In 2008, artist Wakako Kawakami found herself in a park operated by Tokyo-to. She was there to examine the site before accepting a request to create an art installation for the space. One of the things that struck her were the number of animals in the park.
“I asked the park officer about the animals,” Kawakami explained through a translator, “he answered that those animals had been abandoned by their owner but some kind people kept feeding them so the animals survived fine in the park.” This made her remember that as a child she’d had a friend whose pet parakeet had flown away and never returned. The art project that resulted from this conversation and this memory was inspired by Kawakami’s hope that all the parakeets that had flown away or been abandoned had found their friends and family and lived a good life.
She imagined the birds flocking together in public places, living the good life. After working out a smaller, life-size pattern for the parakeet, Kawakami worked on making the sculptures larger. It took 20 different pattern iterations before Kawakami was convinced she’d achieved the size she desired: a parakeet as large as herself. “I feel that, to express the reality of life, making the parakeet artwork into a size as big as myself is quite necessary,” she said.
Still, the size, the construction, and the unexpected presence of these gigantic parakeets in parks, near office buildings, in schools, and hotels makes seeing them a bit surreal. No one expects to see something like that as they go about their ordinary business, so people are surprised. When Kawakami exhibited her work in Shinjuku, many of the office workers from the surrounding buildings would stop to take pictures on their cell phones (flocking themselves, in a way). Kawakami is interested in people’s reactions to her artworks.
“People’s reactions are always beyond my expectations. On one hand, parakeets are familiar with people, hence cute, but on the other hand, people are shocked by the size, quantities, and the fact that the parakeet’s faces are flat (no eyes, no bills).” she says. If you came across a flock of Kawakami’s parakeets, how would you react?
If you are in the Tokyo area, Kawakami has an art installation currently on display in the Park Hotel through February 14th.