PHANTŒM MUSÆUMS BY The QUAY BROTHERS

The Museum of Modern Art, Hayama in Japan is hosting an exhibition titled “PHANTŒM MUSÆMS” by the Quay Brothers from July 23 to October 10, 2016. The exhibition will travel around the country for two years, and Hayama is the starting point of its journey.

The other day the Quays and I were communicating each other for work, and they told me just before the exhibition opening that they were coming to Japan. To Japan?! It’s right next to where I live, South Korea! Hurray! After going through a challenging seven months, I’d just completed armatures for their next film, and now it was time to see the Brothers Quay again.

And not only that; there was the exhibition as well. I had always thought it was too bad that I missed their exhibitions at the MoMA New York and the EYE Film Institute Netherlands. I could never miss the chance this time. So my wife and I went to Japan for our summer vacation! 😉 The Quays thankfully invited us to the opening at the MoMA Hayama.

I most recently met the Quays in the winter of 2012. I remember that the Brothers and I had an amazing time together back then, drinking wine and chatting at their studio in London. With full of expectations and excitements for seeing old friends and the exhibition as well as being on vacation, my wife and I set foot on Japanese soil.

Just before this trip I was making slow progress in completing an armature for a Korean independent animation director. Yet the trip to Japan greatly motivated me to finish up the work in time. And of course, its quality was very much satisfying. Maybe I should write about this armature some time later. You see, it is one of the thinnest armatures I’ve ever made.

On the opening day, my wife and I managed to take the notoriously convoluted Tokyo subway for about an hour a half and then a bus to the MoMA Hayama. I had been wondering why the first venue in Japan was not Tokyo, but soon understood the reason when I arrived there. Hayama is a small, beautiful town famous for its beach and luxurious resorts. It even has the Japanese Imperial Villa. The museum in Hayama is located along Isshiki beach with a fabulously scenic view towards the Pacific Ocean. And needless to say, the Quays’ exhibition was just as fantastic.

The exhibition is largely divided into three categories: moving images, miniature sets and illustrations. You can see Quays’ puppet stage sets used in their stop-motion films here and there throughout the exhibition. Between these sets, huge screens are installed to show you their motion pictures and commercials. It was quite a rare opportunity to watch their works on a big screen. You can mostly see them at film festivals.

To me, it did feel very different from watching their films on a computer monitor. It was somewhat like I was being absorbed into the enormous fantasy world the Quays have created. I was overwhelmed by the dark, bizarre atmosphere without knowing it. I must say it’s worth going to this exhibition just for watching their works on large screens.

The Brothers Quay have been involved in various kinds of projects besides films. You can find a variety of animated TV commercials they previously worked on in the exhibition. One might say it seems unusual to relate the Quays to advertising, but it rather seems that this disparateness has helped the Quays to create commercials in a very distinctive, unique style.

I’ve once thought the Quays are like talented painters using movements in frames as their brushes. Among several elements which create movements in their works, puppets are the ones that I’m most interested in. This is because of my profession. The puppet movement is the reason why an armature specialist exists. I guess this is why I was so thrilled when I first visited the Quays’ studio in London. I saw the real puppets made by the Quays, and thought my armatures would be installed inside them. The sets and puppets drew my attention this time as well.

Some of the miniature sets have a large magnifying glass installed in front of them. Through the glass, you can directly peek into the dreamlike scenes from the Quays’ stop-motion films. When I looked into them, it seemed the scenes automatically unfolded before my eyes. It felt like the puppets inside were slightly moving. The distorted images through the magnifying glass unlock your imagination.

Besides moving images and sets, the Quays have worked on various illustrations, production design projects and calligraphy. In fact, there were many more works of the Quays in different domains of art than I previously expected.

After the opening ceremony I wanted to take much time as I liked to enjoy the exhibition. Yet I was told that the museum closes at 5pm. What a shame! Moreover, too many people were there since it was the opening day. If I have another chance to go to Japan later, I would definitely go see the exhibition again.

It’s already been over ten years since I began to work as the Quays’ armature specialist. However, this time I wanted to put work aside. I went to the opening as their long-time friend and fan, and greatly enjoyed the exhibition. Of course, I had a wonderful time at the wrap party with the Quays and some Japanese friends as well.

This exhibition will travel around Japan for two years. Hopefully, it would come to South Korea after that. It would be great if Koreans can have a chance to experience the mysteriously dark and amazingly captivating world of the Quay Brothers. And if that happens, you know whom you might find there. 😉