C E Huntingdon
Inspiration Part II: Hyperart Thomasson
In a little corner of Japan in the 1970s, the very talented conceptual artist Genpei Akasegawa discovered a strange variety of organic works of art haunting Tokyo's many prefectures. More specifically, he discovered a staircase. Not just any old staircase, but a well-maintained and neatly kept staircase that went absolutely nowhere. Yet it stood the testament of time affixed firmly to a building that may have once had good use for it.
And thus, the Thomasson was born.
Thomasson #1: The Yotsuya staircase. Genpei Akasegawa, Hyperart: Thomasson, translated by Matthew Fargo (New York: Kaya Press, 2009 ), p.4.
At first glance, a Thomasson appears to be a completely useless anomaly. A forgotten doorbell, a leftover step, a useless bit of space overlooked as the city grows over the past. Most people walk by Thomassons every day without realizing they exist. Akasegawa, however, took the time to look and, when he did, found that these little forgotten pieces are, in fact, quite the opposite of useless. In reality, a Thomasson has transcended its past usefulness to become something more.
But we're getting a bit ahead of ourselves. You're probably wondering where the name Thomasson even comes from. After all, it's not a very Japanese-sounding name.
It was inspired by none other than the legendary Gary Thomasson, the former U.S. major league baseball player who made a career move to Japan's Yomiuri Giants. The Giants thought they had won big with their newly acquired prize and reportedly paid for it with the largest contract the Nippon Pro Baseball league had ever given out.
Somewhere in that transition, though, Gary Thomasson had lost the ability to actually hit the ball and nearly set the strikeout record for the entire league. Yet, even in all his uselessness—sorry Gary—the Yomiuri Giants maintained him as their very special prize...well, for a couple of years anyways.
Just like poor Gary, a Thomasson is both completely useless, yet at the same time, its existence is painstakingly maintained. Beautiful in its uselessness, a Thomasson finds its purpose in what we make of it. It is not created by any one person for the purpose of art, yet in being allowed to remain and to be enjoyed by everyone, they transcend art becoming, as Akasegawa coined, "hyperart."
We first learned about Thomasssons in one of the many art history classes we were lucky enough to attend in Tokyo. It was probably about midway through our second year in college when we were shown the concept and how very surprising it was to learn that we'd been missing so much of an already massive city.
That's the other beauty of Thomassons, though. Once you learn of their existence, you can never stop hunting for them. It's a bit of a curse really, like learning some bit of unseen magic you were never supposed to know.
So, now that we've talked about Thomassons a little bit, let's see if you can find one.
Sure, you saw the doorbell, and good for you...
...but did you see the doorway?
Here's a bit of an obvious one. You can see above that there is an empty lot where a building once stood. The imprint of its side is leftover and neatly intact, pressed into the brick of the structure it butted up against. Akasegawa lovingly categorized this ghostly type as an "Atomic Thomasson."
Growths like these are also common. A piece of road that didn't get properly removed, or some other such obstinate structure. Yet, it remains and as you can see, is well kept and accepted as part of the building.
Once you know what to look for, Thomassons are everywhere, and not just in Tokyo. Any place in the world that people gravitate to, any city that is lived in, will eventually create a Thomasson. They are the ghosts of the past, memories of previous iterations of the city left behind in the wake of progress.
Another thing that makes Thomassons special is their persevering nature. They are the surviving piece of a structure that was deemed expendable. Yet these pieces survive and sometimes even outlast what replaced them. There's something awfully commendable about that.
On a deeper level, Akasegawa even theorized that Thomassons are a part of a shared soul. Creations with no creator, left behind and appreciated privately, yet collectively, by those lucky enough to observe them. The continued maintenance and care for these architectural anomalies could further point towards a shared reverence. A shared understanding that they are pieces of history, preserved as art in the present.
"All works of hyperart, much like Gary Thomasson himself, are in a constant state of uncertainty, never knowing when their contracts will be terminated. And when they do disappear, they disappear for good. And with them, whence all of Japanese culture...?" - Akasegawa
Now for the inspiration bit...and some spoilers ahead.
By now, if you've read our book past the first few chapters, you'll probably have come across a character we respectfully named in honor of Thomasson, as well as the features of the City that remind Brutus of him.
Thomasson, the character, is unusual in the City in that he expressly clings to the past. So much so that he's given up his daily life to maintain what's left of it and to share with others who have stumbled upon it like himself.
The Thomassons (what we now know as hyperart) in A Simple Thought of Sanity are just like what Akasegawa discovered for himself in Tokyo. They are forgotten and left behind moments, pieces of the City to remind people of their shared past. For Brutus, they are keys to understanding that there is more to his life than what he's been allowed to perceive. These inconsequential objects seem to pop up at crossroads in his journey, though as a help or a hindrance, we leave up to you.
As much meaning as we've hoped to place in the book (and there is quite a bit more we'd love to share with you later), what really matters is what you take away from it.
Remember that art is as much for the observer as it is for the one who made it, and so is its meaning. What we do hope for is that you walk away with a newfound appreciation for the world of left behind and useless things. As well, that you can picture a little bit better what Brutus might have seen in the City. Sometimes the things that we quietly overlook might just be worth our attention after all.
Sadly, Genpei Akasegawa passed away in 2014, but his legacy of hyperart continues. If you've found a love for Thomassons, we highly recommend Akasegawa's book "Hyperart: Thomasson" which is excellently written and wonderfully translated into English. It is temporarily out of stock, but well worth the read if you can manage to nab a copy: https://kaya.com/books/hyperart-thomasson/
Akasegawa always encouraged people to share their Thomasson findings with others, which thankfully you can still do in the subreddit r/Thomassons or on your favorite social media account using the hashtag #Thomasson.
"As long as people have cities, and as long as they are conscious, the hyperart of Thomasson will continue to flit in and out of view, and in the space between mind and metropolis." - Akasegawa