A year ago, the novel coronavirus infection spread worldwide, and along with this, the decision was made to postpone three art festivals that were originally scheduled for last year (”Boso Satoyama Art Festival: Ichihara Art x Mix”, “Northern Alps Art Festival“, and “Oku-Noto Triennale“) for almost one year. All the parties concerned regarded this year as the time given to enhance the content and prepare necessary operating measures, and have thus worked hard in their respective positions. Nevertheless the pandemic is yet to be resolved, and the situation continues to be in flux.
“Ichihara Art x Mix” is on standby so that it can open at any time, but preparations have inevitably been stopped due to the Stay-at-home request, resulting in a delay for the works to be presented to the public. We are still unable to prepare performances, food, and tour related events and activities. Our hopes are to present the festival as much as possible in it’s full spec, and the works are all ready for viewing.
Preparations are also underway to fully present the “Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale” which is schedule to take place later this year. However, since it was not at all possible to invite the overseas artists to Japan last year as had been anticipated, new measures and plans are required regarding the specific production of the works.
In the case of the Northern Alps Art Festival, and Oku-Noto Triennale, the overseas artists had completed their site visits prior to the pandemic, yet there are three or so works in both that cannot be realized without the artist being present. This also applies to one work in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale. While the artists are willing to comply with necessary precautions including two weeks self-quarantine both prior to and after their stay in Japan, the reality is that there are many difficulties.
The situation is similar for the Setouchi Triennale scheduled for next year, with the selection of artists and corresponding site visits having been put to a halt.
The above is the current status of the five art festivals for which I serve as general director.
What the Covid-19 Pandemic Brought to Light
The pandemic urged us to confront the fact that human beings have no choice but to live together with and in consideration of nature. In the midst of such circumstances, I believe that the fundamental concept of the festivals, such as Echigo-Tsumari’s “Human Beings are a Part of Nature” and Setouchi’s “Restoration of the Sea” have truly reached the hearts of many. Ways of life that are in harmony with such concepts remain in the countryside, and people in the cities have noticed and developed an awareness of this through visiting these sites. Art festivals set in Satoyama and Satoumi (landscapes that have been formed and maintained by prolonged interaction between humans and ecosystems), depopulated areas, and mountainous areas are therefore currently being re-evaluated, and I feel that expectations for these art festivals are rising.
Last summer, after the state of emergency period had ended and travel restrictions were lifted, many people visited Echigo-Tsumari and enjoyed spending time there. People within the local area and community had also come to reconsider the value of the “Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale.” This instilled us with great confidence, and was an experience that would lead to the future.
The effects of environmental changes are manifested in various forms, including the frequent occurrence of disasters, and the onset of novel and new mutant strain viruses. I feel once again that creating a well-prepared system in response to such issues is indeed a prerequisite for holding art festivals.
The drastic changes in the natural environment have clearly conveyed how urban homogenous spaces are highly at risk. While the social system of the city itself is being questioned, the possibility of economic activity in the countryside is being opened up.
The Evolution / Deepening of Each Art Festival
Each of the five art festivals has evolved over time.
Ichihara Art x Mix takes place in the southern Satoyama region that accounts for half of Ichihara City, Chiba Prefecture. As with other art festival sites, depopulation is progressing, and we are engaging in efforts to develop projects and present works centering on areas around the local Kominato-Railway, which has been struggling to survive. The works of the “Station Building Project” connect each station, and serve as a point of entry to introduce the various facilities that that are scattered across the region.
The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, which meets its eighth installment, is entering a stage of community development with focus on local villages and facilities from an art festival centered on the showcasing of artworks. Currently, various projects are underway in ten hub facilities.
For example, at KINARE, the museum of contemporary art is being renovated, and its permanent exhibition is facing a renewal. Furthermore, in its newly established galleries, a special exhibition will be held featuring works from the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, Russia, which boasts the world’s second largest collection.
Matsudai NOHBUTAI and the Joyama area will present the co-existence of nature and human activities, centered on the works of Ilya & Emilia Kabakov.
Sansho House aims to become a base for the area of Matsunoyama as a place (accommodation facility) for artists, supporters, and guests to meet and interact with each other, while also working in cooperation with the Ongoing Collective and the Sony’s “Ignite Your Ambition (IGNT)” program.
The former Shimizu Elementary School will become an archive facility for regional art festivals around the world under the direction of artist Tadashi Kawamata, as well as a library for art and culture based on the collection of the late art critic Yusuke Nakahara.
The Kiyotsu Soko Museum aims to be a place to present the ecology of Echigo-Tsumari region as a whole, along with the works of Yukihisa Isobe who has developed the ideas that serve as the backbone of the festival, and will also be a venue for hosting special exhibitions.
Kamigo Clove Theater is a residence facility that also functions as a venue for performances. Efforts will also be made for Katakuri no Yado to focus on presenting the appeals of the unique village culture that has been nurtured amidst the heavy snowfall of the unexplored region of Akiyamago.
The first installment of the Northern Alps Art Festival was based on the concept of “Water, Trees, Earth, Sky,” with vivid and refreshing art works having been developed against the backdrop of the rich nature of Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture. On this occasion, for its second installment, we bring particular focus to the theme of “Water” in hopes to shed light on the relationship between water and the human activities that unfold within the Northern Alps.
The Oku-Noto Triennale, which also meets its second installment, has engaged in a variety of unique activities as “a foremost art festival at the furthest edge of the world”, using the entire city of Suzu at the tip of the Noto Peninsula as its setting.
In particular, the on-going “Okurazarae” project entails local residents to collect and investigate things that may lose their place such as everyday articles, which have come to be regarded as folk art, that lie stowed away in the homes and storehouses of the elderly. With the involvement of artists, the results of these endeavors will be presented in a theater-style folklore museum where preservation and art coexist. This project will no doubt become a milestone as homes begin to be passed on from one generation to next across the nation.
The Setouchi Triennale is shifting from the efforts implemented by the entire Setouchi region, to movements led by each municipality. Meetings are ongoing both locally on site, and online.
Interest from Overseas
There is a great deal of interest from overseas as to how we, through these efforts to hold art festivals, are able to bring ourselves closer to “the nature and style of art in the 21st century” accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Artists contemplate ways and ideas for participating in art festivals in Japan amidst difficulties of not being able to freely travel, and express much enthusiasm.
We connect with artists both in Japan and overseas online, to communicate more closely than ever before and hold meetings to think of ways to make works more interesting. In the midst of the pandemic, artists have strived to deepen their thoughts and transform them into a driving force for creation. Such is evident from the Instagram project “Artists’ Breath,” which we have continued to implement since June last year. The works you encounter at the art festivals would no doubt live up to our expectations.