Art Front Gallery Chairman Fram Kitagawa Talks:
In Search of Art as “Social Common Capital”

At the start of 2020, the novel coronavirus became news; in March, it had become a pandemic, and for the next three months, people could hardly even go out of doors. I myself walked to my office, but many Art Front Gallery staff members worked remotely.

            When the novel coronavirus surfaced late in 2019, I was beginning to think about how to implement the three arts festivals scheduled for 2020. I worked with the festivals’ executive committees to hold each of the festivals on the same scale but a year later.

            Art is one aspect of the culture industry, and I could see it exposed to catastrophic risk. I was thinking and acting with all my strength, trying to figure out how to keep going, how to keep the art festivals’ lights from going out.

            Since the restrictions on movement were lifted, I have attempted to go to the regions of  those arts festivals, to realize them in as full a format as possible. Through the creation of works of art, I hope to generate positive futures for those regions.

            With arbitrary repeats of imposing and then lifting restrictions on movement, the government’s requests are becoming less persuasive. In this situation, rural areas are forced to become exclusionary. I understand that they don’t want us to come there from Tokyo. But it is also true that many people who live in the major cities increasingly feel that they might like to go to Echigo-Tsumari or the Seto Inland Sea area, to spend time there, even to live there. That trend is a good opportunity for regions that have aimed at promoting interaction and mingling between city and region.  In fact, the number of people wishing to join the NPO Echigo-Tsumari Satoyama Collaborative Organization has increased significantly, with particularly many requests to join from people in the capital region. The Fram Kitagawa School: How to Make a Regional Art Festival, which began during the pandemic, attracted participants from all over Japan who are now motivated to put what I have to teach in practice in their own locales.

            The pandemic provides an opportunity to think anew about the relationships between human beings and nature. With respect to the natural world, humans are part of nature and also have nature within themselves. Keiko Nakamura, a biohistory researcher, mentions raising children, cooking, gardening, hiking, and art as aspects of nature in everyday life. I sense that more people are treasuring nature in their daily lives and seeking to become closer to it. At the individual, the enterprise, or the societal level, that orientation is growing. We can interpret the workcation as part of that trend.

            This year, we plan to hold, addition to the Boso Satoyama Art Festival: Ichihara Art x Mix, the Northern Alps Art Festival, and the Oku-Noto Triennale, which had been postponed. We will also be holding the eighth Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which was originally scheduled for this year. Their respective executive committees are prepared to move forward, but will it be possible to hold these festivals? At the least, it will, I think be difficult to do so in the format we have used thus far. Art museums providing virtual views of works are among the new ventures using online formats, but they are not working very well. Perhaps the essential fascination of art cannot be communicated virtually.

            At Hillside Terrace, we have held a seminar series entitled “Reading Hirofumi Uzawa—Thinking about current issues in terms of social common capital” since last year. The concept of social common capital proposed by the globally influential economist Hirofumi Uzawa (1928-2014) is now attracting attention because capitalism has reached a dead end and the corona-19 pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of our social infrastructure. Uzawa was a man who understood that increasing productivity is key to prosperity but also thought about how to allocate that prosperity and return it to the people. The device he proposed for that purpose is “social common capital,” which he defined as three large categories: the natural environment (air, water, forests, rivers, oceans, soil, etc.), social infrastructure (roads, transport systems, water and sewage systems, electricity, natural gas, etc.), and institutional capital (educational, medical, financial, legal, administrative, and other systems).

            Uzawa was influenced by the American economist Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929) and sought to realize an institutionalism “in which a decentralized market economy would function smoothly, with stable distribution of real income.” Veblen’s thinking reverberated with the pragmatism of the American philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952) and also goes back to that of Adam Smith, who was born in Britain in the eighteenth century. Social common capital, Uzawa stated, “Has an important role in human beings being able to live suitably human lives; it must not be managed by bureaucratic standards or controlled by market standards solely as the object of pursuit of profit.” Uzawa’s economics sought, through a fair distribution of the wealth that has been created, to contribute to humans living lives rich in sensation, in feelings and perceptions. He thus advocated what he called social common capital. I think we can consider art as one type of social common capital.

            Looking back at the history of art, we can see that works created for the walls and altars of temples and other religious facilities and to decorate palaces evolved into independent paintings. After the age of the bourgeois revolutions, as society became democratized, works of art came to be displayed in galleries and art museums, where many people could see them.

            Art Front Gallery got its start with the sale of one print. Through not only looking at art but also buying it, people could, we hoped, become partners with art and breathe in art in our daily lives. Over time, our efforts have expanded to art dealing, exhibitions, public art, and art festivals. Our hope is that by expanding art to more open settings, we could have more people understand its fascination, responding to art through their five senses, and experience its richness. And now we want to rethink fundamentally what art is. What is the value of art that cannot be gauged by its market price, at art fairs or auctions? What about art that has no scarcity value or is not “enlightened”? I think that I would like to examine every aspect of art we are involved in, including how paintings are sold, public art in redevelopment programs, or art in interiors.

            In regional art festivals, we collaborate with local people to make art, using empty houses, closed schools, and other facilities. Those facilities have become so numerous that maintaining them is a fearsome task, one that we cannot carry out by ourselves. But a movement has begun to emerge in which people outside the region, people who have moved there, and people in the region are sharing that work. That, perhaps, is the sprouting of art as social common capital.

            The Altamira and Lascaux cave paintings, the Yakushi Nyorai (Buddha of Healing) at Jingo Temple, the Winged Victory: all too have depended on cooperation, on sharing. Each work of art is the product of an individual’s practice. But that depends on a human community. I am seeking an approach to art that is at least a little closer to that understanding of shared value.

            There: I have told you my dream for this new year.

Fram Kitagawa

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