The toast-ess with the mostess: An interview with Toast Girl

The toast-ess with the mostess: An interview with Toast Girl

We sit down with female Japanese performance artist Toastie to talk about how she got into the business of putting toasters on her head and baguettes on her hands
Toast Girl
Baguette Bardot poses in a Boulangerie kitchen with french boulanger (dancers) and her baguette baby for the video clip "Contact." Photo by Alain Sacrez.

Wearing a toaster affixed to a construction helmet and a bright red wig, performance artist Toastie, as she calls herself, is Toast Girl -- literally making toast on her head. Other times she is "Tokyo Tower C Ko," an aging one-hit-wonder with an affinity for One Cup sake and scrubbing brushes. With these multiple personalities in tow, the unconventional artist has sung, danced and toasted stages both underground and on TV, in Tokyo and abroad.

Her latest incarnation is Baguette Bardot, a tragic blonde whose arms are loaves of French bread. Convinced that the French "would hate it," she took a trip to Paris last summer that resulted happily in the production of her first CD and DVD "The Best of Baguette Bardot," released this month. With a group show at Nanzuka Underground just behind her and a launch party to look forward to, we met up with Toastie, to find out what she really thinks of bread, performing and mountain dwelling ascetics.

Toastie feted her CD and DVD launch with an event, French Toast Deluxe, at Super Deluxe on April 10. The eccentric line-up included Baguette Bardot backed by the French Toast Orchestra, a human Eiffel Tower, burlesque dancers and baguette vendors.

CNNGo: You've created a number of characters over the years, each with elaborate stories, and now Baguette Bardot. What's her story?

Toastie: This woman has been living inside of me since about 2001, but she didn't come out until two years ago. At the beginning I was just playing, putting baguettes on my hands and dancing around, the name and the character came later.

CNNGo: So you really have your hands inside the baguettes?

Toast GirlToastie performs as Tokyo Tower C Ko.Toastie: Yeah, I hollow them out and wear them like gloves. Every time I do a show the hardest thing is finding the right baguettes. They have to be fresh and not too skinny.

CNNGo: Looking at both Toast Girl and Baguette Bardot, it seems like you've got a thing for bread.

Toastie: It really has nothing to do with whether I like bread or not! Also the motivation for cooking toast on my head and having bread on my hands is totally different. With Toast Girl, more than bread, it's about the image of the toaster, as a kind of notebook where all kinds of things come out from inside me, like thoughts and memories. And announcements that come from the sky.

CNNGo: How did Toast Girl come about in the first place?

Toastie: I was in art school in Australia majoring in painting, but I didn't want to paint anymore. Then I just started making toast. The toaster was the only thing in my kitchen that moved by itself, so it seemed alive to me. I felt like it was my friend -- and I know this isn't really possible -- like it understood me. The pops of toast were like replies. Playing around I was making a lot of toast, and really back then I didn't like bread that much, so it was going to waste. Then I thought "I should do this in public." Because I was in art school, people said it was performance art. This saved me because then I didn't have to paint anymore and I could just make toast and graduate. 

CNNGo: First the toaster, and then the vacuum cleaners and scrubbing brushes, there are a lot of symbols of domesticity in your work. Should we read something into this?

Toast GirlBaguette Bardot paints in chocolate with her baguette hands.Toastie: I guess I just want to communicate with what is around me. There is so much around us that is naturally amazing, why do people keep making things without looking into them? Living in a place like Australia, I felt really energetic, despite being kind of depressed. Like I could really cook toast or that I could fly with these [vacuum cleaners]. I think maybe one day people will be able to do this. In the future maybe we won't need electricity. Maybe we will be able to charge our mobiles with ourselves. We have a lot of natural software inside. We don't use it, but we should.

CNNGo: You tend to perform at entertainment venues rather than art establishments, is this frustrating as an artist?

Toastie: I realize that people often only see the surface of what I do. They think it's cute that I make toast on my head. I want to find something in between art and entertainment but it seems like it isn't possible. If someone thinks "this is entertainment," then it isn't art anymore. If someone thinks "this is art" then it's not entertainment anymore maybe. Performance art and performing arts are really different. With performing arts there is a goal to move the audience. With performance art there is no end, because I have to find an answer in myself. That's why I've been doing this for 12 years. I feel almost like I am in training, looking for something inside, like some invisible natural energy, like the yamabushi hermits do.


Rebecca Milner came to Tokyo in 2002 from California. She reports on culture in its myriad forms (from beauty to bars) and maintains (somewhat irregularly) an online portfolio at legwork.wordpress.com.
Read more about Rebecca Milner