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Gadget Porn: Maywa Genki's 'Nonsense Machines'

A tour through the wacky mechanical musical world of Maywa Genki's 'Nonsense Machines', an exhibition now on at Shanghai Ming Contemporary.
Feb 2, 2016 | 12:36 Tue
Iconic Japanese group Maywa Denki are musicians, toy makers, and artists that Rube Goldberg rockers OK Go look up to. You've probably seen the Otamatone, one of their most viral instruments, on the internet or at random gift shops in Shanghai.



Maywa Denki -- one of their inventions is a device that creates constellation diagrams based on the distance between your naval and moles. Another, a semen-filled glass tube containing a giant sperm wearing armor.

And it gets weirder.



From Jan 23 to Mar 13, an exhibition showcasing 100 of their works is on at Shanghai Ming Contemporary Art Museum (McaM). This new-ish museum up north in Zhabei District that used to be a workshop in the Shanghai Paper Manufacturing Factory, and according to their staff, is "yet to be discovered by huangniu."



Some background: Formed in 1993, Maywa Denki is an "art unit" comprised of two brothers, Masamichi and Novmichi Tosa. The name comes from the company their father used to run, a medium-sized electronic components factory that once supported Japan's post-war economy in the '60s by making parts for Toshiba and Panasonic.



Dressed in blue coverall "average worker" costumes, Maywa Denki perform music with all kinds of weird gadgets they invent, as well as mass–produce their innovative toys, available for sale to their audience, just like the more traditional electronics in their father's factory. "Nonsense machines" is a great way to describe their inventions.





On January 23, Shanghai's coldest day in 25 years, over 300 people showed up at McaM -- a relatively new art museum that focuses mainly on experimental performances pieces -- to see the group perform. Tickets were sold out a week before the show.



If you are into gadgets and / or DIY instruments, expect to completely nerd-out for an hour or more over the four product lines in the exhibition. There's a lot of careful, playful, and roundly humorous ingenuity on display. The NAKI series reflects Maywa Genki's fish obsession; the TSUKUBA series features 100V powered non-electric musical instruments worn by life-sized models; the VOICE MECHANICS series has musical products based on the group's interpretation of the "magical power of voice".

Finally, the creepier and more experimental series EDELWEISS is a world the group created to "search for ideal females".





Overall, super cool. A few downsides, though, if we're forced to look for some. You can't play with any of the products in here, which is a bit of a bummer because so many are just begging to be touched and played. In addition to that, the English descriptions are poorly translated. In dealing with three languages -- Chinese, Japanese, and English -- a bit of translation was lost in the third.

Nuts and bolts: Tickets for "Nonsense Machines" is 80rmb, or 40rmb in their "Weshop" if you have WeChat wallet. That virtual shop will have toys and books for sale too. A couple of workshops and movie screenings are scheduled, with a 3D printing and micro instruments workshop on Feb 20, a mechanic sound workshop on Feb 27 and 28, and a guided tour on Mar 5 and 9.



Maywa Genki's 'Nonsense Machines' is on at Shanghai Ming Contemporary until March 13. Details here.

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