should an artist be held accountable for every possible interpretation of the work, despite its original intention?

during new york design week 2012, designboom’s friend, the brooklyn-based, japanese designer takeshi miyakawa, was arrested for placing light sculptures inside shopping bags and hanging them from trees and lamp posts on the streets of NY (the accused ‘shopping bag bomber’). and he still needs your support. here is the full story.

japanese designer takeshi miyakawa (51) was arrested on saturday, may 19, 2012 and spent five days in jail at riker’s island for hanging street art perceived to be a ‘false’ bomb.

for new york design week takeshi worked on two distinct projects: – a light installation inside new york’s furniture fair (ICFF) commissioned by  designboom for our annual mart exhibition and – a public art intervention and a tribute to new york city (where he has lived for the past 23 years): he was planning to hang a series of 5 common ‘I love NY’ plastic shopping bags on trees and lampposts and to illuminate them with LED lights.

‘I did this because everything at design week takes place inside the NY convention center‘, he said. ‘I thought it would be interesting to bring it outside and communicate with people, get them connected with design.‘

takeshi runs his design studio in brooklyn, he created similar installations two years ago using LED lights in a chair and people loved it.

takeshi miyakawa petition: NY design week 2012 bedford avenue, NY turned into a crime scene

after he installed the first light, someone called 311 to report a suspicious package. the person who made the first report of the plastic bag didn’t even believe it to be a bomb, but had originally called 311 to simply ‘get that thing off my tree‘.) the area was evacuated for two hours as the NYPD bomb squad investigated, before deeming the sculpture ‘non-threatening’.

nonetheless, a few hours later the police spotted takeshi standing on a ladder and installing a second piece in brooklyn, and arrested him.

prosecutors charged the artist– who had no prior criminal record– with reckless endangerment, planting a false bomb, and criminal nuisance. despite the fact that his ‘I-heart-NY-lamps’ were declared ‘harmless’, and amidst the defense’s request to fix bail, the judge decided that his detainment should be extended for an additional 30 days and ordered him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

the authorities are not being educated on what artists use and what is considered art. other street art and graffiti suspects have been released from custody in hours. the only reason they might have done something more than usual is because there were electronics involved. if this is true, every person with an iPhone or a portable computer on the street could be a potential risk factor.

takeshi miyakawa petition: NY design week 2012 this is how the installation was left after it was dismantled by the police photo © jaime rojo

the ‘NY times’ was quick and published an article by joseph goldstein, explaining the situation fully. the next morning, as soon as takeshi’s assistant louis lim told us about his unlawful arrest, we also published an article, collaborated with others in the design community on a takeshi miyakawa wiki page, and initiated a petition to free him.

in the following 3 days the petition saw more than 2000 signatures and on may 23rd takeshi was released from custody without bail. on behalf of takeshi and his studio, we thank all our readers for their support… but unfortunately the ordeal is not over yet…

takeshi miyakawa petition: NY design week 2012 takeshi after his release from jail

back home, after a hot bath and  a beer, takeshi wrote to designboom

‘thank you soooo much for doing everything you could to help me to get out of the jail!!! it was so surreal that it feels like a dream now.. without all the press to help me, I could’ve been still in jail.

designboom and times were the main force of ‘free takeshi’ so I can’t thank you enough! I was so moved by so much support from around the globe. in the jail, most inmates were on my side. they saw me on TV and in the newspapers and asked me to sign an autograph on these articles! 

there were some scary moments too, for example when some of them started a fight… the toughest part was that we had to sleep on a concrete floor with exposed toilets for three days. I would wake up every half an hour since it was freezing cold.  AC was on all the time. I can write a book about my experience…‘

the question remains unanswered– should an artist be held accountable for every possible interpretation of the work, despite its original intention?

the case isn’t over and takeshi’s next court appointment is scheduled for june 21. he still faces charges on 10 felony and misdemeanor counts relating to the incident and needs to undergo psychiatric evaluation.

here are ways that you can help:

1. sign the petition ‘demand justice for artist takeshi miyakawa’. although takeshi has been physically freed from jail,     his professional and personal freedom still depends on the results of his court hearing on june 21st. every signature is a show of     support that will help his case.

2. join the facebook group founded by takeshi miyakawa’s studio in defense of the artist

3. keep updated at the takeshi wiki