Beautiful machine

The degree of influence of Japanese culture in the U.S. is inarguable. As mainstream consumers we live in a world of slick high-end electronics, PlayStations, manga comics and anime-style cartoons. From a design standpoint the Japanese influence is constant, from the morphing of the organic and modern that defines the stylish new green architecture movement, to the obsessive vinyl toy culture, to the decades long influence of Japanese fashion via books like Shoichi Aoki’s “FRUiTS” and the ever-present Harajuku district girls.


The influence of Japanese art in the last decade is equally unavoidable. Beginning with Takashi Murakami’s “Superflat,” U.S. patrons have shared an obsession with artists like Yoshitomo Nara and Ryoko Aoki. But within Japanese culture these boundaries don’t exist. Design, fashion, art, technology フ_フ_?” no discipline could exist independently of another. It’s this fluidity that gives Japanese culture its edge, allowing artists, designers and gearheads to explore ideas to their finality.


The art “unit” or corporation of Maywa Denki is a perfect example of this fluidity. The brainchild of company President Nobumichi Tosa and Vice President Masamichi Tosa, Maywa Denki – named for a company run by their father – explores concepts of sound, performance and play through the development of “products” and the live demonstration of said products. From fish motif “nonsense machines” to percussive robot “Knockman” toys to original electronic instruments, music videos and live stage performances, the “product line” of Maywa Denki is as varied as its designers’ imaginations.


The products themselves, the nonsense machines, are as confusing as they are poetic, objects like fish-operated typewriters, sperm armor and motorized voice tremolos explore grandiose concepts of gender and biotechnology through an equally frightening, poetic and humorous melding of electronic, analog and organic forms more at home in a David Cronenberg film than boardrooms.


Objects range from pieces like Poodles, described as “Engine-driven steel jaws with fangs of knives, made to enable the emasculated males to bite females into pieces” which are at both times horrifying and hilarious to pieces like Tako-Niwa, a “Light-activated rhythm knocker operated by the movement of a fish,” – a graceful, lyrical piece. 


The work of Maywa Denki is being featured this month at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon, and will include an artist talk and “product demonstration.” To have someone as accomplished and dynamic as the Tosa brothers in Oregon is a rare treat and well worth the drive to Eugene. Since we live a country run by corporate models anyhow, we may as well learn how to branch them into more poetic territory.


The work of Maywa Denki is on display through Nov. 20 at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at 1430 Johnson Lane, in Eugene (on the University of Oregon Campus). An artist talk will be held Wednesday, Nov. 16 at 5:30 with a reception following. The performance will be held Friday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m.


Ticket information is available at 541-346-3610 or