ART SHOWS THE WAY
ECHIGO TRIENNALE ART FESTIVAL, NIIGATA
When my friend, Akiko Ike of Niigata Gingka, a craft shop in Niigata City, invited me to her SozaiTen, Materiels Show, to be held in Tokaichi, Niigata, I couldn’t say no. The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale was being held at the same time, and what more could you have in one place? Art and craft together in country Japan, my favorite locus – I cancelled everything else and got myself to Niigata hoping to take it all in.
Of course that was impossible. There was much too much going on in too many places. And will be until the 24th of December should anyone be in the area. It is well worth a trip – a trip with wheels. So much to see but the venues are spread out over a large area. And a car and car navi are essential.
I started with the materiels event happening at the Tokaichi Cross 10, Products Center. Walking into the 2nd floor exhibit hall, a long line-up of fantasmagorical masks / head coverings made of grasses of every seed and fiber welcomed visitors with wild surprise. They made me laugh and cringe and cower with their energy and humor. The staggering variety and imagination of Yamamoto Amayokasim burst forth from her masks and their grassy sources.
Around the corner from the masks, she had wound twisted grass twines onto bamboo spindles with photos of their sources, and notes as to what grasses had been twisted to create the twine.
Grassism, Yamamoto san calls her craft: principles: Not buying materials. Going on foot to gather grass materials. Not using electric tools. It is totally from the earth and using what the earth gives. . . using it with captivating resourcefulness and dexterity and an abiding sense of beauty and order and fun.
Upon entering the exhibition hall, we were greeted byTakasuka Katsura’s incredible soaring grass/weed/ root fashionsl. He sees the earth and the sky as one continuum connected by fibers which he seizes from the earth as they grow and weaves and rearranges them into high fashion jackets and dressed and gowns to marry in.
FROM THE EARTH FASHION
Silks, grasses, hemps, cottons natural fibers of every origin were shown in all their glory and even I wanted to get my hopeless fingers moving to try to create something with these heavenly fibers. The installation was inspiring and inviting. Akiko Ike’s Chiku Chiku exhibit of simple sashiko stitching applied to every and any surface of cloth to strengthen and augment and embellish encouraged everyone, even me, to try to leave our mark / our needle print on any discarded fabric. Nothing is wasted. All odd scraps of cotton cloth are reinvented and reworked into fresh new creations from banners to bed covers, from dust rags to jackets. Why didn’t I take pictures?
Between events at the SozaiTen / Materiels Exhibit, my photographer friend Sakurai Taishi took me and my friend Kawasaki Kei of Gallery Kei in Kyoto, out to outlying Echigo Tsumari Triennale installations.
Most primal of all the hollowed earth formation by local farmers who carved out a meandering series of subterranean chambers, earth spaces that were rooms without ceilings supported by beams and trusses and garnished with mosses and grasses that had volunteered to be part of the venue. Walking through the corridors with rough earthen walls on either side, you became one with the earth. It comforted and reassured.
We only had time for about 10 installations : Kusama Yayoi, several old minka that had been infused with art and Oribe and washi and LED’s in original ways that made you rethink art and architecture and their interconnectedness. Inspiration was everywhere. Everyone found a place / way they could express themselves, artists and viewers alike.
Subterranean installation created by local people digging out spaces of timeless beauty and peace, reinforced with beams and wooden timbers. Natural moss and grasses add green adornment
Long walls of rusted iron wall and enclosed space between brilliant green rice fields and a bubbling river that has benches in one section as if for performances or meditation, and a space open to the river perhaps for singers to sing to. Inspired architecture by a Finnish Architectural firm replaced a former garbage dump site.
MINKA SERENDIPITY !
Unexpected surprise. Just when we thought we had seen all we could, we happened upon the village of Ogijima with its 70 houses many of them thatched roofed minka, and sadly many unlived in. As beautiful and provocative as the international art festival had been, these minka win all prizes. They are are ancient peoples’ response to their place of living. They are timeless monuments to man’s interacting with his environment with cooperation and resourcefulness. Using materials available, they were able to construct dwellings of consummate beautfy and grace, sliding silently into and emanating from the environment – at one with it. The sense of place, the spirit of peace and harmony that emanate from these buildings is something that remains engraved on my soul.
Flowers to dry for. Pliable obaachan working in her garden in Ogijima.
Takayanagi Community Center, Ogijima, Niigata
THE WAY FOR THE FUTURE
Kengo Kuma, architect, built in late 1990’s. Kuma san has taken the essence of minka, the form, the shape, the thatched roof, the washi, the shoji, the light, the language, and reformulated it into a public space for the village to use and be inspired by. He creates a modern minka, using the materials available in the village to provide a public space in the local vernacular – a language that all can understand and speak. Washi produced by Kadoire Washi is pasted on glass windows on the left to infuse a luminous cloudy light that captures the mystery of washi while bringing light to the notoriously dark minka interior.
Time Remembered, Ogijima Shrine and ancient pine tree.
It was all about materials. The thatched roofs, sometimes clad like this sinewy shrine roof of galvanized steel to cover ageing thatch and follow its contour, the brilliant green blades of rice whose straw is used extensively in crafts and architecture and tools for living, the windows covered with washi, the earth walls, the straw ropes, the wooden beams, the hemp kimono, the cotton sashiko.
The Japan country side produces these materials and uses them eloquently in daily life. They are natural, native grasses and fibers, wood, bamboo, paper and local. Clever country people have developed ways of using them in season to answer their needs for living and develop a lifestyle that is supremely practical and beyond that sublimely beautiful.