Northern Illinois University

Northern Today

'Unpacked / Offset'
Artist Gabriel Akagawa gives a massage to Lynn Batalden in exchange for a nature story.


Art Museum invites participation
in ‘Unpacked/Offset’ exhibition

April 21, 2008

Drop in for a cup of tea. Enjoy Dr. Suess’ “The Lorax” while hearing native bird calls. Trade a nature story Friday, May 2, or Friday, May 9, for a massage by artist/curator Gabriel Akagawa.

Pick up a free seed packet donated by Prairie Moon Nursery. Look at how community artists and NIU students have reflected on mankind’s relation to nature in the local area, and join in the dialogue. Add your eco-friendly event to the calendar and your ideas on the needs of the community on chalkboards in the gallery.

All of these are ways to get involved with the social artwork of Akagawa at the NIU Art Museum. The NIU Art Museum hosts “Gabriel Bizen Akagawa: Unpacked / Offset” through Saturday, May 10, as part of a suite of nature-themed exhibitions.

“Unpacked / Offset” is a collaborative installation project in which area students, community artists and visiting artist/curator Akagawa recreate “nature” within reclaimed art shipping crates, and contribute additional artwork commenting on environmental concerns, such as offsetting carbon emissions.

Throughout the course of the exhibition, Akagawa is encouraging and seeking further community participation such as contributing a “tree story,” joining him on a nature walk and contributing to a dialogue by contacting him directly at Anyone can contribute to the project in this way.

More information about these and other related projects is online at

Akagawa, who considers his art practice a form of medicine, is asking for community input to help reflect on the health of the DeKalb area community. Part of art’s healing qualities manifest in Akagawa’s use of massage as a form of trade. He connects to the community with conversation while providing personal interactions that promote health.

Akagawa has been giving free massages as part of his artwork for more than five years. He was taught by his family in Japan who give massages as part of their barbering practice. He extends this into the gallery as an exchange program where he trades free head, neck, arm and hand massages for stories about nature in the DeKalb area. He is looking to create a gallery and online archive of the history of natural events, ecologies and any experiences with nature in this region. 

There will be 10-minute sessions May 2 and 9 during gallery hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at the NIU Art Museum. He will massage by appointment and for limited walk-ins. To ensure a massage, please e-mail him at with a desired time and a nature story. Participants also can choose to dictate an audio recorded story on site.

Akagawa, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, has experience working on community collaborations.

He recently was awarded a residency at the Alternator Gallery for Contemporary Art in Canada, where he conducted environment-based, community-collaborative projects. One involved school children who released biodegradable balloons to visualize air pollution from car exhaust. Attached to the balloons were statements from each student about pollution with a request to the finder to respond by e-mail their own message concerning pollution.

The NIU Art Museum is located on the first floor, west end of Altgeld Hall. Galleries are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment for group tours. Exhibitions are free; donations are appreciated.

Exhibitions of the NIU Art Museum are funded in part by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, the Friends of the NIU Art Museum and the Arts Fund 21.

For more information, visit or call (815) 753-1936.