5 Highlights from the Yokohama Triennale 2017

With heavy-hitters such as Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Cattelan and Olafur Eliasson, the Yokohama Triennale takes a hard look at key issues of globalisation, connectivity and isolation in today’s society.

Art Radar takes a look at 5 artists and their works included in the 2017 edition of the 16-year-old triennale.


Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale.

“Islands, Constellations & Galapagos”, set in the City of Yokohama just south of Tokyo, the second-largest city in Japan, is the theme of the Yokohama Triennale, launched on 4 August and runnign until 5 November 2017. With a line-up of 38 international artists and groups, as well as one project, the Triennale pulls together some of the biggest names in the international art scene, trying to tackle the broad issues emerging from a world that seemingly affords more avenues for communication and connectivity, but yet finds its inhabitants being increasingly drawn into isolated existences. According to co-director Miki Akiko, the world faces challenges such as “conflict, refugees and immigration, and the emergence of protectionism, xenophobia, and populism”, and yet finds itself

[…] awash in data far exceeding the processing capacity of human beings, and in an increasingly complex and sophisticated environment where communication tools such as social media are developing rapidly, people appear to be banding together into small, disparate groups of “island universe” and communities.

With three main venues (the Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse No. 1 and Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall), the city addresses its own unique role in the history of Japan, at the same time contemplating the entangled realities that the world faces while poised on the cusp of its second decade into the new millennium. Yokohama was the first Japanese port that opened to foreign countries, an outcome that resulted from the controversial landing of Commodore Matthew Perry at the Tokyo harbour in 1853. A representative of the U.S. Government, Perry forced Japan into a trade agreement with the United States, and Kanagawa was specified as one of the five open ports, and in 1858, the Port of Yokohama opened. Japan could no longer develop in its own isolated state, previously maintained by governmental restrictions on all kinds of foreign trade and influences, ending its “Galapagos island”-like relationship with the rest of the world.

Bringing together a range of international artists, chosen for artistic practices that continually engage with the key themes of the Yokohama Triennale, the exhibition aims to bring together diverse groups of people and communities, engaging them in dialogue through art and imagination. Art Radar picks five artists not to miss at the Yokohama Triennale.

AI Weiwei, 'Safe Passage', 2016 and 'Reframe', 2016. Installation view at Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama Triennale 2017. Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017. Photo: KATO Ken © Ai Weiwei Studio

Ai Weiwei, ‘Safe Passage’, 2016 and ‘Reframe’, 2016. Installation view at Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama Triennale 2017. Image courtesy Organising Committee for Yokohama Triennale. Photo: KATO Ken © Ai Weiwei Studio

1. Ai Weiwei — Safe Passage (2016) and Reframe (2016)

Installed along the wide, canopy-like foyer of the Yokohama Museum of Art, Ai Weiwei’s Safe Passage strikes a dramatic note for entrants of the Triennale. Covering the columns with hundreds of recovered life jackets, the installation references the ongoing struggle that migrants escaping harsh political, economic and social conditions in their home countries face. Coupled with the installation Reframe, made up of 15 rubber boats hung onto the facade of the same museum, Ai Weiwei’s works bring to mind the role of these pieces of equipment in bearing migrants over national and international water passageways, in their quest in crossing geopolitical boundaries in search of a better life.

Perhaps an appropriate work, given the themes the Yokohama Triennale aims to address, Ai Weiwei’s installation cleans up the torrid scenes usually associated with these boats: bursting to overflowing, vulnerable to gas leaks and usually defenceless against bad sea conditions. In a way, Ai Weiwei’s work transplants the boats and life jackets out of their contexts by mounting them along the entrance of the Yokohama Museum of Art, Ai Weiwei appears to sanitise these boats, elevating them to the status of symbol and spectacle. Still an impressive installation in terms of size and scale, visitors to the Triennale will find this installation hard to miss.

Olafur ELIASSON, 'Green light─An artistic workshop', 2016. Co-produced by Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary.mage courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017. Photo: Sandro E.E. Zanzinger / TBA21, 2016 ©Olafur Eliasson

Olafur ELIASSON, ‘Green light─An artistic workshop’, 2016. Co-produced by Thyssen Bornemisza Art Contemporary. Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017. Photo: Sandro E.E. Zanzinger / TBA21, 2016 © Olafur Eliasson

2. Olafur Eliasson  — Green Light – an artistic workshop (2016)

Designed by Olafur Eliasson, and made by participants involved in a series of artistic workshops of the same name, these green lights were designed to serve as a semiotic bridge between incoming refugees and the residents of their host country. According to Eliasson

Green light displays a modest strategy for addressing the challenges and responsibilities arising from the current situation and shines a light on the value of collaborative work and thinking.

Initiated by the collaborative efforts of Eliasson and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna (TBA21), the green light is made by the efforts of participants in a workshop that invites them how to fabricate the green light by themselves, out of recycled and sustainable materials.

Its first pilot workshop took place in 2016 at TBA21, and has since evolved to become part of the programme at Viva Arte Viva, the 57th Venice Biennale this year. Besides learning how to fabricate the green light, the current iteration of the workshop at the Biennale includes shared learning, a wideranging series of educational workshops such as job training, language courses, psychological and legal training. Reflecting a spirit of reflexivity, collaboration and engagement, the green light workshop acts as a prototype for scaling up welcoming efforts across communities in Europe and beyond.

This year’s iteration of the Yokohama Triennale will similarly allow participants to take part in a shared learning programme, inviting them to fabricate the green light together. With a focus on the themes of connectivity and isolation, the Green Light workshops at the Yokohama Triennale aims to address issues that concern migrant and refugee communities in Japan. In Yokohama, Green Light an artistic workshop will bring together participants who share a common engagement with migrant issues, and a similar vision for a society that fosters co-existence. Similarly, Green Light – an artistic workshop at the Yokohama Triennale 2017 attempts to serve as a platform where different ways of communicating and connecting disparate communities with one another, especially with those displaced and alienated.

Zhao Zhao, 'Project Taklamakan', 2016, Video still. Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017.

Zhao Zhao, ‘Project Taklamakan’, 2016.

3. Zhao Zhao — Project Taklamakan (2016)

With 100 kilometres of electric cable, transformers and a refrigerator, Zhao Zhao’s Project Taklamakan reflects one artist’s quest to reexamine the history of the Silk Road and its history in connecting various geographies and communities together. Travelling over 4,000 kilometres bearing said cables and refrigerator, Zhao arrives from Beijing to the town of Luntai, on the north end of the Taklamakan Desert, where he had convinced a rural Uighur family to allow him to use their electricity.

Documenting his travels to the middle of the Taklamakan desert, Zhao and his thirty-man team lay the cables, place the refrigerator (conveniently bearing the popular Xinjiang-brand beer) in the sand, connect the appliance, and run it for twenty-four hours. Zhao later enjoys a cold beer in the middle of the desert. Seven days later, Zhao sends the appliance, cable and transformers back to Beijing. Peppered with humour and adventure, Zhao’s Project Taklamakan is a unique look at the issue of connectivity across specific geographies, whilst also shedding light on the current isolated state of the desert. First shown in 2015, this will be Project Taklamakan’s debut in Japan.

Joko Avianto, 'The border between good and evil is terribly frizzy', 2017 Installation view, Yokohama Triennale 2017. Image courtesy of Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale. Photo: TANAKA Yuichiro

Joko Avianto, ‘The border between good and evil is terribly frizzy’, 2017
Installation view, Yokohama Triennale 2017. Image courtesy of Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale. Photo: Tanaka Yuichiro

3. Joko Avianto — The border between good and evil is terribly frizzy (2017)

Known for his expansive, site-specific installations, Joko Avianto is presenting a new work to be exhibited in the Grand Gallery of the Yokohama Museum of Art. Avianto’s new work will be a bamboo structure inspired by traditional Japanese braided rope called shimenawa, using 2,000 shoots of Indonesian bamboo.

Using interwoven Indonesian bamboo to create his works, Avianto’s overwhelming sculptures are often underpinned by their organic and fluid shapes. Often wrapping them around buildings and other structures, Avianto often highlights the possibilities of urban and ecological coexistence. With bamboo having long been a popular material for housing and other daily activities, Avianto’s works reference the traditional use of the material in his country of birth – Indonesia. Avianto gained critical acclaim for his installation Pohon Besar (Big Trees), at the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany, which incorporated 1,500 six-metre-long bamboo sticks.

Maurizio Cattelan, Installation view of Untitled, 2000. Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017. Photo: Zeno Zotti, additional courtesy to Maurizio Cattelan's Archive and Galerie Perrotin.

Maurizio Cattelan, ‘Untitled, 2000’. Image courtesy Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive and Perrotin. Photo: Zeno Zotti.

5. Maurizio Cattelan — Untitled, 2000

Previously installed at the Monnaie de Paris in 2016, the Yokohama Triennale is bringing in Maurizio Cattelan’s absurdist hanging man Untitled, 2000, as part of the exhibition.

Untitled, 2000 carries on from Cattelan’s oeuvre, which revolves around creating absurdist scenes that often reflect critical commentary about the state of the world’s affairs. Part of his acclaimed works has included a suspended, taxidermied horse, as well as a figure of Hitler praying on his knees.

Here Cattelan’s hanging man seems uncomfortable, his face scrunched up in a grimace that seems to hint at his fighting against being strung up so high. The state of suspension that Cattelan has placed his woeful figure in seems to hint at his own commentary about a certain kind of universal feeling of immobility, hopelessness and lack of agency, a theme that appears to pervade most political dialogue and rhetoric around the world today.

Paola Pivi, ' I and I (must stand for the arts) and others' Installation view at the Yokohama Triennale 2017. Image courtesy Yokohama Triennale 2017. Photo: TANAKA Yuichiro. Additional courtesy to the artist and Galerie Perrotin.

Paola Pivi, ‘ I and I (must stand for the arts) and others’ Installation view at the Yokohama Triennale 2017. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin. Photo courtesy of Organising Committee for Yokohama Triennale. Photo: TANAKA Yuichiro.

Other notable works included in the Yokohama Triennale 2017 include Glasgow-born, Berlin-based artist Katie Paterson (b. 1981, Glasgow, United Kingdom), whose Fossil Necklace (2013) is on show. Made up of 170 fossils carved into spherical beads, the necklace represents major events in the evolution of life through time. Japanese multimedia artist Mr. (b. 1969, Cupa, Japan) is also presenting his work My Apologies (2017), a large-scale installation featuring his signature anime-like characters. Italian artist Paola Pivi (b. 1971, Milan, Italy) is also showing I and I (must stand for the art) (2014) and other bear sculptures, where different brightly coloured polar bears are arranged in different configurations.

Junni Chen


Related topics: events in Japan, news, Asian artists, museum shows, triennales, events in Manila

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