BIRTHDAY by mae 2020 Grand Prix
PIXEL ART GRAVITY
Pixels are massless materials of light. But when drawn as an art piece, pixel art pulls in people with its two gravitational powers. The first power lies in its method. The act of inserting dots is a simple yet sophisticated one, and has the power to soothe the nerves of the creator as well as bring them together with other artists. The second power is in its low resolution imagery. In today’s era of high resolution, the simple and clear format of pixel art can be repeated and regenerated endlessly within one’s mind. Its gravitational power is then heightened by the countless contexts created by the viewers. This is the magical power of pixel art.
PIXEL ART AND ITS POTENTIAL
Pixel art is a collection of dots depicted in low resolution imagery, developed alongside the evolution of computers and games in the 1980s and originally confined within the function of these technologies. The pixel technique was first highlighted by a research center in Palo Alto through their 1973 invention, Xerox Alto, a computer with bitmap display. Later on, the 1982 arcade game Space Invaders produced by Taito, the 1983 Nintendo video game console Family Computer and various other games helped develop the image technology (sprite). These technologies were largely confined to the bandwidth and processing ability of computers. Today, in an era liberated from these functional limitations, the pixel art form continues to be loved across the globe.
The definition of pixel art is generally considered as artwork using the smallest element of an image, dots (pixels), in visible resolution, or image structured by humans intentionally placing color into squares – both of which are ambiguous in their meanings. This ambiguity helped pixel art transcend boundaries of the bitmap framework into popular culture, from games to illustration, animation, embroidery and accessories, through posts on social media platforms. It has even transformed into fine art such as paintings and installations, and today garners attention of the public especially with the rise in popularity of the NFT (Non-Fungible Token) market trading various pieces of work in pixel art form.
Shibuya Pixel Art is an art festival that sheds light on the artistic value of pixels and aims to release its power as an art form. It consists of the Pixel Art Contest, which gathers over 600 creations of pixel art, and special exhibitions, art fairs and talk events using the entire city of Shibuya as its platform as an attempt to capture the magic and possibility of pixels. We are currently envisioning the launch of Shibuya Pixel Art Museum by 2025, where pixel art will be exhibited, researched and conserved. We hope the Museum will become a platform to organically connect artists, fans, collectors, galleries, companies and local areas, which will help stimulate and develop pixel art culture. This is why we base ourselves in Shibuya, otherwise known as the Bit Valley* – to connect and circulate the relationships between various stakeholders and fields.
* “Bit Valley” refers to the neighborhood in Shibuya, Tokyo, where many internet and tech startups base their offices. The name was inspired by Silicon Valley and is a cross between Bitter (the chinese character for “Shibu”) and Valley (the chinese character for “Ya”). The Bit Valley concept was first created by startup CEOs in Shibuya in February 1999.
HISTORY OF SHIBUYA PIXEL ART
- July 2017
- The event experimentally starts in 13 locations around Shibuya station including Shibuya LOFT and Seibu Shibuya as the world’s first pixel art contest over social media, attracting over 200 participants. A video of the Hachiko dog statue created with nanoblocks (®) gains much traction on social media and generats over 1.3 million views. The second Shibuya Pixel Art Contest takes place in March 2018 and is featured on Tokyo Shimbun’s morning newspaper, Tokyo Hatsu, as the main visual, as well as attracting 281 works of art from pixel art enthusiasts.
- June 2018
- The Pixel Stamp Contest is held in collaboration from LINE Corporation. The work winning first prize is retweeted 5,715 times as “slanted dots” and is a sensation on Twitter, stirring up debates on what should be defined as pixel art.
- July 2018
- The Shibuya Pixel Art 2018 is held along Cat Street in Harajuku. The event collaborates with Space Invaders for their 40th anniversary and gathers a record breaking audience of 4,780. A round-table discussion is planned last minute by a suggestion from pixel art artist Zennyan, resulting in a 4-hour passionate debate among participants.
- February 2019
- The third Shibuya Pixel Art Contest is held, attracting 895 pieces of work from all over the world. New categories such as the Limited Pixel Art, Analog Pixel Art, and Beyond Pixel Art Award are created, and a 7-year-old is awarded as the youngest contestant to have won a category.
- June 2019
- The work created by the winners of the contest are exhibited in approximately 100 locations around Shibuya station as Shibuya Pixel Art Graffiti.
- September 2019
- Shibuya Pixel Art 2019 is held in Shibuya Cast with an exhibit themed “modern monsters” and talk events about the possibility of pixel art and block chain. 26 artists join the outdoor pixel art booths, attracting 23,000 people to the event.
- November 2019
- The event is interviewed by Europe’s largest public broadcasting, Euro News. Pixel artists are featured in the Shibuya Machibiraki event and the artwork at Shibuya Parco.
- May 2020
- The fourth Shibuya Pixel Art Contest is held under the COVID-19 state of emergency. Pixel art legend eboy becomes the first non-Japanese judge. Newcomer mae wins first prize with just a few months of experience in pixel art.
- July 2020
- Pixel art is featured on NHK ETV program "Numa ni Hamatte Kiite Mita", which marks the first time for Shibuya Pixel Art to be featured on national television.
- September 2020
- Shibuya Pixel Art 2020 is held virtually on Virtual Shibuya and offline at Shibuya Hikarie. Despite COVID restrictions, the exhibition for winners, the award ceremony and a special exhibition “Temperature of Pixel” with Yusuke Shigeta and Zennyan attract over 1,000 guests.
- May 2021
- Shibuya Pixel Art celebrates its 5th anniversary with a renewal of its mascot character and logo. The new designs are created by BAN-8KU, who has been participating in the event since 2017. The character’s name, Hachi(8), takes after Shibuya’s famous dog statue Hachiko, as well as 8bit and BAN8KU, using the lucky number 8.