On 12 March 2011, the day after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a great earthquake struck the region where the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale is held. The devastating effects of the earthquake threatened the fifth Triennale planned for the following year, but the local residents were not discouraged and committed to the work needed to rebuild in time for the festival. The Triennale team were initially puzzled by their response, recalling that the locals had been skeptical or even opposed toward the event at first. Then we realized that they had changed over the years and had come to take great pride in the art festival and feel a sense of ownership towards it.
The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale was launched in 2000 with the aim of revitalizing the Echigo-Tsumari region (comprising Tokamachi City and Tsunan Town, Niigata Prefecture), which suffered from depopulation and an aging population. The government’s post-war policies of prioritizing the urban over the rural and reducing agricultural production, not only fatally weakened the country, but also robbed elderly farmers of their dignity and purpose in life. The Triennale was conceived to bring pride back to local people and build a base for regional regeneration.
The region still retains a cultural landscape called satoyama, Japanese traditional landscape shaped by 1,500 years of farming by a population closely connected to the earth. The people of the region have coped with repeated, harsh natural disasters such as heavy snowfalls, earthquakes and floods. That humans are part of nature is clear in Echigo-Tsumari and this concept has been the guiding inspiration of the Triennale’s activities and artworks. Over the course of six Triennales, more than seven hundred artists from around the world have created works in rice fields, abandoned houses and closed schoolhouses in the satoyama landscape. They have questioned what art can do in a place so severely affected by modernization and globalization. Learning from the local communities’ survival in a difficult climate and a challenging landscape, they have sought the vast potential of art. The artworks function as devices to expose and highlight the power of the sites and rediscover relationships among nature, art, and humanity. The empty houses and school buildings once regarded as useless relics have become outstanding resources for artists, architects and other experts.
For the sixth Triennale this summer, 380 works were installed, including over 200 permanent works. The artworks are dispersed across a 760 square kilometre area, with fewer than 70,000 permanent inhabitants. Over half a million people visited the area during the 50 day festival. Traveling from one work to the next, visitors interact with the artworks and the local communities, experience the full historicity and cultural context of the area and open their senses.
There are no conventional gallery spaces or art museums in Echigo-Tsumari. When an artist takes on a project, permission to carry it out must be obtained from the landowner. Realizing their ideas on someone else’s land requires the artists to deeply consider the site, establish positive relationships with the local residents and the community, which leads to a mutual willingness to see beyond the private and individual.
The typical and symbolic work is Ilya and Emilia Kabakov’s Rice Field. It was created in a terrace rice field for the first Triennale. Initially the landowner rejected the artist’s offer, as he had suffered a broken femur, had no successor and had resolved to retire. But Kabakov never gave up. He studied Japanese agriculture and rice production, and finally his enthusiasm and respect for the overwhelming labour of the farmer won over. When the Triennale was opened, numerous visitors applauded not only Kabakov’s work but also the owner’s rice terraces. He regained his pride and, despite his physical decline, he continued farming the field until the third Triennale.
Art is not useful and has no direct influence. Art is like a baby. It can be cumbersome and burdensome and will perish if left alone. It requires the support of those around to help nourish it. Over the 15 years of the Triennale, many people have been involved in producing and maintaining artworks, which belong not only to the artists but also the locals and to all involved in the projects. Art connects people with different backgrounds and ideas, and brings about collaborations that transcend origin, generation and profession. The meetings of different people, including elderly local farmers, urban youth, artists and foreigners have sparked chemical reactions.
Driven by the unification of financial markets and communication systems, globalization and homogenization have begun destroying the conditions humanity requires to exist. We are facing the age of the global environment and we need to shift the way we think and live. We hope the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale can offer an example of reconnecting people to nature and indicate some hope for our survival.
Rei Maeda has worked as coordinator for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale since its beginning and was involved in the international programs of Setouchi Triennale in 2010 and 2013, as well as working as an editor. If you would like to read more about Echigo-Tsumari, Fram Kitagawa’s book Art Place Japan Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Vision to Reconnect Art and Nature is published by Princeton Architectural Press.
The Lines That Are Left
Of landscape itself as artefact and artifice; as the ground for the inscribing hand of culture and technology; as no clean slate.
— Joanna Paul
The residential Red Zone is mostly green. After each house is demolished, contractors sweep up what is left, cover the section with a layer of soil and plant grass seed. Almost overnight, driveway, yard, porch, garage, shed and house become a little paddock; the border of plants and trees outlining it the only remaining sign that there was once a house there.
Reopening, Redesigning and Returning
When I wrote my foreword for B.182, we were edging closer and closer to reopening; still anticipating this major milestone after almost five years. Having made the vaguely reckless decision to open our doors, come what may, at 10am on 19 December 2015 – a mere week after project completion – we stuck to that deadline.
The hungry gap
We invited artists, academics, city makers, curators, health specialists and gallerists to comment on the challenges and opportunities for the arts in our city and what art can contribute to the future of Christchurch.
Sparks that fly upwards
Curator Felicity Milburn remembers five years and 101 installations in a gallery without walls.
Everything is going to be alright
The cover of Bulletin 181 in September 2015 featured a miscellany of crates in storage, several marked fragile, one weighing 156kg, some with arrows indicating which way up they should be, others instructing the reopener to lay it flat first. Some bear an image of what’s inside. Ralph Hotere’s Malady Panels and Julia Morison’s Tootoo are there, one with a label, the other with an image of the installed piece. As I write this our collections remain in storage. A few new works and some which have been on loan are awaiting return from storage within other institutions.
Dancing on shifting ground
Sophie McKinnon explores art, resilience, change and urban regeneration in China.
In the winter of 2006 I found myself traipsing around the 798 art district in Beijing, in search of someone to talk to about factories morphing into gallery spaces. I was fascinated by the story of a defunct industrial district turned rapidly expanding contemporary art zone. 798 had been the unofficial site of regeneration for Beijing’s art community since 2001. This community had spent over two deca+des plagued by isolation and displacement but seemed finally to be finding a home.
Since late 2006 when I started as director of Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, I’ve written several times about our art collections in Bulletin forewords. Given their centrality to our daily work and our reason for being, this is unsurprising. So it’s good news that we’re focusing on collections in this edition of our quarterly journal.
Stakes in the ground
Last, Loneliest, Loveliest is New Zealand's first official presence at the International Architecture Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia, and takes its alliterative title from Rudyard Kipling's poem, 'The Song of the Cities', which gives four lines each to various cities from the British Empire, including Auckland:
Last, loneliest, loveliest, exquisite, apart–
On us, on us the unswerving season smiles,
Who wonder 'mid our fern why men depart
To seek the Happy Isles!
Curator Ken Hall writes about his experience of working with artists Chris Heaphy and Sara Hughes, as part of a small team with other city council staff and Ngāi Tahu arts advisors, on the Transitional Cathedral Square artist project.
The idea of peppering the vestigial city centre with portraits from the collection became part of the Gallery's tenth birthday POPULATE! programme, intended to remind all of us that the collection is, indeed, still here and in good shape.
Street urchins, blue moons and rare visions
Even in a city where surreal scenes have become somewhat routine, the sight of the Isaac Theatre Royal's eight-tonne dome, suspended like a great alien craft, had the power to turn heads and drop jaws. Preserved inside a strange white shroud while the theatre was slowly deconstructed around it was a jewel of Christchurch's decorative arts heritage – a 105 year-old Italianate plaster ceiling featuring a circular painted reverie on the theme of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The dome, along with the rest of the theatre, is currently being restored as part of an ambitious rebuild that is expected to be completed in 2015 at a cost of over $30 million.
The fault is ours: Joseph Becker on Lebbeus Woods
There was a packed auditorium at CPIT in Christchurch this August when visiting San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curator Joseph Becker delivered a lecture on architect Lebbeus Woods. And it wasn't hard to guess why. In addition to many other achievements, Woods is renowned for his highly speculative project, Inhabiting the Quake. Senior curator Justin Paton spoke to Becker about Lebbeus Woods, and what Christchurch might learn from him.
Christchurch Art Gallery is ten: highs and lows
In recognition of the anniversary of the move of Christchurch's public art gallery from its former existence as the Robert McDougall in the Botanic Gardens to its new more central city location (now eerily empty), I've been asked by Bulletin's editor to recall some highs and lows of the last ten years. So here goes — and stay with me during this reflection, which takes the place of my usual foreword.
Gregor Kregar: Reflective Lullaby
Justin Paton: As everyone who has seen your works at Christchurch Airport will know, you often make big sculptures with a geometric quality. Gnomes, however large, aren't the first things viewers might expect you to be interested in. What's the appeal of these figures for you?
Gregor Kregar: I'm interested reinterpreting mundane objects, shapes, situations or materials. In my large geometric works I do this by creating complex structures out of basic shapes—triangles, squares, pentagons and hexagons. And with the gnomes I am interested in how something that is usually made out of plastic or concrete and is associated with a low, kitsch aesthetic can be transformed into an arresting monumental sculpture.
It’s our party and we’ll cry if we want to
On 10 May 2013, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu turns ten. Which is fantastic. But it's probably fair to say that there's a bittersweet quality to the celebrations around this particular anniversary, as it also marks two years and eleven weeks of closure for the Gallery, and catches us staring down the barrel of another two years without our home.
It's frustrating. And then some.
However, we're not going to let these little, ahem, inconveniences get in the way of our party. Populate! is our birthday programme, and it's our attempt to bring some unexpected faces and figures back to the depleted central city. Bulletin spoke to the Gallery's senior curator Justin Paton about what he really wants for the tenth birthday, what he finds funny, and what he really doesn't.
A Dark and Empty Interior
In B.167 senior curator Justin Paton documented his walk around the perimeter of Christchurch's red zone, and we featured the empty Rolleston plinth outside Canterbury Museum at the end of Worcester Boulevard. In this edition, director Jenny Harper interviews English sculptor Antony Gormley, who successfully animated another vacant central-city plinth—the so-called Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, London. Gormley filled the plinth with 2,400 people, who occupied it for one hour each, night and day, for 100 days. Here, Jenny asks him about his practice, the value of the figurative tradition and whether he has any advice for Christchurch.
Laying out Foundations
Looking broadly at the topic of local architectural heritage, Reconstruction: conversations on a city had been scheduled to open at the Gallery but will now instead show on outdoor exhibition panels along Worcester Boulevard from 23 June. Supplementing works from the collection with digital images from other collections, curator Ken Hall brings together an arresting art historical tour of the city and its environs.
Cities of Remembrance
Nothing was more fascinating than ruins to me when I was growing up in one of the newest parts of the New World—new, anyway, to extensive buildings and their various forms of lingering collapse and remnant. The native people of California had mostly built ephemeral structures that were readily and regularly replaced and left few traces. Anything old, anything that promised to reach into the past, was magical for me; ruins doubly so for the usual aura of romance and loss that, like death, is most alluring to the young who have not seen much of it yet.
Here and Gone
In the last issue of Bulletin, senior curator Justin Paton wrote about the way the Christchurch earthquakes 'gazumped' the exhibitions on display at the Gallery – overshadowing them and shifting their meanings. In this issue, with the Gallery still closed to the public, he considers the place of art in the wider post-quake city – and discovers a monument in an unlikely place.
Reconstruction: Conversations on a City
In acknowledging architectural heritage loss in this city's present and past, this visually rich outdoor exhibition unfolds the ways in which dreams and values have been given form in our built environment.