ECC x AAI: Nobutaka Aozaki

Presented in collaboration with Congregation Beth Elohim Early Childhood Center

Smiley Bag Portrait is a participatory art project for which artist Nobutaka Aozaki invites pedestrians to model for him as he draws their portraits with Sharpie marker on the smiley faces of common take-out plastic bags. Aozaki performs both outdoors and indoors, often with a small mobile structure on which he displays samples of portrait bags. Participants can get their portraits for free. Names of participants, dates, locations, and the artist’s signature are written on each portrait. The experiences and exchanges instigated by this performance are just as fundamental as the portrait itself. Aozaki conceived of this activity in order to spark communication and connect diverse groups. Cheap common materials, with an equally mundane image, are transformed into unique images of each and every participant.

In the classroom, the students worked in pairs to create a portrait of a friend using the smiley faces on plastic bags as a template. The students were encouraged to customize the portraits with color markers, paints, stickers, paper with glue, etc. After making a portrait of a friend, the students wrote the friend’s name and his/her own name and exchanged the portraits.

ECC x Artists Alliance is a series of collaborative projects initiated by Artists Alliance Inc with Congregation Beth Elohim Early Childhood Center. Designed and led by guest artists, in collaboration with ECC educator Tom Pnini, students work in the classroom on pre-designed projects that both parallel the school’s current art curriculum and extend from the individual artist’s existing practice. Collectively, the projects urge students to experience art-making through unexpected visual relationships, using professional artists’ practices as a means to create engaging and interactive learning activities.

As accomplished by ECC’s impressive programming, ECC x Artists Alliance aims to amplify the school’s ongoing success in providing children with a generative and hands-on approach to education. This project series extends ECC’s mission by designing classes that create new opportunities for students to develop cognitive skills within the framework of peer collaboration, discovery, imaginative sharing and the revelation of hidden narratives. But, perhaps most importantly, the projects are intended to be playful.

Nobutaka Aozaki is a New York-based artist born in Kagoshima, Japan. He brings a wry and playful approach to his multifaceted practice, often focusing on the transactional nature of both art and life in the city. His work frequently combines performance and sculpture, developing from everyday interactions with people on the street.

He completed his MFA at Hunter College in 2012. He has been awarded the Artist Files Grant from A Blade of Grass Foundation, the Artists’ Fellowship from New York Foundation for the Arts, and C12 Emerging Artist Award from Hunter College. Recent exhibitions include Transportation, ISCP, New York, Crossing Brooklyn, Brooklyn Museum, New York; Queens International 2013, Queens Museum, New York; What is the Real Value of Wealth, Temple Contemporary, Philadelphia; Tina, SPIKE, Berlin; and Where Do We Migrate To?, Varmlands Museum, Karlstad, Sweden; Statements, Tokyo. He has participated in the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, the Queens Museum Studio Program, the Artist in the Marketplace (AIM) program at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Center For Book Arts workspace residency program, and LMCC Swing Space residency program. His work has been recently discussed in Spike Art Quarterly, The New York Times, The Atlantic Cities, The Huffington Post, ArtAsiaPacific, and Cabinet Magazine.