How do you solve a geopolitical problem like Kim Jong Un? Containment? Embargoes? Propaganda? Regime change? Synchronized baseball?
Yosuke Ushigome is a designer and technologist, and not a diplomat, which explains why his solution is a little unorthodox. He invented the hybrid sport of synchronized baseball, which combines the mass gymnastics heritage of North Korea with baseball, a national pastime in Japan and South Korea, as a way of settling the differences on the Korean Peninsula.
Ushigome’s proposal, which he developed into a video for a series called “Commoditised Warfare” as part of his MA project at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in London, has as its core the idea to replace war and conflict with spectacles that have a competitive and voyeuristic appeal to them. Hence, the giant model stadium ship he engineered, to be commandeered by the United Nations and moored in the Sea of Japan. On board the ship, the warring sides would battle it out for the prize of peace.
Other tense situations resolved in “Commoditised Warfare” pitch Britain against Argentina in a game of minesweepers on the Falkland Islands (with cameras operated by the colony of resident penguins). India and Pakistan face off in a silly walks contest aboard elaborately decorated dump trucks, with chauvinism diluted by theater ending in a handshake.
By 2010, the 25-year-old Ushigome had completed his studies at Keio University and the University of Tokyo graduate school, but he had grown somewhat disillusioned with the direction design was taking in his hometown of Tokyo. Ushigome says he was more interested in the implication of design than its application, which often felt like it was being straitjacketed into entertainment.
He was looking around for the next step and when he stumbled across a course in design interactions at the RCA — a postgraduate college of art that counts artists Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili and David Hockney as graduates, as well as industrial designer James Dyson and film director Ridley Scott — it “seemed like the perfect fit.”
Except at first it wasn’t, or at least at first attempt it wasn’t.
Ushigome says he “completely failed” first time round. He explains he hadn’t fully prepared for the interviews and getting funding. Looking back, he says he was let down by language ability and portfolio. However, he wasn’t disheartened by the rejection and resolved to reapply: “I thought I could just give it another try.”