A buildup story

security cam footage of the Yakuza exhibit buildup

The three days we had available to build the installation and hang the artworks was plenty to build Yakuza. Being the first time, I feared it would be way too short, but we finished in the evening of the second day, after just 27 hours. Some things went exactly as planned, some things even better. And some things seemed to be so hard to solve that I thought we'd never figure it out in time.

My brother Malik had flown over from Tokyo with Yoko, my mum was on standby babysitting a bunch of the kids, and my love was ready too. Two extremely experienced tech guys from the venue were there to help me at all times. Charles from the lab who did the prints, also insisted on personally hanging the artwork to the wall. And a day before the opening, Diego Orlando, dear friend and curator for the Yakuza show, was flying in from Milano.

So we pretty much had it covered. Three stages. Artwork. Rice paper. Goza mats.

The rice paper was the thing that worried us the most. Extremely delicate and without any margin for error (some were printed with images or text), we had to find a suitable way to hang them from the ceiling.

For the artwork I had prepared a detailed layout with exact measurements, and I had faith in Charles, having over 25 years experience doing exactly this kind of thing.

And finally, laying the mats in the right patterns would be pretty straighforward I guessed. Malik took the organization of that one upon him.

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Charles was making tremendous progress hanging the actual artworks... and finished after just 7,5 hours. And at that moment, even without the lighting, rice paper or mats, we could see it was going to be good. Everybody was happy... One down, three to go...

security cam footage of the Yakuza exhibit buildup

In the late afternoon of the first day we encountered or first real challenge, and it was something none of us expected: the goza mats. For some reason we just couldn’t get them to join together in the patterns we needed. We tried everything: sticking, glueing, using a second carpet layer... nothing helped. We tried for hours to figure it out.

Then Yoko found it: goza mats, as is tradition in Japan, should be sewn together to generate the patterns and sizes one needs. Only practical problem: we had to combine one hundred mats into three large shapes & patterns...

We had to find extra hands that knew how to sew. Fast. It was 10pm and we needed them by 9am. We needed them or we'd be in trouble finishing. We started calling around for help.

It was then that I noticed one of the rice paper prints was missing.

Calling Charles he immediately agreed to help me print the missing one at 7am the next morning. I needed to personally be there as we loaded op the paper and printed.

The next morning, at the gallery, a miracle had happened... my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law had both responded to our emergency call for sewing, and took it upon them to bring even more help... Now there was a team of 6 people sewing simultaneously, and things suddenly went really fast... they incredibly managed to finish all the mats just 8 hours later.

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Then It was Tuur's turn to save us. At one point - I'm so glad I was still at the printer at that time - someone drilled through a water pipe in the ceiling... and you can imagine what happened next.

Tuur shouted and everybody came running to the room to rescue the artwork... and quickly thereafter the water mains got shut down and repaired. Nothing damaged. Quick thinking from an experienced builder. And by the time I returned from the printer there wasn’t a trace left of all this... phew.

security cam footage of the Yakuza exhibit buildup

And the rice paper - of which we were all afraid - well, all went flawlessly. The second day, we finished in time, and we all went home completely relaxed. Job done, exhibit ready for final inspection and subsequent opening... fantastic. I slept like a baby.

The next morning, off to the airport to pick up dear friend Diego Orlando (who curates the Yakuza show), and go straight to the venue to check if everything is one hundred percent perfect.

Of course Diego’s eagle eye picked up on something that could be improved story-wise... and we ended up making a genius last minute switch of one image on a different wall and a sequence alteration in another part... in hindsight so simple... so logical... so perfect.

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The opening the next day was a big success.... so many people and friends... and such great moments.

Five years ago Malik and I looked each other in the eye in Taka’s bar and said “hey what if we try to photograph the yakuza?”.

Now, half a decade later, after two editions of the book and the first of a series of solo exhibits, we are finally full circle.

I am SO happy.

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Mum, Malik, Yoko, Miet, Tuur, Jeroen, Charles, Mich, Jules, Kristien, Danny (and of course young Lukas in a supporting role), I simply cannot thank you guys enough for helping at the setup... and thank you Veerle and Eddie for giving me the opportunity in the first place...