For Sydney Festival, Japanese artist Hiroshi Fuji is filling Sydney Town Hall with ‘Toysaurus’ creatures crafted from plastic toys. We ask Fuji about his Jurassic Plastic project, with help from Kathryn Hunyor at ArtsPeople, who translated the interview. Turns out, he’s actually scared of dinosaurs.
Hiroshi, when did you start creating art from unloved toys?
It all started when my family and I decided not to throw anything out. I was thinking about what we could do with all our rubbish. My first works were not made from toys, but other plastic waste – I made an airplane in the shape of a cross. But my children’s unwanted and broken toys started to pile up. I was always wondering – where does it all come from? What can we do with it all? So my children decided to ‘play shop’ with the discarded toys, and I started making artworks.
Was that your toy exchange?
Yes! My daughter wanted to open a shop and sell the excess toys – but I didn’t want them handling real money – so we made it a barter stall, where local kids could swap their old toys. That got me thinking about how to turn it into an alternative economy – one that doesn’t rely on money. So I created a system called 'Kaekko Bazaar' (‘kaeru’ means exchange, and ‘kaekko’ means ‘swapsies’).
Is it still active?
Anyone can run a Kaekko Bazaar. I developed a set of rules, which don’t require me to be there – I call it ‘OS art’ like a computer operating system. There have been over 5,000 Kaekko Bazaars across Japan since 2000, and still now there are about ten a month all across the country. Children come with unwanted toys, books and accessories, which are assessed by child bankers at the ‘Children’s Bank’ and exchanged for ‘kaeru points’.
What happens if there are leftover toys?
I have a huge collection of unwanted plastic toys, which I use for my artworks.
What toys did you play with as a child?
Soft toys! I also played with ‘puramoderu’ or ‘plastic models’ of cars and planes. I remember making Thunderbirds.
Do you like dinosaurs?
Not at all. I find them scary. They’ve always scared me and I don’t like scary things.
What other shapes do you create?
I like animals – frogs, dogs – small cute things.
How many toys do you use in an exhibition like Jurassic Plastic?
We’re sending about 200 boxes of toys to Sydney and we will use up to 100,000 toys of various sizes in the installation. I’ve also made seven dinosaur sculptures – called ‘Toysaurus’, which usually take 200-400 toys per dinosaur.
Where will the toys come from for the Sydney exhibition?
In addition to the ones I’ll bring from Japan, ArtsPeople and Sydney Festival are working with St Vincent de Paul to collect unwanted toys from Sydney families, to be re-used in Jurassic Plastic.
How much does a Toysaurus weigh?
How do you keep the structure together?
I start with a wooden frame, which acts like a skeleton. I screw some larger toys to the frame, and then gradually add more and more with screws or a glue gun.
There’ll be workshops, too. What do they entail?
For example, children in the Makerspace Workshop will work with artist educators to construct toy sculptures. I’ll also be hosting the Atelier Workshop where we will make a new ‘Toysaurus’ with Sydney’s plastic junk.
And for the grown-ups?
They will basically be the same… Why should children get all the fun? The Up Late program will also have floor talks and a bar, and probably some more advanced toy sculptures.
What do you hope people take away from a visit to Jurassic Plastic?
I want them to feel surprise and joy. I want them to have fun. But I also want them to realise what’s behind that mass of toys. I hope they question it, and think about it.
Jurassic Plastic is open from Tue-Sun 9am-5pm. Free. Jan 6-28.