NACT View 03 Atsushi Watanabe (I’m here project) I Hate Free Hugs

The National Art Center, Tokyo is now holding the artist Atsushi Watanabe’s exhibition I Hate Free Hugs in the public area until December 25, 2023. Watanabe began a project (I’m here project) on the internet calling for hikikomori people to hug him. This exhibition consists of installations and video works related to this project.

FREE HUGS FOR ABSENTEES, 2023, Video projection 60 minutes.
©Atsushi Watanabe ©I’m here project

The public area of The National Art Center, Tokyo was designed down to the smallest detail by the architect Kurokawa Kisho.

FREE HUGS FOR ABSENTEES, 2023, video projection 60 minutes-this long, uncut video, made with time-lapse photography, captures Watanabe standing in front of Shibuya Station for ten hours straight with a neon sign that reads, “FREE HUGS FOR ABSENTEES.” The video is projected at large scale on a 16-meter-tall, cone-shaped concrete structure, which exudes a strong presence in the first-floor atrium. This makes it look like an outdoor advertisement in an urban space as the artist calls to mind the existence of people who are absent from the space.

According to the definition by Japan’s Cabinet Office,  hikikomori is a person who does not go to work or school, rarely interacts with people outside the family, and stays at home for six months or longer.

I Hate Free Hugs, 2023
Backlight film, light boxes, wooden doors, wood, etc. ©Atsushi Watanabe ©I’m here project

I Hate Free Hugs, 2023 and The Lights for the Absentees, 2021/2023
Backlight film, light boxes, wooden doors, wood, etc.
LED light, lamp shade, smart plug, Wi-Fi, smartphone, monitoring camera
Collection of the I’m here project©Atsushi Watanabe ©I’m here project

According to the Japanese government, an estimated 1.46 million people, or about 2% of the population between the ages of 15 and 64, are withdrawn from society.

Watanabe captured photos of hugs with eight of the participants in the I Hate Free Hugs project on a light box.

I Hate Free Hugs (Action on building rooftops), 2023.
Video projection, 60min.
©Atsushi Watanabe ©I’m here project

Exhibition Overview

NACT View 03: Atsushi Watanabe (I’m here project): I Hate Free Hugs

Period Wed., September 13 to Mon., December 25, 2023

Closed Tuesdays

Hours Same as those of National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT)

Venue Various spaces within NACT, 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558

Admission Free

Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo

Exhibition curator Yukako Yamada (The National Art Center, Tokyo)

English website

For inquiries, call (+81) 47-316-2772 (Hello Dial)

Photo: Keisuke Inoue

Atsushi Watanabe

Born in 1978 in Kanagawa Prefecture, where he currently lives. Completed a post-graduate course at Tokyo University of the Arts. While enrolled in university, Watanabe began creating project style works that deal with various social phenomena and surrounding circumstances in a critical manner. In addition to exhibiting his works, he often appears in the media, published articles, and participates in symposiums. In recent years, his major exhibitions have included How I feel is not your problem, period. (group show, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo), Aichi Triennale 2022 (group show, Aichi Arts Center), Setouchi Triennale 2022 (group show, Kagawa), The Day We Saw the Same Moon (solo show, R16 Studio, Kanagawa, 2021), and 2020 Asia Project: Looking for Another Family (National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Korea, Seoul).