KALINLAW, THE ARTIST AND CO-FOUNDER OF TOKYO LOVEHOTELS
Interview by Deza
Meet Kalinlaw the British and Japanese artist from Fukuoka. She is also known for co-founding the notorious Tokyo Lovehotels events with her partner in crime Robin. In this interview, she shares how the event became what it is today, but also more about her own creations and latest projects.
Can you start by giving us a timeline of your life? Have you always lived in Japan?
I’m British and Japanese, and grew up by the beach in Fukuoka. I went to an international school in Fukuoka and moved to Tokyo to study art at university. I’ve lived in Rome as a transfer student for six months, and lived in London for a year to work, but other than that I’ve always lived in Japan!
What motivated you to attend Tyler Art School?
How do you even know I went to Tyler Art School? – laughs –
Growing up, I always drew and I was very much into fashion. My mother was a dressmaker, and I was probably inspired by her as well. I wanted to go to a fashion college in London, but my mother encouraged me to start by learning art, the basics of fashion, first in Tokyo. Honestly, I think she just wanted to keep me in Japan, close to her. So Tyler Art School in Temple University Japan was the only place that taught in English and offered a BA in Fine Arts. So I went there and got wrapped up in the Tokyo lifestyle, hence never making it to fashion college. In hindsight, I’m glad I never took the fashion route.
Tokyo Lovehotels is one of the most popular and consistent events in Tokyo. You are one of the only ones to merge art, pop-ups, and food in the night out experience. What inspired you to create Tokyo Lovehotels?
Tokyo Lovehotels began because I too am an artist. I had a streetwear brand back in the day, and I would try to do pop-ups but I couldn’t find anywhere that would let me do it for free. Pop-ups usually had to pay for their space or give a commission to the organizer. It was hard enough working at a 9-5 every day, maintaining a brand, and artists don’t usually have much money! So I decided I would host a popup by myself and make it an event. I found a small venue in Shibuya that held about 40 people and asked my friend Robin, who makes music, to perform. Together, we made it an event, consisting of my popup, and his performance; and we filled up the space. At this point, we had no vision or idea that this would be the start of a whole new life.
About 6 months later, I found another venue that was willing to let us use their space. This place held about 70 people, and so we decided to add a few more pop-ups and exhibits including myself, and again, Robin would perform. All we cared about at this point was that we wanted to have a good night of art and make sure that artists do not have to pay to sell/display their works. It was very casual and still, we filled up the space. The third time, Sankeys PENTHOUSE had just opened and I randomly went there to see a friend. Obviously, I liked the place and asked if I could throw an event there. Sankeys PENTHOUSE was happy to let us, and probably thought I was some big shot event promoter. Funny thing is, we actually turned down Sankeys PENTHOUSE’s offer because we didn’t think we could achieve what they were expecting. When we backed down, they said they were willing to give us a chance. And so we did. Since the place was huge, we were able to add a lot more artists and DJs. Over 100 people came that night, and Sankeys PENTHOUSE was so happy and we were in awe as well (lol). Ever since then, Sankeys PENTHOUSE and Tokyo Lovehotels have grown together. And ever since then, Tokyo Lovehotels just expanded through word of mouth because we really just wanted to support artists. Literally, there’s no loss as an artist to show their work through us, other than their time. Tokyo Lovehotels was all inspired by me and Robin understanding the struggles of being an artist and wanting to encourage everyone to show their work, take a chance, keep going, or start something new. A safe place for all artists to equally express themselves.
How did you and your partner, Robin, meet?
We met at American Apparel in Shibuya! We both worked in the backstock of the store, and man we had so much fun there back in the day.
How has TLH changed in the 3 years it’s been running?
It has changed a lot. Obviously, Covid is one factor that has affected us. In our first year, we did so well that we had set plans to throw events internationally, and also collaborate with international events to throw events in Tokyo. However, of course, all that was on pause, so for two years we have just been “maintaining”. The event has still been able to gradually grow, and we are happy to grow domestically and involve more of the Japanese community as well. We know a lot of people want us to have a bigger venue, and we do too, but right now with the pandemic, it’s just not a smart move. Another thing that’s changed is that since it’s grown so much over the years and we deal with a lot more people that aren’t just the “homies,” we need to be way more professional, and careful with how we conduct ourselves. It’s really become a full-time job!
What’s the future of TLH?
We want Tokyo Lovehotels to become an international art convention, something like Art Basel. There are a few conventions in Japan, but they tend to be a bit stiff and not as cultural as they could be. It’s a shame because Tokyo is so loved internationally. We want Tokyo Lovehotels to be a huge art convention with arts and live shows, for the Japanese youth and elderly to enjoy and for foreigners to fly in for.
Most clubs and events stay in Shibuya or Roppongi, why did you decide on Harajuku and Sankey’s Penthouse as a venue?
We chose Harajuku BECAUSE most clubs and events are in Shibuya and Roppongi! We definitely don’t want to be portrayed as a club, hence why we keep the event hours end before midnight. Roppongi and Shibuya have a strong nightclub scene, whereas Harajuku is an art and fashion center, and is a much better match for what we represent.
What was your favourite event/gig?
My favourite event was TOKYO LOVEHOTELS Vol.7 #DONOTDISTURB. This is because, at the previous event (Vol.6) one of our customers had accidentally pressed the fire alarm during the middle of the event, having everyone at the event and everyone in the building evacuated. I was so shocked and sad by this and worried about our reputation as an event. However later on that night, I heard people talking about the event as “the event that got shut down” and somehow became the talk of the town? lol. It kind of weirdly gave us some cool publicity. So the next event (Vol.7) we decided to name the event #DONOTDISTURB, and we had the most people come that night (out of the 7 times then) and I really felt the love and support for what we were doing as a culture.
Why did you decide to emphasize art and pop-ups as a staple in your events?
First and foremost because I am an artist, and Robin is an artist. Back then, nobody was allowing artists to have pop-ups at their events for free. Organizers always took a fee for the pop-up space or commission from sales. We understood but didn’t believe in that. And naturally, I don’t think me or Robin has it in us to just organize parties where the only aim is to turn up. That’s totally fine too, but we need a little more purpose in what we do.
You recently exhibited your own artwork, ‘Made in Paradise’. What inspired this collection of paintings?
‘Made in Paradise’ was inspired by my recent experiences of love and loss. I had been struggling to get through some emotions, and although I was always making art with airbrush tees and such, I decided to slow it down and go back to painting on canvas. I was tired of making fashion-related art, it kind of felt like fast art. Trends come and go. Transactions come and go. I wanted to really enjoy the process and only create what I wanted to create, and not something for somebody. So I took about 9 months to create 9 pieces of canvas art and really go through my emotions. It was therapy for me. I was inspired by nature, and nature’s reproductive system. I always had interests in “duality” and “things with no beginning or end” or things that mean nothing but everything? I love that – laughs –
Anyway, the pieces I created are all an integration of everything I was feeling, everything I was reading, learning, and visualizing. I wanted to create the opposite of what I was feeling, and it became a form of letting go and manifesting at the same time.
What is your general creative process? Do you have any rituals of sorts or motions you go through?
As I go through my daily life, I pick up words and images that I like. I store them and eventually, they all pile up until I feel like I’m ready to create. I have a story or an emotion I want to express, and find images I like that help me portray it.
THE LAST WORDS …
Someone, you want to shout out for their work?
All the artists from Tokyo Lovehotels.
What would you recommend to someone who is coming to Japan for the first time?
Try this art event called Tokyo Lovehotels.
If you had to go back and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Happiness comes from within.
What’s next for you?
More art! I want to establish myself more as an artist. I also want Tokyo Lovehotels to keep growing, into a Tokyo-based internationally known art convention, so we can offer even more to artists.