In order to be able to reach some more remote artwork, we did want many visitors to when they visit the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale: we rented a car. In a compact, hybrid Toyota we set off to explore the Kawanishi area north of Tōkamachi and soon encountered the artwork Traces of Memory and Forest of Tomorrow (K-107) by Kunimatsu Kenta.
The work engages in what used to be a sumo-wrestling ring next to Senju shrine: together with local residents, the artist had selected a number of large round stones in the nearby river and placed the stones around the sumo ring to indicate it original place. Four golden poles (cast imprints of wooden poles) are placed in each corner of the raised platform as indication of a roof or canopy in the past. Other stones were spread out in larger circles around the platform.
A group of local residents sat inside the Senju shrine and would ask visitors inside for a cup of tea and a chat. Historical photos inside the front room of the shrine shows how the sumo tournament used to look like. One of the local residents recommended a special soba-inari (inari-sushi with yakisoba inside instead of rice), so we found the local shop and bought some for our lunch. Flags around the small shopping centre advertises Kawanishi shigure (local dishes with pork meat) by letting heads of piglets drizzle down into the famous Jōmon pot that is a national treasure in Japan and stored in the Tōkamachi city museum.
On our way, north we passed the artwork entitled Passage (K-034) by Ashitaka Hiromi. Placed on both sides of a bus stop shed, the work is a long bench cast in white fibreglass. The artist collaborated with children at a local school to think of things to say to a stranger while waiting for the bus, such as “good morning” or “the season is soon over”. These sentences are cast into the backrest of each seat along the bench. Given the scarcity of local buses in this area, not many may have a chance to use of these icebreakers, and I doubt that the bench will ever be full. Individual cars have taken over as the main means of transportation.
The next work was, in fact, a car. Created by the Turkish/Dutch/German artist Ahmet Öǧüt, the work The Drifters (K-093) refers to the subcultural practice in Saudi Arabia of driving very fast in a four-wheel drive car and making the car lean over so only the two wheel on one side of the car are on the ground. The most sophisticated drifters are able to sit outside on the windowsill while still holding the car in this position at high speed, and being able to steer with one hand. Apparently, cars made in Japan are especially good for this kind of spectacular sport.
On the other side of the road is the work Kyōkai no shinwa (Mythologies of boundaries, K-033) by Uchida Shigeru. There is a number of animal-like plastic sculpture on four legs, like headless sheep grassing at the roadside. Lines from the book Images and Symbols by Romanian philosopher and historian of religion Mircea Eliade are inscribed a wall of iron sheets. One sentence goes: “Let us note that the same images are still invoked in our own days when people want to formulate the dangers that menace a certain type of civilization: there is much talk of ‘chaos’, of ‘disorder’, of the ‘dark ages’ into which ‘our world’ is subsiding.”
We arrived to Nakago Green Park, which featured a number of art projects in the park as well as in the surroundings. The project Satoyama Art Zoo (K-094) consists of a number of animal-like sculptures made by different artists and placed around on the lawn in the middle of the park. The animals would span from a friendly bear (by Hirasawa Yuki), abstract monkey-faces coming out of the ground (by Miura Yoshihiro), an inflatable giant frog (by Takahashi Shiro), oxen made of straw (by Matsumoto Yuma and Wara Art Japan) to comic figures (by Kuratani Kazuki) and those of the uncanny (by Kyaneco + Yamashita Wakaba).
Next to the zoo project, another group of sculptural animals make up the artwork by Fujiwara Yoshiko entitled Homage to Rachel Carson: Four little stories (K-003). This is among the first artworks at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, produced in 2000 and still present in the landscape. The signs for artworks back in 2000 were more elaborate and detailed about the content and references of the work as they are today. This work is a tribute to the American marine biologist and writer Rachel Carson, whose book Silent Spring from 1962 is a combination of poetry and science writing, revealing the effect of chemical pesticides in the environment. The rabbit, the birdman, the donkey and the Parthenon temple are references to Carson’s book, which during the 1960s and beyond have had a huge influence on the environmental movements in USA and elsewhere.
From the park, we walked uphill to visit the House of Light (K-005) by American light artist James Turrell. A black wooden house on poles build in traditional Japanese style with engawa and beautiful tatami room that were open for the view of the landscape outside. In one of the rooms, the roof is made to slide away and provide a view from the floor into the sky. This feature is available for people who book a sleepover at the house where you can lie on the floor and watch the night sky. There is installed coloured light sources other places around in the house: in the ceiling and along doorways, or in the water of the elegant o-furo pool.
On our way back down the hill again, we encountered several landscape artworks or large outdoor sculptures such as Taho Ritsuko, who has made large hieroglyphs from ancient time as large-scale earthworks (K-023), and Saitoh Ghiju’s Time Space (K-002). Mongolian artist Amarsaikhan Namsraijav has created a wagon out of logs and sticks, perhaps indicating a kind of relationship between nomadic people and “nature”, but also addressing currents topics in the title Migration Echo (K-095).
With the car, we drove on to a nearby mountain, adorned with a reconstruction of an old tower as part of Fushikuro castle. Next to the tower is an artwork: Shirakawa Yoshio’s Circulartory Stone (K-008) is a stone carved as a miniature model of the landscape you can see in front of you (-if the weather is not too cloudy).
We drove on to Fushikurojoseki campsite, which featured two sculptures at the entrance: Kang Hee-joon’s Fanfare Echo (K-097) and Szigeti Csongor’s Private Trap 6.0 (K-102). The campsite was empty; no one seemed to be staying there. Three cottages designated at art projects were placed in the forest, but the cottages were closed except if you have booked for an over-night stays. Further into the bushes of the area were another three outdoor sculptures. Parts of a Giant Gardener (K-013) by Esther Albardané sprout from the ground here and there.
Yanagi Kenji’s work The Sky and Earth Observatory (K-014) consists of stairway sculptures made of concrete that provide a view over the landscape while informing the visitor about different geographical distances to other places in the world and the universe (for example Moscow 7.502 km, Uranus 2.726.497.265 km). Portuguese artist José de Guimarães has created a group of colourful abstract sculptures placed in an open space in the forest. Entitled Route of Meditation, Way to the Sky (K-012), each of the five sculptures refer to a Japanese poet or writer, for example Kame no Chōmei. On our back down the mountain again, was yet another sculpture in the forest, namely Yoshimizu Hiroshi’s Sentry of Forest (K-007), an abstract rendering of the kanji kawa (river) which is included in the name of the area.
At the campsite we also encountered one of the old signposts for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, Designed by José de Guimarães, they refer to the time when the festival was entitled Tsumari Art Necklace and was limited to the public parks in the Kawanishi area. There are about 50 different designs, and they are now marked as artworks (A002).
It seems that the first artworks to appear in 2000 in what would later become the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale are mostly outdoor sculpture in modernist style and form, and not related to the site in which it is placed. The “old” sculptures are most often placed in public parks or places that does not interfere with local everyday life. It seems as if over the years new artworks have become more integrated with the location and recently also engaging the local population more often in production and/or maintenance.
There are also new sculpture in the landscapes, such as a special exhibition curated this year by YATOO, a “nature artist” group from South Korea. They have invited a number of artists from around the globe to present artworks that present ideas about the co-existence between humans and nature. The works include the work Cloth for a Dying Tree (K-099) by Patrick Tagoe-Trukson from Ghana; in which a tree close to the roadside is wrapped in cloth made of small pieces of coloured rubber glued together.
Another work is catching the Wind a Sculptural Forest (K-101) by South African artist Strijdom van der Merwe, and Sphere (K-103) by Swiss artist Urs Twellmann. Korean artist Yi Yong-duck made A Dreaming Horse (K-104), in which the technique of bending piece of wood into round forms is visible.
The highlight of today was when we reached the small village of Takakura, where the artist group Rikigosan (a combination of kanji from the names Katō Riki, Watanbe Godai and Yamazaki Shinichi) has made the project entitled Tōkamachi Takakura hakubutsukan – Kaeru tokoro (Tōkamachi Takakura museum – a place to return to, K-106). The artists have transformed the gymnasium of the former local school into an ethnographic museum containing a large amount of agricultural tool and folk craft artefacts that were used in everyday life in a not too far past.
We entered in one end of the building and were guided on to a platform on second floor that opened out into the main building in its full height. At first it was completely dark, but after a while, small spots of light would light up somewhere in the space, accompanied by a sound of a beat on an object. Then another spotlight another place in the darkness along with another sound. Gradually, the spotlights and the sounds would speed up, and one by one, the myriads of objects and tools piled up in the bottom and along both sides of the building would become visible for brief moments.
At some point, the mode shifts, and now the beating sounds are replaced by voices of old people explaining the specific object or tool while the object is lit up. Some of these explanations are also transcribed and written on board with an image of the object by the platform railing. On the outside of the building, some of the tools and objects are reproduced in colour on the snow shield wooden boards.
This art project has clearly engaged the local population in the production of the work. The knowledge of the village people of how to use or make the everyday tools is transmitted through the recorded voices. They speak in local dialect, you can hear the age in their voice, some coughing and laughing.
Riki Go San has been active in the village of Takakura at Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale since 2009, each time with a different project. Read more on the website of the artists here: https://maiko46.wixsite.com/rikigosan
The final artwork on our way back to Tōkamachi was Kasukabe Kan’s 20 minutes’ walk (K-029), which mainly contained an outdoor open display case. A series of images and some text explains two different kinds of rice paddies in this area, segae and tanada, and how they were made by either changing the flow of the river or by constructing stair-shaped fields in the slopes produced by landslides. Apparently, there used to be a model of one-tenth scale next to the showcase, but since this was made in 2003, it may have been overgrown since then – we could not find it. However, we took a walk along some of the segae paddies before heading back.