Katsuki Nogami Sends Vacuum Robots Into Abandoned NSA Listening Stations

He also uses Ipads as giant masks, connecting Berlin to Tokyo, and makes wicked noise art.

Katsuki Nogami's Lonely Planet

You'll recognize the Berlin-based Japanese artist Katsuki Nogami on his iPad. Recently, Nogami and his video crew approached pedestrians for the Yamada Taro Project, in order to link Tokyo with Berlin by showing Tokyoan faces on Berlin iPads. These faces were interchanged with local faces, which included beer-drinking German folks on the street. All in all, it was a digitized exchange experiences between an eight-hour time differential. In a cultural moment where virtual reality is even permeating the tourism market, this might be the best new way to travel--or at least try to, before buying your ticket. 

It isn’t all so linear, however. In Nogami’s latest video, entitled, Lonely Planet, the artist takes an unlikely trip up to Teufelsberg, a former NSA listening station. Accompanied by a trusty Roomba vacuum, Nogami visits the popular urban exploration site, formerly a British and American den of espionage during the Second World War. Despite the spherical antennae (known as radomes) being scuffed and broken, Nogami's trip inside Teufelsberg shows a former security hotbed overtaken by artists.

While several books have been published on this graffiti-washed spy station, some mysteries still prevail; one may never be sure just how this site persists in the rough condition Nogami captures so peacefully.

The artist also creates desktop-inspired videos, is a noise musician, and loves to make art from the gadgets that surround us. Questioning the spaces between avatars, and what one sees in their own reflections, Katsuki Nogami spoke to us about how much the Japanese love iPads and why personal computers are selfish.

Katsuki Nogami's Roomba explores the Teufelsberg wreckage in Lonely Planet.

The Creators Project: First, why do you enjoy working with video?

Katsuki Nogami: Video has the highest diffusion and is really familiar for all of us. Perhaps people usually see more of the digital world than reality. Video has a good platform on the internet and I want many people to watch my pieces; that’s why they’re there.

A vacuum of ennui: In Lonely Planet, a tiny Roomba takes on a big world. 

Can you tell us about your newest piece?

While my newest work is Lonely Planet, to be honest, the biggest thing I want is to make music. I encounter so many interesting things in front of me, so I began making other works (like this one). The video expresses the fact that machines last longer than humans. To show this, I chose the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner. It cleans our rooms, our houses; it's very familiar. Even my mother has one.

LIVE SOUND by Katsuki Nogami

Can you tell us more about Teufelsberg?

Yes. In Japan, I didn’t see many places like it. After I came to Berlin, I found out about many more abandoned locations. It makes me imagine a future dystopia, with nobody around. Teufelsberg has a wrecked history; the shape of the domes reminds me of the nuclear reactor at Fukushima.

The people in Teufelsberg are very kind, especially to artists. They let me shoot the film, and invite many artists to visit there and create exhibitions, too. They also host parties and raves. Other abandoned places are different, but you can even attend tours of Teufelsberg on weekends.

Yamada Taro

Your Yamada Taro project tied Tokyo to Berlin with an electronic connection. Where did the idea come from?

Firstly, connecting an iPad or an iPhone to a human face is not new; it's already appeared all over the world. It just depends on the context: the Japanese really love their iPads. Also, I wanted to see their reactions [taking place] in another country. I’m interested in the devices that surround us, and I want to feel like there aren't any lags. I’m staying in Berlin, but when I go home, my friends in Japan are in universities or have jobs. I studied media art in university, but my programming skills aren't great. So, I thought, I’ll do a project that anyone seems to be able to do.

Katsuki Nogami prepares to swap his Ipad's face with that of a beer-drinking German. 

How were the faces chosen?

On the internet, people use another face to represent their icon or avatar. In Japan, a lot of accounts use famous people as icons on Twitter, for example. And those certain accounts will act funny, dirty, even critically. That becomes news. The office of that actor or actress will go to court; it's very Internet-ish and chaotic. I laugh at stuff like this, but when I did it in real life, everyone laughed and the vibe was more peaceful.

Things got creepy during the original filming of Yamada Taro. 

How did your Absent Desktop series begin?

One can use the Internet as freely as one can think. I thought if a personal computer works selfishly, what do you [personally] think? It's about the embodiment of Internet on the desktops of PCs, and the feeling of absence provided by sitting in front of a PC.

A screenshot from Absent Desktop

Check out the works of Katsuki Nogami on his website and follow @nadjasayej on Twitter.