Many of Shimabuku's works start with a playful observation or a seemingly simple idea, such as Passing Through the Rubber Band, for which he invites gallery visitors to pull a rubber band from their heads past their feet, or The Story of the Traveling Café, when he dressed up as a functional café and approached potential customers. He wrote "Somewhere, just as someone is wondering, 'I feel like having a cup of coffee. Is there some café around here?' he will see a café coming to him up the road." 1
In addition to engaging the public directly by creating situations for interaction, his inventive, playful art practice often involves travel and transformation. In 2000 he made pickles during a journey by canal from London to Birmingham ("a slow trip and slow food"2 ). In 1999 he took a story he found in Fukuoka, Japan, about a 165 meter long mermaid that washed up upon the shore in 1222 and traveled with it to France, Australia, Canada and Brazil, inviting other artists to create work about the mermaid along the way. And for a 1997 project , "In Search of Deer," he biked throughout a region in Japan looking for deer where none exist -- as with all of his projects, involving onlookers, making friends and dispersing stories along the way.
When considering the task of making his first computer-based artwork, Shimabuku found his interest in the moon intersecting with his perceptions of the screen and the web: prior to television and computers, the moon was the screen humanity projected stories onto, the surface we gazed into daily. He was intrigued by the differences in what cultures see in the moon and wanted to bring these varying interpretations to a world-wide audience, united by what we see online as we are by what we see in the sky: our moon.
Shimabuku noted that in Asia it is a custom for families to look at the moon together. In Japan mothers tell the story of the Moon Rabbit to their children, while giving a flower and a something sweet and round to the moon. He listed all the visual interpretations he could find to encourage people to recreate this custom, this time in front of a computer.
The core of Moon Rabbit, Shimabuku's first computer-based work, is a screensaver of the moon that presents exaggerated depictions of figures imagined on the surface of the moon -- a rabbit, a face, a donkey, a crab, a frog with a rabbit. While gradually dissolving between these interpretations, the image of the moon slowly increases and then decreases in size. Shimabuku found a reference in a scientific book to a theory that the moon had once been very much closer to earth, twenty-five times closer, and this premise led him to imagine a moon appearing twenty-five times larger in the sky. This transition suggests a kind of time travel, suggesting the moment imagined by Italo Calvino in his story The Distance of the Moon3 : "We had her on top of us all the time, that enormous Moon: when she was full -- nights as bright as day, but with a butter-colored light -- it looked as if she were going to crush us."
As Moon Rabbit launches on October 11, 2001, one month after the terrorist attacks in the United States, the month marker seems especially poignant. While we mark time by months, that is, by lunar cycles, in itself the moon suggests a kind of timelessness, as well as a tranquil beauty that lies safely beyond the range of our destruction.
1. Shimabuku. Shimabuku, 2001. Kobe: Kobe Art Village Center, 2001. pg 70.
2. Shimabuku. Shimabuku, 2001. pg 126.
3. Calvino, Italo. Cosmicomics. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Translated by William Weaver.