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“Art Patents”— Exhibition Celebrating a New Book Publication
Written by Kae ISHII   
Published: May 24 2010

 “An exhibition to celebrate the issue of an art book of 740 pages, priced at 10,000 yen (+ tax), which is compiled with all the details for claiming patents are ‘Art’, from inventing and obtaining them to selling them”. (Source: http://www.3331.jp/schedule/000004.html)

   In 1996, the artist Hideki Nakazawa invented the 3D “Digital Nendo” software (Digital Clay) and, prior to its release, started various activities to get patents for his invention [fig. 1]. The patents were assessed and registered in Japan and the United States by the end of 2001, securitized in 2005, and sold to a U.S. company in 2007.*1 The book, “Art Patents”, covers the whole process from the initial invention and obtaining the patents through to selling them. It was published at the same time as that of the opening of 3331 Arts Chiyoda [fig. 2]. “‘Art Patents’- Exhibition Celebrating a New Book Publication” was a commemorative exhibition for the publication of “Art Patents”.*2

(left)fig. 1 Domestic patent document, No. 2968209
(right)fig. 2 Hideki Nakazawa “Art Patents”, 3331 Arts Chiyoda (2010)

    After entering the venue, we first noticed that there were a number of handouts which had been used for proofreading pasted all over the walls [fig.3]. It was said that they had been pasted voluntarily by children visiting the exhibition. These handouts made me appreciate the great difficulty involved in editing a book consisting of no less than 740 pages. At the entrance to the venue, there was one sample copy of “Art Patents” together with postcards especially prepared to be used for ordering the book. Several old Mac PCs were displayed to the viewers’ right, making us conscious of their strong presence. In this space, we were allowed to operate Digital Nendo. How did this 3D software, Digital Nendo, for which Nakazawa finally applied for a patent, come about? What did he actually intend to convey by calling the act of filing patent applications to do with this software ‘art’ and then compiling these into a book?

    Nakazawa developed Digital Nendo in 1996 based on an idea he conceived in 1991. At the time of developing the software, he was working as an illustrator using 2D paint software and calling his own creating style “Silly CG (Baka CG)”.*3 The name “Silly CG” comes from the jagged lines partly appearing on PC screens, such as outlines of images, when using PC software. Generally, most of us view these jagged lines negatively since they are often found on the surfaces of low-resolution pictures, but Nakazawa was willing to use them. He considered that they correspond to one of characteristics of painting materials, including paints [fig. 4]. In addition, he perceived jagged lines as a reflection of one of the failures in PCs and developed his theory that “Silly CG means creations which are technically poor, but valued because of their good sense”.
    Nakazawa used 2D paint software equipped with a bit-map system. This software was utilized to draw pictures by filling in quadrille cells [fig. 5]. At that time, he assumed that 3D software based on the same principles as that of 2D paint software also existed. That is to say he had thought there was bit-map-type software composed of three-dimensional cells (cubes). However, he soon discovered that no such 3D software existed. As for 2D software, there was another type of software other than the bit-map type. It was called vector-type software (Adobe Illustrator is a widely known typical example). Vector-type software enabled us to draw pictures using curving lines defined in advance based on calculation formulas. There was only vector-type 3D software. Vector systems were suitable for drawing regularly-formed things, including figures, but were inadequate for freely painting pictures in a handwritten style or adding and removing materials, such as clay. Nakazawa was regularly using software with which he could draw pictures with a freehand method. He realised that bit-map-type 3D software should be made available and decided to start developing suitable software in 1995. The following year, the bit-map-type 3D software called “Digital Nendo” was completed and he then filed a patent application for this software [fig. 6, 7]. At this stage, Nakazawa realized that the act of inventing a new type of software with a method very different from that used in developing traditional 3D software was a more artistic act than creating works using existing materials. He believed that the invention of material should be considered art and afterwards named his patents for these inventions “art patents”. He also changed his title from illustrator to artist with the aim of actively advocating art. This also made him drastically change his creating style.*4

(left)fig. 3 View from the exhibition “Art Patents” (2010)
(right)fig. 4 Hideki Nakazawa "KARAOKE" (1990); digital image, courtesy of Gallery Cellar

    The entire story above concerns the birth of Digital Nendo and how “Art Patents” were named. The key to understanding this exhibition and its book, “Art Patents”, is to focus on Nakazawa’s assertion that “inventing materials is art”. He is consistent in his belief in that, after inventing the Digital Nendo software, he did not create and present works made using software. Instead, he published the book entitled “Art Patents” in which he compiled the facts concerning his being granted patents as evidence of his invention and all the relevant materials. According to Nakazawa’s claim, records regarding his invention should be considered much more important than any other of his creative activities developed after this invention. Indeed, patents prove the invention, but artistic aspects of the invention cannot come to be widely known unless the inventor claims that the invention should be deemed as art. “Art Patents” can thus be called a summarization of Nakazawa’s Art Patents project in which he placed his invention of materials as an act of proving the nature of his art.

    “Art Patents” is a thick A4-sized book of 740 pages. Obviously, even if we do not read the whole book through, we can recognize at a glance that the book was not made to cater to the wishes of its readers. The book includes a vast amount of material. Particularly, it is quite maddening to note that no less than 1,450 of the faxes sent between Nakazawa and a patent attorney’s office have been micro-copied and included in this book. Nonetheless, carefully checking the contents of the book, we can also find there are various kinds of records, such as those of lectures, interviews and presentations. One ideal method of dealing with this book would therefore be to first find some part with which we have some familiarity, and then gradually grasp the whole concept of the book by taking enough time to read through that part thoroughly. Specifically I recommend you start reading the book from the section entitled “3331 First Power Point” ( from p. 125), in which Nakazawa presents us with a brief description of the total contents of the book with illustrations.*5

    Nakazawa has obtained patents not only for 3D software, but for a 3D printer as well. He has also conceived of an idea for a 3D display, though this has not been patented yet. Both the printer and the display have not been commercialized yet and the software is not ready for the latest PCs. Development and improvement of these products are obviously important issues in the future. I eagerly await others’ cooperation in these areas.
    Despite this, the artist should be responsible for considering the above-mention products as evidence of inventing materials and defining them as art. This must also be the most fundamental element of his inventions. If we then perceive “Art Patents” as a book summarizing such a kind of conceptual attempt by Nakazawa, then this book should not be considered as merely a book of data. Instead, it can be called a massive work encompassing the concept of intangible art.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

(left)fig. 5 image from "Art Patent", p647
(middle)fig. 6 "Digital Nendo" (1996), published by ASK Corporation
(right)fig. 7 "Digital Nendo" (1996), published by ASK Corporation


The first reason that Nakazawa sold the patents was that he aimed to prove that the contents of his invention were not meaningless but valuable. The first step in achieving this goal was for them to be approved as patents by state organizations. The second step was to show that the patents were ‘positive’ properties which should be actually used or sold without being kept as dead storage – ‘negative’ properties – incurring high maintenance costs. Nakazawa looked for a company which was willing to actually utilize or acquire his invention. In 2007, he finally encountered the latter and decided to sell the patents to the company.
Incidentally, the rights to manufacture products, including industrial products, by using patented technologies are possessed by the company which has purchased the patents. If you intend to manufacture industrial goods and other items utilizing their patents, you need to be granted the production rights by the company. Nonetheless, when we publish books, such as “Art Patents”, dealing with the patents, we do not need to be approved by the company.
Gabin Ito was the first person to advocate the concept of “Silly CG”. Ito wrote an article entitled “An International Federation of Silly CG has been established” (Gabin Ito, “B-Mix Otaku”, “Bijutsu Techo”, Bijutsu Shuppansha Co., Ltd, January issue, 1990, p. 16). Nakazawa sympathized with Ito’s concept and later came to call his creating style “Silly CG”. (For further information, please refer to “Encouragement of Silly CG” written by Nakazawa (“Designers’ Workshop”, Bijutsu Shuppansha Co., Ltd, December, 1990, pp 50-53). Nonetheless, definitions of “Silly CG” given by Ito and those of Nakazawa are not always the same.
For further information regarding the details discussed up to this paragraph, please refer to my book, “The Works of Hideki Nakazawa” (Tom’s Box, 2008).
“3331 First Power Point” is the title of a ten-minute presentation Nakazawa gave as one of the speakers in the “3331 Arts Chiyoda Pre-Opening Presentation Show” (3331 Arts Chiyoda, the second floor of gymnastic hall, Kanda, January 30, 2010). This presentation can be viewed on YouTube: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9-DXiPBScE)

Related exhibition

“Art Patents”— Exhibition Celebrating a New Book Publication
March 14 - April 11, 2010
Venue: 3331 Arts Chiyoda

Last Updated on November 12 2015

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