Half Empty, Since 1998

Artist bridges gap between American and Japanese pop-cultures. Kinya Hanada (aka Mumbleboy), discusses his multi-disciplinary work with friend and fellow artist Ilan Katin.

Mumble Pop

Ilan Katin, Kinya Hanada. June 4th, 2003

Artwork by Kinya Hanada/Mumbleboy

Artwork by Kinya Hanada/Mumbleboy

Around 1998, when Macromedia Flash first became ubiquitous, Hotwired’s Animation Express began featuring the work of animators from around the world. It was here that I first set my eyes on the work of Kinya Hanada (aka Mumbleboy). I was dazzled by his sense of colour, the simplicity of the figures and the elaborate ways in which he manipulated all of this together. Finally, here was someone who felt the need to express something and found the perfect tool to do it! Later I realized that those funny looking, hand-made stuffed dolls I saw at Airmarket were another of Kinya’s creations.

Over the last year I’ve had chance to meet Kunya several times and I have found him to be just as delightful in person as his work. We ask each other a lot of questions: He asks me about technology and I ask him how he is going to use it. In this interview I am asking the questions. I could probably have done this on my own but I am more than delighted to share this experience with the public. — Ilan Katin

ILAN KATIN: In a previous meeting you mentioned that you liked futuristic cars. What other technologies inspire your work?

KINYA HANADA: I’m inspired by any new technology. I’m not obsessive about them and I don’t have any expertise on any of them, but it inspires me to think that with new technology things that weren’t possible before might now be within reach. I remember when I was growing up, it was exciting when air conditioners became things that were affordable, and when VCR’s became available. Before video, things you saw on TV, if you missed it, it was pretty much gone forever. My family waited a few years after everybody got them, but it was exciting just knowing this was now possible.

IK: How do you define your work in terms of a cultural context? Do you ever think of it in terms of a space that bridges a gap between Japanese pop culture and American pop culture?

KH: I think of it as mostly frivolous entertainment, at least on the surface. I don’t have an agenda, but I think more perceptive viewers will see things that just wouldn’t be able to exist in the mainstream. I don’t really make my work thinking about context too much, but I am obviously influenced by things I’ve seen and experienced as I’ve grown up, so I think naturally both American and Japanese influences are there.

I think we’re living in the age where past pop-culture is being attached to national identity. People used to criticize Japanese pop musicians with the argument that they were ripping off American and British music. But then people my age and even older have always had that music to listen to, just as American and British kids did. Now there’s a sort of an opposite thing going on where kids here and all over the world are very curious and interested about pop culture and music from Japan.

IK: Do you ever think about the symbolism in your work?

KH: No, I don’t. Maybe I should, but I did enough of that in grad school and I think I became less productive because of it. I don’t feel it’s that important for me to think about it.

IK: When did you first start working with Flash?

KH: I think around ’96 or ’97? I tried Director before and I really couldn’t get into it, but then a friend told me that Flash is like a more user-friendly version of Director. I tried it and I was making stuff right away.

IK: How did you first begin collaborating with e-rock?

KH: I’m not sure exactly when we started collaborating. ’98 or ’99? I think either Crossing or Go Go Gar Gar was the first one. I really liked everything he sent me initially. Some stuff by him and other bands on his label like Dim Dim and The Sensualists and of course THUMB, which is a very high quality ‘zine.

He told me he was into animations and wanted to do sounds for them. I don’t think he directly asked me if he could do sounds for mine, but it just seemed like a good idea since I always had trouble making the sounds myself. I think he really took my animations to the next level. I’m sure things wouldn’t be the same if we hadn’t met.

IK: You’re also involved with a community called Milky Elephant.

KH: I don’t know if I’d call it community really, since the 2 friends who I do it with, Karl and Eun-ha, live in San Francisco. We don’t get to hang out that much, but I think that will change when they move here to New York.

It began when I was thinking of a way to publish work and was looking for friends who wanted to do the same. We have some exciting things coming up. Me and Karl made an installation entitled mumblehop for the American Museum of Moving Image and our milky CD-ROM should be out soon as well, so maybe we’ll hold a CD release party or maybe we’ll have a gallery show or something.

It will be very good to have them in the city.

IK: Your earlier work had more interactive elements; what made you stop this approach and focus more on animated sequences?

KH: I don’t know why I stopped making the animations interactive, but I think I was preoccupied enough with just making the animation parts and I guess I didn’t think it was important enough for me to pursue. I’m not that into programming anyway.

IK: I want to ask you the “now that you have established yourself” question but I don’t know if I can define exactly what it is you have established! You’re known for your flash animations and you’ve begun to do print illustrations as well; and then you also make and sell dolls and t-shirts. What do you see yourself doing more of in the future?

KH: I don’t know if I’m really established yet. Maybe it appears so in some people’s eyes, but really with every job I do, there are times when I get the feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing.

But, I see what you mean. I think in some ways, that’s good because I keep trying to do new things that I haven’t done before. For now, I think I will continue to do all of the things you mentioned and will definitely start doing video as well, although I don’t know how quickly I will be able to make things that I can show.

I think one thing I won’t be doing is organizing events! I had some ideas for events and I went so far as to talk to artists and venues, but then I selfishly realized that I would rather spend the time on my own work.

(More Mumbleboy art can viewed on the next page. Included in Half Empty #1.)