The Imprint Culture Lab, sponsored by Bread & Butter Barcelona and the brainchild of InterTrend Communications based out of Long Beach, CA, continues to attract a growing number of attendees working in the industries of pop culture. This year’s 3rd annual Imprint Culture Lab which took place October 1 at the Japanese American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles, concentrated on the “cult” within pop culture covering the topics of the Cult of Transportation, Cult of Gaming, Cult of Collaboration, and Cult of Crafts. Almost like a mini TED conference, Imprint Culture Lab goes deep into the heart of creative industries and what’s shaping the world today and tomorrow, bringing forward top speakers and panelists such as Kenya Hara from MUJI, Hiroshi Fujiwara, JeffStaple, Mark Arcenal, Jill Bliss, Michael Kuhle, David Wilson, and John Jay, among others. More than 200 attendees registered from a wide range of industries, all there to soak in the inspiration and ideas, not to mention the networking opportunities among the best and brightest leaders within each subculture.

In this story, we take a look at what the keynote speaker, Kenya Hara, the Art Director of MUJI, presented about the very essence of creativity, plus the Cult of Gaming. Part 2 will cover what the leaders in the Cult of Transportation, Cult of Collaboration, and Cult of Crafts offered within their panels and workshops.

MUJI Art Director Kenya Hara on the Essence of Creativity

As the keynote speaker of the Imprint Culture Lab, it made sense that the conference would start off with very high-level, intellectual thinking to set the mood and open the doors for creative ideas to begin. MUJI, the Japanese-based brand known for creating some of the most artistic, elegant designs in everything from storage to home furnishings and architecture pieces, is among the new leaders in a growing subculture of elegant simplicity being snatched-up by Dwell-like fans of this relatively new 20th century aesthetic.

Mr. Hara, in his quiet and philosophical pattern, spoke about the concept of “emptiness” from which “vessels are then filled with ideas” which basically allows for the purity of creativity to begin. Marking the differences in Japanese culture vs. Western culture, it was interesting how he defined the concept of creativity and how “emptiness” where nothing is spoken and there is no content as we know it today, can be the beginnings of possibility. What’s interesting is that MUJI, which actually means “no brand” has become such an iconic brand. (This is also reminiscent of another large Japanese brand, the retailer Uniqlo now opening up stores in the United States.) This is due in large part to Mr. Hara’s vision where “emptiness has become the backbone of my aesthetic sensibility.”

Describing Shinto shrines such as the Ise shrine which is rebuilt every 20 years, and other structures such as the Japanese tea room and tea ceremony, Mr. Hara painted the picture of nature as inspiration, and the creation of space as the source of where ideas can come to live. For example, centuries ago great art often meant that every space was filled -with etchings, such as ancient China vases, drawings, glass, gilded mirrors like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, ornate blue tiles from collages in Israel, or intricate patterns such as found embedded in the Taj Mahal in India. Over time, form and function have come into meaning of great art from which much influence has come from the ultimate Euro-Asian-Polynesian continental melting pot of Japan.

“Japan was influenced by all cultures,” explained Mr. Hara, and because of this, “was liberated from all of it.” Within all of the influences came the Japanese aesthetic, which is different than the meaning of simple, but rather, like MUJI, “is an empty vessel to be filled with your thoughts and thus communication. Because questions are a part of creativity and matters the most.” In essence, it’s not the filling of space -such as in ads, marketing, art or the directness of Western conversation (vs. the indirect, non-committal way of making a point in Japanese) that creates style, instead it’s what can create space that liberates style and communication to happen.

The Cult of Gaming

As difficult as this may seem, the next conference tapped into the Culture of Gaming with panelists Sean Baptiste from Harmonix, creators of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Jenova Chen from and creators of Flow and Flower, Randy Smith from Entertainment Arts, and moderator Evan Shamoon from What was most important about this session was that while there are strong cults in gaming, the passion of “interactive art and entertainment” is simply becoming ubiquitous with mainstream entertainment in general. As Sean put it, “Soon, those who play “games” won’t be considered “gamers” just as people who go to the movies are not considered “moviers” but simply people who like interactive art and entertainment.”

Randy backed up the point by saying that “cell phones in essence are gaming devices already,” followed by Jenova who pointed out the growing demand for “emotional “gaming-like” aesthetics of participating in Facebook” and other social networks.

What’s also interesting is that while all 3 came from different gaming industries, they all believe that gaming will be ubiquitous with mainstream entertainment in the near future. They proved this by talking about the cult-like aspects of what each top games they produce provide for people and why it’s so attractive, i.e., wanting to be in a rock band and the explosion of Guitar Hero, the need for interactive entertainment that evokes moods such as what Flow and Flower create in terms of a zen-like experience, and the changes in entertainment in general that large brands such as EA are carving out as the crossover between interactive art and entertainment eats up traditional marketshare of movies and TV.

As more games are downloadable, the other great change in gaming is that “mini” games are now a viable option. This has opened the door for producers and companies with smaller budgets to create new games, short games, even “pop-up” like games similar to pop-up retailing. Social networks were also a hot topic within this session which have allowed for the gaming industry to also explore new territory in terms of creating communities, getting feedback, and essentially creating hype. One difference with gaming in general is that it has always employed the use of communities even in the production and feedback process, so that by the time a game does launch, say 3 years after the start of production, there’s already a core fanbase that has been a part of the process. As Jenova put it, “Actually, social networks [creators] are learning how to do things from studying the industry of gaming. Because gaming is often about the social connection and interactivity, which is why MySpace for example, was so successful.”

Here’s the difference when it comes to the cult of gaming: It’s not about the creator, which is how movies are perceived, marketed, and eventually consumed, but it’s about the player. This has influenced the games themselves in terms of collaborative creation aspects of the games and the structure of the industry from the beginning. In a DIY culture, the days of being dictated what is and isn’t entertainment as one sits and watches what’s been created for them (but not with them), are quickly becoming antiquated compared with the growth of interactive entertainment and art, which unfortunately still carries the moniker of being called “games.”

Next up, the Cult of Transportation, Culture of Fashion Collaboration, and Cult of Crafts.