An animated globe spins on its axis. Colored yellow and blue, the globe shifts and changes shape, becoming squashed, stretched, inverted and torn open, before returning  to its original round shape.

Norio Nakamura, Dance of Earth. 2023. Shibashin, 3D Design.

Commissioned by Hyundai Artlab. © Norio Nakamura.

Legendary graphic designer Norio Nakamura returns to his seminal archive to capture Artlab’s world for our digital commissions series.

The aesthetic of Tokyo in the 1990s would not have existed without the work of Norio Nakamura. Beginning his career designing CD covers for Sony Music Entertainment, Nakamura grew to global recognition for his distinctive style, which blended minimalist traditions with a characteristic tongue-in-cheek wit. Today, the influence of his work can be seen across the art and design world, from film to fashion to video games.

For our latest digital commission, Hyundai Artlab reached out to the legendary designer to ask him to respond to the principles of collaboration and innovation which underpin Hyundai Artlab’s ecosystem. To our delight, Nakamura proposed returning to work he first designed two decades ago, modifying it with new technologies and reorienting its context to the present day.

The result is Dance of the Earth, a 3D animation of a globe whose shape is stretched, squeezed, disassembled and reformed again in recurrent succession. Watching its landmasses trade places, its colors inverted, and its surface turned inside-out, one is forced to perceive the earth not as a collection of borders but as a whole, continuous shape. Its amorphous transformation speaks to a kind of multifaceted dialogue; a back-and-forth between the earth and itself, which transcends international boundaries and echoes the attitudes of collaboration, egalitarianism, and humor which underpin so much of Nakamura’s practice. “I hoped to show an attitude where one seeks to communicate with others, even if we live in a world where many different individuals, groups, regions, generations, and cultures exist,” Nakamura says of his work. In this regard, Dance of the Earth evokes values inherent to Artlab’s ethos of encouraging borderless collaboration in the face of global challenges.

“I wanted to create a work that would feel like a greeting towards outer space, something of a positive nature.”

Nakamura shifted briefly to video games, working as the lead artist for the hit puzzle game IQ: Intelligent Qube for PlayStation. In 1997, he went solo, focusing his attention on his poster and logo design practice. In contrast to many of his contemporaries in the late ’90s, who were influenced by maximalist tendencies brought on by video game aesthetics and burgeoning new technologies, Nakamura became known for his minimalistic, subtle, and often futuristic style. In 1995, he won the Silver Cube at the 76th ADC Annual Design Awards for Close-up Of Japan São Paulo Poster, which encapsulates his simple and undecorated design style.

A poster containing detailed illustrations of body parts. Contains a stick figure drawing with the words “Japanese” and “Brazilian” next to check-marks, and text that reads “Close-Up of Japan - Sao Paulo 1995.”

Norio Nakamura, Close-up of Japan São Paulo Poster, 1995. Museu de Arte de São Paulo. © Norio Nakamura.

Courtesy of the artist.

“With my work in the ’90s, I was aiming to create graphics that were fun to understand,” he says. “Although technology and societal values have drastically changed today, especially with the emergence of the internet, I still think that pursuing what continues to be important to people provides guidance on my next creation, as well as the question of what it means to be human.”

For Nakamura, less pressing than the question of how to integrate new technologies into his practice is the process of understanding how we use those technologies to reflect our persistent, underlying cultural values. “Technological advancement will continue to prompt people to create new values and modes of communication. At the same time, I think we will have a better idea about the things that continue to be important despite the changing times.”

This isn’t to say that Nakamura shies away from technology. For Dance of the Earth, he collaborated with Shibashin to animate his previous work, synchronization (2004) for the first time. What makes his work distinctive, however, is his willingness to strip away pretenses of technology and design which insist upon surplus and quantity over substance:

A series of illustrations, including a map, a globe, and a building, all connected by a red line. Includes a vertical line of Japanese characters.

Norio Nakamura, Norio Nakamura Nihon University College of Art Exhibition Poster, 1997. Nihon University College of Art. © Norio Nakamura.

Courtesy of the artist.

“I think about how my idea will best function through a given medium. As long as I remember what the idea is trying to achieve, I don’t get lost in the process of developing a work through different mediums.”

In addressing Nakamura’s own legacy as a subject matter, Dance of the Earth becomes a work which is about more than geographical place, but also the history of how artists have engaged with technology more broadly. Rather than teach us that the value of contemporary art lies in its capacity to innovate, Nakamura’s work is a testament to the qualities of subtlety, simplicity, and good humor. As for the legacies of the ’90s themselves, Nakamura is more ambivalent: “At the time I was too busy with work to really observe the trends, but looking back, I think a lot of interesting work emerged with people being able to create digital data.”

Since its outset, Hyundai Artlab has been dedicated to foregrounding the work not just of emerging contemporary artists but those who’ve molded the development of art and technology over their lifetimes. Artists and designers like Norio Nakamura.

A CD cover, displaying a blue and black Japanese character constructed by round dots arranged on a blue graph background.

Norio Nakamura, CD for “Michi” by Meiwa Denki, 1996. Sony Music Entertainment. Norio Nakamura. Photo by Jun Mitsuhashi.

Courtesy of the artist.

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