Out of Tokyo

221: The Future of Setouchi and Aichi
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: October 01, 2010

Two international art festivals that were both launched this year are currently open at the Seto Inland Sea (Setouchi International Art Festival 2010, 7/19-10/31) and Nagoya (Aichi Triennale 2010, 8/21-10/31) respectively. Both are new, and old at the same time. In other words, they both aim to incorporate new approaches while based on somewhat outdated frameworks. However I'm not going to criticize, but rather want to point out a few promising favorable features.


First I have to admit that I visited both events for only about two days each before and after the respective opening, which means that there is quite a lot that I haven't seen yet. "Before" refers to the press preview a day before the official kick-off, so "after" there was not enough time anyway to check out all of the countless works on display. From the eight venues of the Setouchi festival, I managed to see exhibits at five islands and part of Takamatsu City, while in Aichi I didn't make it to one of the four main venues. The latter includes a fair amount of performing arts, and although I am planning to catch more or less all of the pieces on the program at some point, most of them I naturally haven't managed to see yet.


Sejima Kazuyo & Yanagi Yukinori "Inujima Art House Project: Dollar Web Garden" (Inujima, Setouchi) | REALTOKYO
Sejima Kazuyo & Yanagi Yukinori "Inujima Art House Project: Dollar Web Garden" (Inujima, Setouchi)
Shiota Chiharu "Farther Memory" (Teshima Island, Setouchi) | REALTOKYO
Shiota Chiharu "Farther Memory" (Teshima Island, Setouchi)
Sugimoto Hiroshi "Shaberu shovel" (Megijima Island, Setouchi) | REALTOKYO
Sugimoto Hiroshi "Shaberu shovel" (Megijima Island, Setouchi)
Cai Guo-Qiang "Bijingyo" (Aichi Arts Center) | REALTOKYO
Cai Guo-Qiang "Bijingyo" (Aichi Arts Center)
Miyanaga Aiko "Yui" (Aichi Arts Center) | REALTOKYO
Miyanaga Aiko "Yui" (Aichi Arts Center)
La Ribot "Laughing Hole" (Aichi Arts Center) | REALTOKYO
La Ribot "Laughing Hole" (Aichi Arts Center)

As for the "outdated frameworks", I first have to mention that the choice of Kitagawa Fram as General Director at Setouchi already suggested a carbon copy of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial. From the "regional revitalization" theme to the recruitment of volunteers, the methods and policies that were appropriate for the sparsely settled rural stage of Echigo-Tsumari were adopted again for the depopulated island settings. A difference seemed to be a slightly higher degree of "artistry" in Setouchi. This is perhaps due to the different characters of Kitagawa, who intended to steer clear of the commercial art scene and stated that "more important than the art is the festival" (from an interview with ART iT), and General Producer Fukutake Soichiro, who invested several billion yen from his own pocket in the creation of "islands of art" based on the collection he had built over many years. Fukutake the business manager balances theory and practice, and he obviously "bought into" Kitagawa’s practical know-how in terms of managing large-scale art festivals, even though he has different ideas. Fukutake may be supporting Echigo-Tsumari, but that event is Kitagawa’s own baby, and vice versa, Setouchi is totally the brainchild of Fukutake Soichiro.


As a result, we can now marvel at an array of 20th century style quality exhibits, mostly by solidly skilled artists. At the same time, we also have to endure the rather poor efforts – once again, in a 20th century style – of young creators that seem ambitioned but aren't really innovative. The first category is just fine. This country is suffering from a substantial lack of good exhibitions, and filling in this gap was probably one of Fukutake’s aims with the festival. The big problem lies in the second group. With a budget of that size, it must be fairly easy to do something really groundbreaking, so bridging generations by commissioning young artists with experimental works would be something that should be considered for the next installments. Sugimoto Hiroshi’s works, shown at Fukutake House, are plain ridiculous. "Shaberu shovel", "Sekai no kigen", and "Sekai no sentakushi" – each title a cheap play on words. Probably conceived in three minutes and realized in less than an hour, such "pseudo-readymade art" has to be a form of debauchery that is only granted to those bigwigs that came out of the "bubble" era with a profit, and now indulge in architectural design and collecting antiques.


The works of Miyanaga Aiko and Hans Op de Beeck are brilliant (whereas Miyanaga’s is impaired a bit by the noisy video shown in the next booth). Nonetheless, there isn't much experimentation going on in Aichi as well. Two of the four main venues are museums, the other two a shopping district and a warehouse – a lineup that sounds very familiar from the dozens of biennales and triennales staged around the globe these days. One of the few positive features is an exhibition introducing young artists' works selected from submissions from the general public, but not even one of the pieces on display comes across refreshingly unconventional, as they are just as lamentably low-end as those in Setouchi. Something fundamentally different is what is needed here too.


Especially noteworthy in Aichi is the number of installations/performances. However, I found neither La Ribot’s "Laughing Hole" nor Hirata Oriza’s "robot theater", performed as an opening event, particularly interesting. I'm rather looking forward to seeing the upcoming pieces by Umeda Hiroaki, Ikeda Ryoji and Antonia Baehr. Anyway, what is elemental here is a setup deliberately designed by the organizers to encourage communication between performing artists' fans and fans of visual artists. If this doesn't happen, it simply makes no sense to invite and present artists from both genres at the same event.


Ishinha "When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched " (Inujima, Setouchi) | REALTOKYO Ishinha "When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched " (Inujima, Setouchi) | REALTOKYO
Ishinha "When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched " (Inujima, Setouchi)

Some potential in this respect I seemed to detect in Ishinha’s "When a Gray Taiwanese Cow Stretched", staged as part of the Setouchi festival on Inujima Island. Against a backdrop formed by the remains of a former refinery and the Seto Inland Sea, this history play was seasoned with such interesting temporal/spatial themes as "modernization" (imperialism, war) and "ocean" ("Japonesia", Ryukyu arc, Eastern Eurasia), however the most impressive sight was the wooden stage that was built as usual by all company members. The geometric construction defined primarily by large amounts of orthogonally assembled lumber smoothly incorporated also the refinery’s chimney as a vertical, and the skyline of the Seto Inland Sea as a horizontal element, which together functioned as an apparatus to visualize the "warp and woof" of history. In his exquisite essay on Manet, "Manet and the Object of Painting", Michel Foucault claims that the rectangular shapes defined by vertical and horizontal lines in Manet’s work suggest the painter’s canvas. As Ishinha have been creating sceneries rather unrelated to the framework of the proscenium arch, one can't say that the vertical and horizontal lines here make up an allegory of the stage. Nevertheless, it is quite entertaining to watch the piece while imagining that company leader Matsumoto Yukichi, who originally comes from visual arts, chose Manet as an underlying theme. It would be even greater fun if it were indeed an unconscious citation.


Be that as it may, all this doesn't take effect if no art fans come and watch it – or alternatively, if theatre fans don't decipher the context of fine art. The state of "artistic genres trapped in an octopus pot" that has probably occurred several times in the course of history keeps undermining the world since the 1970s. Let’s expect from these two new art festivals that they shatter the pot to free all the big and small octopuses, and let them roam around as they like.

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO