At Your Service

At Your Service: Reviews.

Daily creative treatments in urban environments delivered by artist-in-service Markuz Wernli Saitô. Rain or shine. Seven days a week. Free of charge.

Besides the daily video postings that rippled throughout the blog sphere we have here a partipant's report from Nikki Pugh who didn't shy away from wetting her feet and brave the canal waters North of Shimogamo shrine. Aside the numerous blog entries below At Your Service has been featured in Kansai Timeout Magazine and ASPECT, The Chronicle of New Media Art. CASAzine just published my article Critical Reflections on At Your Service that talks about the more activist elements of this project.

City Canal Tour
pressPublished Nov. 2006 on Genzaichi by Nikki Pugh, Birmingham.

Having excused myself early from the last segment of Johnny Hillwalker's walking tour of Kyoto, I made a (not so) quick dash over to the Shimogamo Shrine to meet artist Markuz Wernli Saito.

The last time we have met was on the Kamo Obashi bridge when, having randomly followed a link from this article, and discovering the momentarium website I thought it would be great to invite Markuz to be a starting point for the Peer-to-Peer Sketchbooks project.

This time, however, was to be much more involved... Wednesdays in Markuz's programme are city canal tour days where "surprises and wet feet are guaranteed". Well, I certainly got both, starting with performing the opening ceremony! A condensed version of the tour can be viewed here (Quicktime), but the actual event lasted about 2 hours.

It was fascinating to peer into people's gardens from what was effectively ground level, and there were some nice little discoveries within the limbo territory of the canal itself: sights, sounds and smells.

Conversation from the canal

Encounter with the Guy in the Red T-Shirt during the City Canal Tour (photo Nikki Pugh)

Mostly the people we saw did a double-take but recovered enough to give us a friendly "konnichiwa" or "kombanwa". There were a few quality encounters though, such as the woman throwing food across the canal and two fences to a dog in a garden on the other side, and The Guy in the Red T-Shirt.

I didn't catch his name, but he just sort of appeared alongside the canal on his bike. After a brief introductory chat with Markuz, he left his bike propped up at the side and came down to join us... but only for a few seconds before he started sprinting down the canal path!

He reappeared some time later completely out of breath and stopped to chat some more. We saw him a few more times after that as he cycled over various bridges and gave us a friendly wave. I wonder if he ever got back in touch with Markuz later by email?

I'm very much intrigued by how encounters like this can be documented. I was repeatedly amazed by the fact that, in Japan, Markuz has been able to leave his video camera set up on a tripod on the other side of busy bridges and in railway stations etc unattended and without fear that it would get stolen. How would you manage this in the UK or elsewhere? Some sort of hidden camera? An entourage of beefy cameramen?

Is there some other way of documenting the process besides video? Does the record need to be visual and time-based? Maybe a more comforting way to regard my dozens of mosquito bites is as some form of alternative documentary record...

Outside-the-Box Service
pressPublished Feb. 26, 2007 on DAILY GOOD.

For eight weeks straight, every day of the week, Swiss-born designer and conceptual artist Markuz Wernli Saito carried out 'At-Your-Service', a relational art experiment on the streets of Kyoto: for an hour, he offered citizens a chance to participate in outside-the-box interventions in urban areas. Every Tuesday, for example, was "I Love Trash" day, when people left thank-you notes on trash bags, appreciating the work of garbage collectors. Mondays were mobile tea ceremony days, offering traditional Japanese hospitality -- and a break in the day -- in unexpected settings. His purpose? To ignite our streamlined, hyper-functional lives with meaningful everyday encounters and fresh discoveries of beauty. The project's website lists the week's other activities.

Be The Change: Leave a thank-you note for someone whose behind-the-scenes work you're grateful for.

Comment: I have found that the world is an infinitely more interesting place when we're able to drop every last prejudice and assumption--and simply listen, and serve.

Life as art practice (a glimpse of urban life in Kyoto)
pressPublished Sept. 24, 2006 on Presentation Zen by Reynold Garr.

This may sound like new-age gobley gook, but it really is just a matter of slowing down. Yet, this is easier said than done. What got me thinking about this is a new website by a buddy of mine, Kyoto-based Swiss designer and artist Markuz Wernli Sait™. Markuz is in the middle of a very cool relational art (what's that?) project which is related to this idea of slowing down, taking time and "being in the moment" Ń and he's sharing it with the world. Go to the Momentarium website set up by Markuz for this project to read his idea behind the project.

Each day of the week brings a new "creative treatment in urban environments" and you are all invited to join Markuz or watch the episodes unfold from where ever you are around the world in QuickTime. I love the simple way Markuz has presented his ideas on the website including the video recordings which have been edited (no audio needed) to give us the essence of the daily happening. I really like his simple use of graphics for the calendar.

Markuz's seven "meaningful encounters and fresh discoveries" in many ways are simple things we can remind ourselves to do ("practice") at least once every week. I rephrased them a bit to fit my own individual circumstance below. By remembering these (among others), I feel I can remain more aware, more connected, and perhaps more creative.

You're Part of It
pressPublished Oct. 23, 2006 on Pacific Tides by Thomas Sturm.

A good friend of mine, Markuz Wernli Saito, is currently working on a monumental art project called Momentarium.

Over a period of eight weeks Markuz is inviting people in the streets of Kyoto in Japan to become a part of a daily, one-hour art performance. He is following a strict schedule for these performances, so you can plan ahead and visit him at one of the scheduled spots should you be in Kyoto over the next few weeks.

The performances are quirky and thought provoking and you can follow along on his website where he is posting a daily video. He has also been featured in this YouTube video with one of his weekly public tea ceremonies - this one was held in the Kyoto train station.

The videos range from not-much-going-on to very interesting. Especially in the later ones Markuz has found his stride and he has quite a lot of meaningful interactions with random pedestrians around him who visibly slow down, stop and start to think about where they are and what is going on. Their daily lifes have been interupted for a moment of reflection, and they are now a part of what Markuz is doing.

This is a lesson that we can all learn, that by following our daily routine and blindly running from home to work and back, we are actually losing a part of our lifes to pointless activity. Sometimes it's good to slow down, sit down, relax and reflect.

pressPublished Nov. 11, 2006 on Total Image Nation.

Life as Art Practice - what a great concept! Our friend Markuz Wernli Saito spent 8 weeks serving the people of Kyoto, Japan with meaningful encouters and fresh discoveries every day of the week. Check out to see some wonderful video clips from this project... you won't regret it, they are fantastic!

pressPublished Oct 3, 2006 on StubleUpon.

I sometimes feel insignificant as the world-at-large overwhelms me at times -- these days it seems like it is most of the time. How is it possible that "I" can help change the world, when no-one around me seems to care, either? The momentum of that way of thinking falls over me like a heavy wet blanket ... dark, cold and hopeless. Deep down, I know one person can change the world, but it has to start with ME. Then, if you follow the music of lovingkindness and compassion, you can change the world too. And so it goes ... Markuz Wernli Saito is changing the world today, tomorrow, and the next day ... and he schedules it on his calendar a month at a time. The tipping point for me was to watch the daily video capture of his adventure. He captivates the people around him as he pursues his day as an "Artist In Practice". Markus and his website has brought a warm, brilliant sunshine to cockles of my jaded, darkened heart. For today, October 3rd, I will thank my garbage collector, and tomorrow, I will connect with my city's visceral beauty. I have downloaded Markus' calendar to remind me of my tendencies to self-absorbed narcissism. Most importantly, I want to feel that sense of hope so often lost these days -- hope that I, you, we can change the planet one person at a time. --JJ

A Moment for Art
pressPublished Oct 3, 2006 on Fame or Famine by Gray.

Yup. That's garbage. And that guy in the orange vest? He's the performer. He is Markuz Wernli Saito, and it must have been a tuesday, because that's "I Love Trash" day in his ongoing relational art piece "The Momentarium."

The piece is designed to bring pause to people's busy lives, draw their attention to things that may be missed in the hustle and bustle.

Between September 11 and November 5, he takes an hour every day to explore a different theme with whoever comes along. Monday it is a tea ceremony; Tuesday, as above, he puts little tags on garbage bags telling sanitation workers how much he values them; Wednesday he leads people through a tour of Kyoto's canals, talking with them and sharing the experience.

This idea of the performer not as an outside voyeuristic experience but as a guide and companion through the experience is not new - it has its roots, after all, in the oldest art of all, storytelling. What attracts me to it is more the fact that this is art designed not to create a new thing of beauty, but to actually draw the eye and consciousness to the beauty that is already present in life. It's a very zen sort of art work, and the motivation - not to get rich, or famous, but simply to improve the quality of life in general - is inspiring.

Interview between Miyuki Koichi [MK] from the Ecological Center at Kyoto University and Markuz Wernli Saitô [MWS]
pressJanuary 2007 for Miyako Eco Fair in Kyoto.

MK: 1. Why are you taking up those seven Service activities?
MWS: I wanted to reconnect with activities closely related to my life and interests. At the same time I intent to make available my way of seeing the world to the interested public. Which is why I called my daily one-hour actions 'services' and scheduled them in advance so that individuals could participate.

Since i started to learn traditional tea ceremony i felt the urge to transplant it outside the secluded tea house of the temple into urban locations just to see what happens. The coin mosaic goes back to my intrigue with tactile floor surfaces which are everywhere in Japan and my curiosity in repurposing mundane things. My purpose as artist to establish connections which otherwise wouldn't exist and make this experience of revisiting the world available to others.

Everyday life to most of us appears unchangeable and I believe that many possibilities in public life and places remain untried. Now that the 56 'services' are completed they contribute to a bigger discussion on what confines the frame and rules of our public lives.

MK: 2. What are your expectations towards the audience and their responses?
MWS: Most of the actions have been received with friendly curiosity or empathy. A big surprise was when a mother and her 3-year old son bumped into my coin mosaic in front of Kawaramachi subway and returned the week after with another mom and her girl so we could have a 'coin party'... Or lately when i shopped for groceries at my local supermarket a woman approached me who's face looked familiar: the only thing she said was "I love trash day" and I remembered the encounter i had while sticking the garbage-men's-thank-you-note on her trash bag...

Beyond passer-byers spontaneous responses the silent video clips which I published daily stirred up strong interest worldwide and I was amazed what viewers got out of it: some started to study walking patterns of the fast-speed sequences, some got a kick out of the static frame and recalled Fred Astair's movies, some saw a colored version of Charlie Chaplin and some enjoyed viewing the joyful encounters and glimpses of mundane everyday Japan. That's great when people create their own meaning and by that complete the 'artwork'.

MK: 3. I am curious about the "I Love Trash Day" activity: Was there any change in awareness before and after?
MWS: It is interesting to look at who 'owns' the garbage: As long as you carry it with you it is your possession, but as soon as you put it down and leave it on the sidewalk it belongs to nobody and anybody... So when somebody came by carrying a trash bag I asked for permission to stick on my thank-you-notes; which was always approved. It showed people that what seems to be useless garbage can actually be a way to pass on a friendly message, and with the agreement of all neighbors it becomes a common effort. Somehow the thank-you notes brought neighbors together, they had something to talk and think about. I know for sure that some trash producers wont forget the encounter they had with me: a few weeks after I had ended the activities, a woman in the supermarket looked at me with big eyes and said just: "ai-rabu-gomi-no-hi!". I know that some people thought that I am a weirdo, but some others took me really serious and we had interesting talks about recycling and ways to reduce waste (for example, leaving unnecessary packaging in the supermarket as a way to tell the producers to use less packaging).

MK: 4. What was your impression from the garbage collectors?
MWS: My trash action took place exactly around the time Kyoto City introduced the garbage fee. And a good number of neighbors told me that they agree with the new system. But after the garbage has been introduced I didn't see that the amount of burnable trash (moeru gomi) became less. I noticed that many Japanese don't waste a thought on the garbage they produce: they just want to get rid of it and forget about it. But my action helped to make the garbage collection system more visible, since there was this crazy foreigner in a shiny safety vest sticking notes on trash bags. Unfortunately I didn't had much exchange with the garbage men and women, because they are very busy people rushing after a tight schedule. One garbage man told me that my action was funny but that the paper and glue I used makes for adds to the trash, which is certainly true. But the action was primarily targeted towards the trash producers.

MK: 5. What are your thoughts when they show your video documentation here at the Miyako Ecology Center?
MWS: I am curious to hear what the visitors of the Eco-Spo think about the video clips of I-Love-Gomi-no-hi and Dokodemo-ochakai [Mobile Tea Ceremony]. Both activities show that the element of play can infuse interesting discussions for the big challenges of our times like waste management and the stagnation of the traditional Japanese arts... There is no wrong or right way to look at this video work. I hope that people find their own meaning in it, find it amusing and talk to others about it. Food for thought and heart.