering and nurturing young artists who create the future of creation; always ready to invest in up-and-coming unknown talent. The gallery kept up such unique activities for 30 years—seemingly working in tandem with the host company, Recruit Holdings, as it grew, starting out as an advertising venture developing into an information powerhouse.

I was asked to exhibit my work at the gallery’s 30th anniversary exhibition “30 Years, 30 Stories” ten days before its opening. The gallery’s founding father, Mr. Kamekura, was the designer who created the emblem and posters for the 1964 Games held in Tokyo. The designing legend created this gallery with the intention of pushing Japan’s graphic design forward. And now, the gallery’s commemorative event that celebrates its activities of 30 years, was being turned into an exhibition that brings together so many people embroiled in our problem regarding the emblem for the 2020 Olympic Games. What an ironic twist of fate.

When I read the project plan that was sent to me, I felt a deep sense of discomfort in being asked to submit my work, which would be sharing space with such persons who continue to maintain their irresponsible attitude regarding the Olympic emblem issue. I decided it was not right to take part in such a project at this time when nothing has been solved. I related my intent to decline participation to the exhibition. I stated my personal reasons behind my decision on the same day I received the invitation. Later on, I heard directly from Ms. Rikako Nagashima, who was also a judge on the selection committee, that she had also declined to submit her work for the G8 commemorative exhibition for the same reasons as myself. I know the gallery official with whom I have worked together in the past, who helped me when I had my own exhibition at the gallery. I have numerous precious memories related to the place itself. Personally, this was a tough call. However, when I considered my public role that undertakes a social responsibility, there was no other way but to decline the invitation.

Ms. Nagashima resigned her membership from both The Japan Graphic Designers Association Inc. (JAGDA) and the Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC) of her own will, right after the emblem issue arose. Ms. Nagashima told me the reason for her action: “This (emblem issue) opened my eyes. I became aware that my work had been over-valued beyond my actual worth. In order to continue as a designer in earnest, I wanted to start over at the beginning and then move forward. That is why I handed in my resignation.” Up until the judging sessions, I had never met her and thus had no notion of her opinions nor how she felt. But now I understood that she was a person of integrity who gives priority to her essential thoughts and never wavers from her principles. I cannot imagine how much Ms. Nagashima must have struggled in regards to this emblem issue, but I trust that she will grow from this experience. I felt that there is light in the fact that she attained this heightened state in her heart.

While those in the thick of the problem remain silent why must Mr. Nagashima remove herself from the organizations? When the resignations were handed in the respective organizations did not take any steps to remedy the situation. It was only the good-hearted artist who walked away. It was a good decision, a choice to move forward toward building her own future. Yet when I imagine her inner turmoil I could not help feeling bitter despair. I never cry for myself, but when I heard her story, I broke down and cried. Ms. Nagashima was unfortunate enough to be colleagues with the first-place winner of the competition. She was suspected of not being impartial in her judgment and became the target of fierce criticism. However, the selection of the judges was undertaken by the Organizing Committee. As was the case with myself, there was the time constraint—the request came at the last minute. Initially there had been another female judge candidate besides us, but she quickly excused herself. Looking back, considering the pressing situation, there was no way other than accept the request to sit on the panel. I believe Ms. Nagashima is one of the players who ended up paying dearly, just because she agreed to take on the task of sitting on the judging panel for a lousy competition planned by the Organizing Committee, all from the goodness of her heart.

Ever since the emblem issue arose and the initial design plan for the 2020 Olympic Games was scrapped, of all the people who were involved, I was able to keep in touch with Ms. Nagashima only. That is how I heard from her that she took part in the investigation hearing by the Organizing Committee, after the hearing was completed. She requested that facts be recorded as a way to clear up the issue—which was the goal of her participating in the hearing. Yet when the investigative report came out, I heard from Ms. Nagashima, that nothing she had told the investigators made its way into the report; no facts were revealed. This is further evidence that proves the injustice of the investigation. During the broiling storm after the emblem scandal broke, and even now, there is no one related to the competition with whom I can build a trusting relationship. I was saved by Ms. Nagashima—a fellow judge who underwent the same experience as I did. Being able to communicate with her saved me from drowning in fear and isolation. I clearly remember sensing nothing fishy, nothing untoward, no inconsistency in her statements or actions during the judging session. More than anything, I remember Ms. Nagashima going through the judging process with serious intention, more than any other present. I would like to state the fact here as a record of what took place. I regret that I could not shield the only other female judge who was on the panel with me.

The Organizing Committee, the persons who acted wrongfully during the judging process, the person who came in first place, judges on the panel—no one has come forward to give an explanation. Everyone involved is keeping mum. For example, if we could have heard the truth and were given the simple facts like who selected the judges, for what reason and how they were selected—I imagine Ms. Nagashima would have been cleared of any suspicion that was based on pure assumption. I imagine that Ms. Nagashima chose to quit the organizations because she gave up on such people; people who are intent on self-protection, people who don’t care about causing other people’s distress; she quit because she decided she could not hope for relationships built on trust with such irresponsible and cold-hearted people. That is what I think. I believe she chose the high road—to explore design on her own, according to her own will

(…) It is 2016 and I have been continuing to write. Yet every time I tried to update my blog, I was prevented to do so by some deterrent force. I found myself unable to post my thoughts. Mind you, this deterrent was not any pressure from outside. It was the result of my own will. (…) In my blog post 027 I used the words “deterrent force” to explain the reason why I could not update my blog. There is no primary reason behind the “deterrent force”; rather, it is a composite force based on multiple reasons. When I received the request from Recruit, and read the project plan, that stopped me from updating my blog.

I could not accept nor allow the contents of the proposed project—which was in essence a bringing together of the players who were involved in the current Olympic emblem fiasco. They were willing to face the public as nothing untoward had taken place, and go on exhibiting their work, at a gallery that was brought to life by the efforts of Mr. Kamekura. I think that is all wrong and beyond reason. I cannot understand the basis for this, but the names of the exhibitioners are not listed on the advertisement handouts or the gallery website: which is unnatural to say the least. As an exhibition project it is utterly irresponsible. It seems as if the organizer is lacking awareness that it is a central player and does not have a true grasp of the situation. Doesn’t that only further exasperate the current helpless situation we are stuck in?

“Creation Gallery G8” is also the venue for the Kamekura Yusaku Design Award ceremony. Now I know firsthand that the operation of a gallery is not easy. It calls for strenuous work and long hours, day in and day out. It cannot be sustained without a strong commitment and a volunteering spirit. I feel grateful to such people who make it happen. That said, if the gallery wanted to host a special exhibition as a record of 30-year milestone, why couldn’t they have come up with a meaningful exhibition theme or project, another approach that took on the Olympic emblem issue—which did tarnish the history of graphic design in the worst way possible—head on, and host an exhibition that would have been only possible at this venue. According to the rule of divine justice, it is impossible to build a healthy future leaving behind negative factors unresolved. The true path is to face reality without flinching, applying the best strategy possible, and then moving forward. The culprits themselves should admit to their wrongdoings, reflect, and correct their behavior. Creators who live in the same age must not shy away from what actually took place. They must reflect on the events based on their respective roles and places, and take action. I think as people who live in the present, this is the way to take responsibility, for the sake of the people of the future.

The starting point, when the emblem problem first came to surface was the press conference held on August 5, 2015. Five months before that, an exhibition was taking place at the “Creation Gallery G8”. It was the 17th Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Exhibition, an exhibition by Kenjiro Sano. When we look at the timeline, despite what the gallery may wish, it is inevitable that the gallery is involved in the emblem problem. This is a fact. And I do not think the gallery can possibly remain unaware of such evidence. Therefore, as a place that inherits the legacy of Mr. Kamekura, it should have taken a better, more coherent approach. Actually, the emblem issue is not something that is limited to and affects only those whose names have been made public. It just happens so that his name hasn’t been made public, but besides the designer who came into first place, there was a certain creator who had been working closely with the creative director of the Organizing Committee—and this designer was also participating in the competition. If they would care to look into their hearts, I am sure these persons in question know what I am talking about. Yet these people are taking part in the upcoming exhibition nonchalantly—as if nothing had happened.

Around the same time the problem regarding the Olympic emblem surfaced, we saw another scandal—plagiarism charges were brought against designs created for a beverage company’s campaign, which was organized by the creative director of the Organizing Committee—which was then simply ignored. The chummy relationship between the advertising industry and the graphic design industry comes off as exclusive and misguided. It is a manifestation of irresponsibility. There is no love here. It was this village that upholds irresponsibility as its major policy that gave birth to the Olympic emblem issue. In my opinion, it was a situation that was waiting to happen. I can predict that if we let this code of irresponsibility prevail we will keep on seeing similar Olympic emblem issues happen again and again and again.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.