Architectural Parallel Worlds With Jan Vranovsky
There is this moment when you walk down a narrow alley in Tokyo and realize that you just entered another dimension of this earthly reality. Even though these scenes of everyday life, urban patterns and structures belong to the common aesthetics of asian architecture and Japan itself your western mind and western eyes will never be the same after entering this magical world of wires and white-grey concrete.
The photographer Jan Vranovský manages to vividly capture these natural scenarios that seem so rare to us. Every time I look at his pictures my mind is rushing back into these small back alleys in Tokyo where it felt like this parallel world was at peace with everything surrounding it. To find out more about his motivation and the craft behind his art Jan answered me a couple of questions for Biancissimo and I am more than happy to present his insanely beautiful work to you.
Hi Jan, can you please introduce yourself to Biancissimo?
Hi Adrian, I'm a Czech–born architect, graphic designer and photographer currently living and working in Tokyo.
How does your world look like and how did you end up being creative in Tokyo?
Simple answer would be that I did my post–gradual (master) studies here in Tokyo and decided to stay for a while afterwards. But the decision to study in Japan was result of more than thirteen years of interest in the culture framed by number of visits and even a year spent studying solely Japanese studies at Charles University back in Prague before getting degree in architecture. My world is currently mostly revolving around my work in architecture studio in Tokyo.
When did you start to take pictures of your surrounding and its urban and cultural patterns?
Pretty much immediately after I arrived to Japan back in 2014. It was a way of familiarizing myself with the city as well as an excuse to get out the lab once in a while. There was no deeper intention or topic at the beginning, I was simply exploring Tokyo and sharing what I found. After a while, I begun to notice certain patterns in behavior of the city, distinctive features repeating in curious way throughout it's urban fabric. Some of these later became part of my research at the university, other remained being silently documented and are perhaps waiting for more serious attempt for classification and research.
Where do you find these patterns, are you hunting them down or are you curating in between the endless cluster of opportunities in Japan and East Asia?
I'm hunting them down. Not that it's difficult to find them, but it's not that easy to find them in state that is visually attractive enough for taking the shot. It's also dependent on my mood, I need to switch to very focused, perceptive mode, which is quite exhausting and I'm not able to do it for more than several hours in a row.
Your pictures seem to show unknown almost lost places with almost no human souls walking in between. What role do human beings play in the concrete jungle for you and why can we barely see them at all?
Human plays a huge role in my shots precisely in his absence. As we're often used to see a city, (particularly Tokyo) as a shear backdrop for crowds of people and human activity, the simple act of striping the streets of any human element and turning the backdrop into actual subject is on its own a statement. So it has a lot to do with the subject I'm focusing on: the built environment (as opposed to simply "streets" with everything that happens to be happening in them), but there's definitely an instinctive element to it as well. Since I can remember, I've been always avoiding crowded, noisy, cluttered spaces. For me a bit surprisingly, Tokyo is actually full of places filled with tranquility and almost disturbing quite–ness. The topic becomes rather alarming at the very moment one leaves central Tokyo and ventures into surrounding cities, towns and villages where the issue of depopulation is often strikingly visible. That would be a whole another topic however.
Since you’re an Architect how would your very own utopia of a city look like?
Aside from all the political and ideological agenda such concept is usually soaked in, as an architect, I see utopia as form of death of a narrative. I strongly oppose the kind of thinking in which it's desirable to reach some kind of „perfect“ or „final“ state in what's inherently an organic process; partially because such vision is typically dangerous and naïve reduction, but even more because of the striking lack of appreciation of the process as something „final“ on it's own, with all the struggle, change, flux and uncertainty being natural and part of it. I'm much more interested in understanding complexity of the self-organizational processes in the cities, measuring, understanding and perhaps shifting it's tendencies, rather than picturing unavoidably moronic visions of some „perfect, frozen state“.
Is there anything Europe could learn from East Asian / Japanese Architecture ?
I'm sure it can and I'm also sure it already did, maybe even too much: modernism is in many ways drawing near to Japanese architectural tradition and building principles. One thing I really appreciate in Japan is how they understand history, tradition. In Japanese understanding, (architectural) history is mainly the information: knowing how something is done and keeping this information alive, if the society finds it relevant. Very few buildings in Japan are made of original materials, everything is perpetually being rebuilt, most notable example would be the Sengu ceremony (Ise renewal) in which the highest Shinto shrine is being demolished and re-built from scratch every 20 years for over thousand years now. In Europe, we seem to be still quite obsessed with an idea that history is the actual piece of stone or brick, rather than the knowledge and tradition behind it. Biology provides us an interesting analogy: while protecting organs, tissues, cells and other elements of organism surely helps to prolong it’s life, ultimately everything gets down to genetics: the core information behind it all. While the physical matter is always doomed to expire at some moment, the information can survive and evolve through reproduction. If we keep looking only at preserving the physical substance, we’re dangerously missing the point, and, ironically, we might kill the continuity completely. In Japan, architectural heritage protection as we know it is almost non–existent, huge amount of building which are in my opinion worth protection disappear every year, yet you can feel an overall sense of organic continuity and connection with the past. In Europe, I sometimes feel like living in dead carcasses of cities that we saved, but completely disconnected ourselves from. I feel like finding the missing link between old and modern is exactly what architects needs to focus at and Japan is interesting case in this context.
From architect to Photographer and graphic design, you´re dancing in between different arts. Is there a connection between those worlds, like a common thread that runs trough your work?
Absolutely, I actually find it difficult to see any clear dividing line between them. The type of research, conceptual thinking and creative process I would use for graphic design project is essentially identical to the one used in architecture, difference is in the restraints, impact and amount of work. Photography somehow glues those two together: my subject is almost exclusively architecture and the city, but the visual language I use is rooted in graphic design. I think it's also worth mentioning that architect doesn't build houses, architect makes plans, that is, representations and communicates these to client. Which faces him with the issue of visual communication on almost daily basis; issue that graphic designer should understand the best of all professions. It's a closed loop.
What is your favorite district in Tokyo to dive into your world of thought and were should we head to to see and feel some Vranovsky vibes in Tokyo?
You can find something interesting absolutely everywhere, but if you're looking for the type of scenery typically seen in my shots, then try to avoid main street and walk the one backstreet parallel to it, so you see the back sides of the large houses on one side and typically residential area on the other. If you're looking for something more dystopian, you shouldn't miss the concrete canal of Shibuya river in Shibuya and Ebisu, children playground underneath expressway in Chuo, Motomishima Shrine in the Uguisudani red light district, Reiyukai Shakaden Hall in Azabudai and of course Kurokawa's Nakagin Capsule Tower in Shimbashi (preferably spend a night in it).