ART News

19th January 2022 | Guest Writer: Bertie Coningsby
Work by James Suarez (@jmssrz) at the Tokyo Lovehotels event. Photo by lenalyolik.
Beginning a career as an artist can be difficult in any city. This is certainly the case in Tokyo, where the art scene tends to be divided into highly specialised niches, where many artists’ spaces require membership, and most exhibition venues charge hefty fees on top of taking commissions. I talked to Robin Rastenberger and Kalinlaw about the multi-genre art/music event they hold monthly in Tokyo — Tokyo Lovehotels. They told me about some of the biggest challenges facing young artists in Tokyo today.

Kalinlaw is a DJ and painter from Japan/England, and Robin is a musician and model from Sweden. We meet at Shibuya, in the heart of Tokyo, on the first day of the new year’s holidays. Most of the cafes and bars are closed so we end up sheltering from the cold in the first open place we find — a fast food restaurant. We move aside the plastic table divider so we can hear each other clearly and start to talk.
Robin Rastenberger (@robinrastenberger) and Kalinlaw (@kalinlaw) of Tokyo Lovehotels (@tokyolovehotels). Photo by DES.
Bertie: What is Tokyo Lovehotels?

Robin: Well, we gather local and international artists, provide them with a free space to sell, exhibit, network and give them a spot to get their art out there, to introduce it to other people. It’s totally free of charge, we don’t take any commissions. We’re focussed on having absolutely no hierarchy, regardless of where you’re from or your following on social media. We don’t do VIP tables, guest lists, that sort of thing. We hold it monthly at Sankeys Penthouse, a lounge/bar in Harajuku. We have live DJs, people drink, dance, look at the art.

The pair tell me that they started Love Hotels in late 2018. They were looking for a place where artists of different disciplines could enjoy each other’s work in the same space. They say that they were also motivated by their frustration with the fees charged by exhibition spaces and the high rates of commission taken. The first event was a small affair; Robin sang and Kalinlaw exhibited some of her paintings. At the next event, they included some other artists, as well as incorporated pop-ups. More people began to come and it quickly grew into a varied and exciting event.

Artworks by Kuo Ching Chuan (@kuochingchuan). Photo by Yusuke Sato.
Foreign Cutz’s (@foreigncutz_official) barbering pop-up. Photo by Yusuke Sato.
Kalinlaw: Then Sankeys opened, it’s a very nice venue, a bar/lounge. We just went there when it first opened and asked if we could do events there. Surprisingly, they said yes, probably thinking that we were big events promoters. We were happy but scared by the responsibility. We actually backed down at one point because we felt that we weren’t ready but Sankeys gave us a one-time trial and it went really well and…. Lovehos was born. We have a really close relationship with the venue. We made them popular, they made us popular. Everyone’s happy.

Bertie: Can you tell me more about the sorts of artists that you work with?

Robin: Basically, anything anyone is passionate about and wants to pursue is okay. In the past, we’ve had people selling accessories, we’ve had barbers, henna artists, of course, lots of visual artists, dancers, performance artists, tarot reading, gaming tournaments, glitter, neon, make-up…

Bertie: I noticed that DJs and music were the first things you mentioned earlier on. How important is music for the event?

Robin: Very. At the end of the day, it’s not an art fair, it’s an event where people come to dance, drink, and enjoy art together.

Kalinlaw: The art scene in Tokyo tends to be quite stubborn, restrictive, and… uptight. By having music, it kind of eases it out. A lot of people may just come to dance but hopefully, they’ll notice that there’s art around. It’s like a subliminal message. Perhaps they’ll develop an interest in art. On the other hand, some people just come for the art, but there’s music playing and that might get them interested in going out to dance in clubs. We try to open up people’s limitations and comfort zones.

Body glitter art by Hustla Geisha, photo by Lena Lyolik
Body glitter art by Hustla Geisha (@komachilaboyukari). Photo by lenalyolik.
We talk more about the sorts of artists who collaborate with Tokyo Lovehotels, and Robin and Kalinlaw are quick to stress that, whilst they are open to all artists with varying levels of experience and success, they often give opportunities to first-time artists.

Kalinlaw: For example, it is very hard to start a career as a DJ. Clubs won’t let you DJ if it’s your first time. But lots of DJs start at Loveho and then get recruited to play at bigger events and clubs. Some people even come to Loveho and get inspired to DJ! We see it as giving people an opportunity to start something new. This is huge for Lovehos.
DJ AMAIYA at Tokyo Love Hotels, Photo by Lena Lyolik
DJ AMAIYA (@amaiya.amaiya) at Tokyo Lovehotels. Photo by lenalyolik.
Bertie: Yes, I understand that. It’s the whole “you can’t get experience unless you already have experience conundrum” isn’t it?

Both: Exactly.

Bertie: Do you see it as a sort of education for first time artists?

Kalinlaw: Yes, sort of. It’s like a trial run for artists. It gives them a space for trial and error but… not to the point where it disrupts the event itself.

Bertie: What do you mean?

Kalinlaw: Well, on an organisational level, first-time artists sometimes don’t know what to do, how to organise themselves, how to promote themselves. Sometimes they don’t send logos, some don’t even have Instagram accounts! They might be unsure of their branding or have yet to write an artist’s bio. Some people don’t know how to exhibit their pieces, but then when we’re setting up, they see the other exhibits and get new ideas.

Bertie: Where do you see this going? How will Tokyo Lovehotels look in 5 years time?

Robin: We want it to be a massive convention, which has grown from a lineup of 20 artists to over 200. Something running over a weekend, with live music, several stages where people from outside of Japan will come to exhibit and participate. Essentially, a festival/art convention. We want it to bridge the gap between “high-end” art events and what we’re already doing. We almost need a huge container, a warehouse. This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Tokyo. It used to happen back in the 80s and 90s and now we’re waiting for a revival!
Pieces by MIHARA DAICHI, photo by Yusuke Sato
Artworks by MIHARA DAICHI (@miharadaichi). Photo by Yusuke Sato.
The next evening, I went along to the Tokyo Lovehotels New Year’s Eve event. People were dancing and drinking, Kalinlaw herself was DJ’ing, Robin was walking around, drink in hand, looking like he was making sure that everything was running smoothly. There were artworks all over the walls, the ceiling, up the stairs. I went to the second floor and found a tarot card reading in session, a body glitter artist at work, and a group of people laughing trying to work out how to play the games in the gaming corner. I had entered the artist’s playground. Midnight came and I found myself in a totally different group of people to the ones I had come with. People were swapping stories of their lives in Tokyo, their times in Berlin, London, Beijing. Tokyo Lovehotels, I decided, is an eclectic mix of people from Japan and beyond. It is a varied mix of styles and artistic media, of intentions and interactions.
Tokyo Love Hotel, photo by Lena Lyolik
Tokyo Lovehotels. Photo by lenalyolik.
About the Writer
Bertie Coningsby is an artist, model, and writer. Originally from Dartmoor, Devon, Bertie has travelled back and forth between Asia and Europe since childhood and speaks Chinese and Japanese amongst other languages. Bertie is particularly interested in East Asia and the Balkans and often writes about the art, literature, and music of these regions. Bertie is currently preparing for an exhibition of his paintings in Tokyo.


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