JAPAN CONTEMPORARY ART EVENTS
The Yokohama Triennale 2011 drew to a close in November and, given the devastating earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis Japan experienced this year, curator Miki Akiko’s theme “OUR MAGIC HOUR” is heavy with meaning. We look at the art that epitomised the title.
Uncertain and confusing times
Prior to entering the exhibition space at the Yokohama Museum of Art, visitors were greeted by a five-metre-high neon rainbow arch that had been placed on the roof of the museum, a sculpture made of colourful neon lights by Switzerland’s Ugo Rondinone and a piece that invited audience members to immediately “accept [the] mysteries and contradictions” presented by the works in the triennale. “By learning to change our perspectives, we might find that suddenly, like magic, the world is open and accessible to us,” explained Akiko in her curatorial note accompanying the exhibition.
When looked at as a reaction to uncertain and confusing times, the curatorial theme encouraged participating artists to “…rethink human existence and our surroundings with the pure curiosity, flexibility and imagination of a child, and without the limiting influence of existing structures and ideas.” Along the walkway of the Yokohama Museum of Art sat Rondinone’s moonrise.east (2005), a set of twelve stone sculptures, each with a unique expression that depicts a month of the year. The primitive figures, placed in a straight row, contrasted strongly with the neon sign flashing overhead.
Light and sound
Evoking the timelessness of the natural world, Japanese artist Hiroshi Sugimoto took an antique Kamakura period statue of Raijin, the Japanese god of thunder, from his own personal collection and placed this next to his powerful Lightning Fields 128 (2009), a work he created by applying an electrical charge directly onto photographic film using a 400,000-volt Van De Graaff generator.
Massimo Bartolini’s Organi (2007/08) produced mystical, slow sounds from a self-playing organ made from scaffolding pipes and was accompanied by Damien Hirst’s Tree of Knowledge (2006) and Samsara (2006), canvases covered with thousands of real butterfly wings which resembled the stained glass windows of a church.
There were also unexpected encounters at various corners of the exhibition space which invited visitors to immerse themselves in the art or explore its depths. In One Sentence (2011), by Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen, strips of used clothing collected from 108 different people were tightly spooled like photographic film and placed in stainless steel canisters. The diameter of each spool varied in size depending on the the circumstance of the person the clothing belonged to, representing one “sentence” or day in their life. The canisters were arranged in a spiral, maze-like installation that signified the number of earthly desires and causes of suffering described in Buddhist philosophy. Adjacent to Yin’s One Sentence was TELEPHONE IN MAZE (2011) by Japanese-born, US-based Yoko Ono, a transparent acrylic maze with a phone right in the middle which Ono occasionally called in order to speak with whichever lucky visitor had followed the twists of the work to its centre.
BankART Studio NYK , the other main exhibition venue of the Yokohama Triennale 2011, was home to larger site-specific installations, many of which were inspired by nature and as such made extensive use of vegetation, clay and sand. Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel (of England and France respectively) created Untitled (2007/2011) on the first floor of the building, a clay sculpture of a hippopotamus over six metres long that rose out of the ground as if recently excavated. Fallen Forest (2006/2009/2011) by Sweden’s Henrik Håkansson featured ten different potted trees that had been toppled over on to their sides, a statement on environmental destruction.
Click here to view more images in a comprehensive photo essay published in August 2011 on Tokyo Art Beat.
More on the Yokohama Triennale
The first Yokohama Triennale, titled “MEGA-WAVE“, was held in 2001 to mark the start of the new millennium. The 2001 Organising Committee was comprised of members of the Japan Foundation, the City of Yokohama, the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, and was the first large-scale international exhibition of its kind to be held in Japan. The event aimed to showcase cutting edge 21st century art and present works in adventurous new contextual frameworks, encouraging interaction and dialogue between contemporary art and science, philosophy and traditional art forms. The themes of subsequent Triennales, for example, “Art Circus (Jumping from the Ordinary)” in 2005 and “Time Crevasse” in 2008, have broadly adhered to this overarching concept.
For 2011’s “OUR MAGIC HOUR”, in addition to the two main venues, the Yokohama Museum of Art and the NYK Waterfront Warehouse, a contemporary art hub more commonly known as BankART Studio NYK, there were a number of other events and installations at satellite venues around the city, such as Yokohama Creativecity Centre (YCC), where a total of over 300 works by more than 77 artists from Japan and the world were on display. Also running in parallel to the event was “Open Yokohama 2011”, a tourism initiative set up to promote the city’s rich historical past, architecture and arts.
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