Embark On An Art Journey – Highlights from the Setouchi Triennale 2016

Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin
Wang Wen Chih’s Dream of Olive
Wang Wen Chih’s Dream of Olive
Shodoshima Gelato Recipes Project
Sou Fujimoto’s Naoshima pavilion
Benesse Art Site Naoshima
Lee Ufan Museum
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Christie Lee on one of the most exhausting – but also most fulfilling – art trip she’d ever gone on.

TEXT & IMAGES: Christie Lee

Yayoi Kusama's pumpkin
Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin

 

Two pieces of advice that I wish somebody had given me before I embarked on my first ever Setouchi Triennale. Bring a car – or at least someone who has one – and brush up your sign language – because however many tourists the festival attracts every edition, English as lingua franca doesn’t really apply on the Seto islands.

Evidently a Setouchi virgin, I’d stupidly thought I could tour most of the sites of Japan’s largest international art festival within 2 days. And while that is possible – provided that you have a car – we recommend that you reserve at least 4 days. The journey to the islands averages 35 minutes by ferry from Takamatsu port, where most of the accommodations are.

Held every three years, the Setouchi Triennale was founded in 1988 by Japanese businessman Soichiro Fukutake as a one-man effort to revive the area. While known for its beautiful, undulating landscape, the Seto Inland Sea was partially destroyed after years of unscrupulous industrialisation. The festival had its roots in Naoshima, but it quickly spilled over to the other islands. To allow for the maximum amount of visitors, the festival is spread over three sessions: Spring, Summer and Autumn.

 

We started off our tour with the biggest island, Shodoshima. Framing the sea from afar, Choi Jeong Kwa’s Gift of the Sun holds strong sentiments: every gold leaf is engraved with a message of a Seto island child conveying their dreams for the future.

 

Wang Wen Chih's Dream of Olive
Wang Wen Chih’s Dream of Olive
Wang Wen Chih's Dream of Olive
Wang Wen Chih’s Dream of Olive

 

We hop on a bus that meanders its way through verdant farmlands to arrive at our second stop. Located amid lush rice terraces, Wang Wen Chih’s domed Dream of Olive was conceived from 4000 pieces of locally-sourced bamboo, its cool interiors providing a welcoming respite in the dead of summer.

 

Shodoshima Gelato Recipes Project
Shodoshima Gelato Recipes Project

 

We made a stop at the Shodoshima Gelato Recipes Project, a gelato shop with interiors designed by graf + FURYU and an unusual menu (the Sake was divine after a morning spent traipsing across hills under the blistering sun) designed by The Island Lab. The Setouchi Triennale places a huge emphasis on community and Komame-tei, located just a five-minute-walk away, is the perfect embodiment of this. Artist Satoshi Murakami converted a small storehouse into his home during the spring session, where he served hotpot to family and friends, and documented his month-long journey on the walls.

 

We ended our day with Taiwanese artist Lin Shuen Long’s Beyond the Borders – Tide – an evocative piece that commemorates the hundreds of children that have been lost at sea.

 

Sou Fujimoto's Naoshima pavilion
Sou Fujimoto’s Naoshima pavilion

 

Naoshima is the land of the blue-chippers. As we step off the ferry at the Miyanoura port, we see adults and kids clamouring in and out of Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkin. Just a short walk away, Sou Fujimoto’s Naoshima pavilion, weaved from stainless metal mesh, reminds of a rough angular seashell.

 

The island’s Honmura port also plays host to a few of Yuko Hasegawa’s Art House Projects. The very first, Kadoya, was a 200-year-old house was restored by artist Tatsuo Miyajima using local materials in 1998. Within the dark yet airy chamber, a LED display flashes up the digits 1-9 beneath a dark square pool. Conceived by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Go’o Shrine is a twist on the traditional shine – aside from restoring the basic parts of the Shinto shrine, the artist also added a glass staircase and a stone chamber, which juxtaposes against the rawness of the stone chamber.

 

Benesse Art Site Naoshima
Benesse Art Site Naoshima

 

It’s no exaggeration to say that Tadao Ando contributed more to Naoshima’s architectural landscape than any other architect. Our tour of the maestro’s works begins at the Chichu Art museum. James Turrell’s site-specific light installations played with our senses, Monet’s water lilies were eternally mesmerising, but it was Walter de Maria’s Time/Timeless/No Time, consisting of gold leaf-adorned geometric columns and a single marble sphere in the middle, that was most sharply executed. A keen exercise in spatiality, geometry and tonality, the installation mightn’t command the same spine-tingling sensation as Lightning Field, the artist’s seminal work in 1977, but it arguably demands more mental acuity from the viewer.

 

A short 10-minute walk, the Ando-designed Lee Ufan museum beckons. Given the reappraisal of the Japanese minimalist art movement in recent years, Lee is a familiar name, but there are few better places to get to the heart of the Mono-ha artist’s concept of Yohaku (‘emptiness’ in Japanese) than here. The museum is divided into different chambers, and viewers are led through a room of the artist’s abstract paintings, to the Silence Room, where a gigantic steel plate leans against the walls, and Shadow room, to the Meditation room.

 

Lee Ufan Museum
Lee Ufan Museum

 

More amazing architecture awaits on Teshima Island. Realised by architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito, the Teshima Art Museum explores the boundaries between nature, architecture and art. Made of a white concrete pod shell, the museum is devoid of any columns, art hanging systems or captions, its elliptical openings allowing whatever natural element – beam of a light, rainwater what have you – to infiltrate the space.

 

The summer session of the Setouchi Triennale runs until September 4, the Fall session runs from October 8 to November 6.

 

 


Christie Lee is a Hong Kong-based arts journalist, her articles have been published in Art + Auction, Artsy Editorial, Art in Asia, Baccarat magazine and Yishu. She has a degree in English literature and political science from McGill University.

 
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