[artinfo] [spectre] (fwd) ART iT article: Is the ICC (Tokyo) closing?

Andreas Broeckmann abroeck at transmediale.de
Tue Aug 16 15:51:30 CEST 2005

[on 13 june 05, Rob van Kranenburg asked on this list: 'what's next?', 
quoting the 'restructuring' of IVREA and the closure of the MIT Media Lab 
in Dublin; we have also recently seen the termination of the Radiator 
Festival, Kopenhagen/DK, of CICV, Montbeliard/FR, of the World Wide Video 
Festival, Amsterdam/NL, as well as the scaling down of Electrohype, 
Malmoe/SE, Public Netbase, Vienna/AT, and of HTBA Hull Time Based Arts, 
Hull/UK; while each of these cases has its particular local, national or 
even personal reasons, it is difficult not to think that there is some sort 
of a pattern which, at least in part, reverses the 1990s institutional 
expansion of media culture and media art; and what do we make of these 
rumours from Tokyo? abroeck]

posted by permission of the author, Mr. OZAKI Tetsuya, of ART iT and 
REALTOKYO - http://www.artit.jp/ - http://www.realtokyo.co.jp/ )

a PDF version in Japanese and English is at

Behind the Scenes #003
NTT InterCommunication Center
Reporting/text: Ozaki Tetsuya (ART iT editorial department)

Is the ICC closing?

Rumor has it that the NTT InterCommunication Center (ICC) will close at the 
end of the 2005 financial year, i.e. in March 2006. So is this pioneering 
facility so central to Japanese media art really about to disappear? ART iT 
went in pursuit of the true story.

When asked to respond to questions on the rumored closing of ICC, 
"regretfully declining" to meet in person to discuss the matter the Nippon 
Telegraph and Telephone East Corporation (NTT East) public relations office 
stated, "Basically this is an issue we're looking into at present, while 
monitoring the operating environment. We need to achieve greater efficiency 
in operations, and are investigating closure as one option, but at this 
stage can't comment further."
	However, the exhibition schedule for ICC only runs to December 2005, while 
the library and cafe in the lobby were closed in March this year. Insiders 
say that although they've been told an official decision has yet to be 
made, exhibition plans from the end of the year are under wraps, and 
they've been directed to "finish up all paperwork" by March 2006. Several 
people involved with ICC have testified that news of the closure policy 
came from above around the end of 2004/start of 2005. ICC is run by NTT 
Learning Systems, part of the NTT Group, and "above" refers to further up 
the chain, i.e. NTT East itself.

Radical changes in operating structure over the years

The ICC project was launched in 1990 by NTT to mark a century of telephone 
services in Japan, with pre-opening activities commencing the following 
year once the basic concept was in place. These were ambitious endeavors, 
and included The Museum Inside the Telephone Network exhibition (1991) 
predating widespread use of the Internet, and launch of the bulletin 
InterCommunication (1992). Opening in April 1997 in Tokyo Opera City, ICC 
became an international base for media art on a par with Ars Electronica 
Center, Linz and ZKM in Karlsruhe. Closing temporarily in autumn 2000, it 
reopened the following spring in far smaller premises with major cuts to 
staff and budget.
	During this period ICC underwent some radical changes in operating 
structure. Initially the trio of Asada Akira (history of social thought), 
Ito Toshiharu (art history) and Hikosaka Yutaka (architect) were closely 
involved in drafting programs for the facility as members of the ICC 
Committee, however 1996, the year before opening, saw the appointment of 
art critic and former researcher at the National Museum of Art, Osaka, 
Nakamura Keiji (who passed away in March this year) as deputy director of 
ICC, accompanied by frequent replenishment and additions to the curatorial 
ranks. About two years after opening, the system changed to one of a 
program committee including the trio above, while at the same time meetings 
of a group of "elders" including the architect Isozaki Arata continued to 
be convened. One thing very Japanese about the whole setup was the way in 
which the museum director was appointed: the first assigned by NTT head 
office knowing nothing about art as whole, let alone media art.
	Following the opening of the revamped ICC in 2001, incredibly NTT decided 
not to appoint a director at all. Conversely though perhaps this and the 
other substantial cuts to operations actually did some good, as the 
museum's programs seemed to roll out more smoothly. In particular, since 
2004 the ICC has acquired some powerful assistance in the shape of Sumitomo 
Fumihiko (see ART iT Vol. 2 No. 4 Curator Interview A.I.T.) of the Office 
for the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa Construction, and 
Shikata Yukiko (see ART iT Vol. 3 No. 1), producer of numerous media art 
shows for the Canon Art Lab, Mori Art Museum and as an independent, forming 
a three curator team with sound art expert Hatanaka Minoru that has 
organized a series of interesting shows. The museum attracts around 40 - 
50,000 visitors annually. Average admissions are around 10,000 for each 
show, with Maywa Denki's The Nonsense Machines drawing 23,000.

"NTT's social responsibility"

However, closing the ICC would mean laying off Sumitomo and Shikata not 
even two years after their appointment. In fact not just this pair but the 
majority of the just under 20 staff, i.e. curatorial, public relations, 
engineering and reception staff, are either contract employees, temps or 
part-timers, so would suffer a similar fate. And while the issue of their 
employment is important, there are two other problems accompanying closure 
that also come immediately to mind.

What will become of the collection?
ICC has a collection of 14 works by artists such as Iwai Toshio, Dumb Type 
and Jeffrey Shaw, as well as video works by Bill Viola and Gary Hill to 
name just two. What potential is there to donate these to a similar 
facility, rather than returning them to the artists?

What will become of the ICC databases?
Apart from a program of database construction in place since ICC's opening, 
the facility is currently developing an archive dubbed HIVE. At present the 
archive is limited to local use, i.e. within ICC, however word has it that 
the system is being upgraded with the idea of making it available generally 
on the Internet. Would this continue as a Web project after closing?

There are numerous other issues surrounding closing of the ICC that I won't 
go into here, such as whether the 15 years of the facility's activities 
will be documented in any way, and what kind of facility or institution 
will take over the international connections cultivated over the years of 
ICC's existence.
	At ICC itself some are hoping management will pass to another company in 
the NTT Group, however as far as one can tell from the current situation, 
this seems unlikely. NTT (the holding company, i.e. even further up the 
chain) posted a year-on-year decline in operating income of 22.4% down to 
1.2 trillion yen for FY2004, the company's first fall in profit since 
privatization. At an interview with the author in 1998, the first director 
of ICC stated that "being part of NTT's policy of social responsibility, we 
won't let this project die." But how much faith can we put in such 
	The best outcome of course would be for ICC to continue its activities. If 
this is not feasible, as the next best course of action I hope those at the 
top, if they do decide to close the facility, take sufficient time to 
complete the necessary mopping up operations, including solving the 
aforementioned problems. Even just finding a destination for the collection 
is not a task able to be completed in a few months. The whole scenario is 
connected also with the recent issue of problems with the operation of 
public art museums, but whether public or private, museum operators need to 
seriously consider what it means to be a facility for the community.

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