Thursday, October 28, 2010

"Drainspotting," Remo Camerota (2010): the art underfoot

(A collection of Japanese manhole covers
from Reno Camerota's new book Drainspotting)

On an island chain with limited space, every inch is coveted. In Japan, public space is a premium in crowded cities like Tokyo, and increasingly so even in smaller urban areas.

This can create unexpected friction between the demands of providing more public services and devising practical solutions to existing problems. During the 1980s Japan experienced country-wide resistance to replacing ancient sewer systems until one politician came up with an idea that approached the old problem in a new way. He appealed to civic pride by suggesting, and then implementing, the idea of custom manhole covers for each community.

The idea was a great success -- sewer systems were repaired and many towns received the benefit of an unexpected civic boosterism, as well as a new kind of art appreciation: thousands of one-of-a-kind manhole covers that tell local history and commemorate local heroes.

Remo Camerota's new book Drainspotting (Mark Batty Publishers) is a brick-sized photo collection of these unique artworks in appropriately less-than-coffeetable format (six-by-six inches). Besides being an unexpected and attractive art, the result has been a beneficial civic program, a great example of how the demands of politics, the needs of communities, and the aesthetics of art can combine -- and a reminder how rarely they do, too.

Since their original introduction the manhole covers have taken on new themes. Designs range from images that evoke a region's cultural identity, from flora and fauna to landmarks and local festivals. There are even fairytales and fanciful images dreamed up by school children. With its photographs organized by individual region, Drainspotting documents another distinct aspect of contemporary Japanese visual culture.

(Little Red Riding Hood: Ishibashi, Japan honors its sister city, Hanau, Germany,

home of the Brothers Grimm)

In June, Drainspotters was named best art/photography book at the New York Book Festival. The book and its current blog is just one aspect of Camerota's burgeoning, near-exhaustion multimedia career: it's also worth mentioning his Australia-based Whitewall Studios is a hot-house of music production, art, video, and Drainspotting iPad/iPod apps. His first book, Graffiti Japan, was published in 2008. He's at work on several TV productions, client projects, museum exhibitions, and another book on the history of Menko cards, a Japanese children's game with a hundred-year history.

1 comment:

Remo Camerota said...

This is a great honor and review, thank you... I will let you know whats coming up next - If you like robots... Then I have something cool coming out in the next month!
Keep your eye out