For our fourth day attending the Setouchi Triennale 2019 (which was really our third day, remember, I twisted the timeline a little) we returned to Shodoshima. We had to, we had left the car there two days prior.
We hopped on the ferry to Ikeda Port on the morning of April 29th, and the kids were pretty excited, we were finally riding the “Toys R Us boat”!
Let me explain. There are two ferries to Ikeda, and they’re both decorated with an animal on their deck. One has a panda and the other one has a giraffe. And for as long as the kids have been old enough to speak, every time they see the one with the giraffe, they call it the “Toys R Us boat” (note for American and British readers, Toys R Us is alive and well in Japan and a few other countries). However, for some reason, we had never ridden it before, every single time we went to Ikeda Port, it was on the panda boat. Well, now, we have ridden the giraffe boat too, for the great joy of the kids.
As soon as we arrived on Shodoshima, we got on the car and headed to Noma where my first big disappointment of the 2019 edition of the Triennale awaited us.
I know a lot of people who are not interested in the Setouchi Triennale because “they don’t like modern art.” Well, first it’s contemporary art, not modern art (fastest lesson of history of art ever: modern art is roughly art from the late 1800s to more or less World War 2, whereas contemporary art is art from the second half of the 20th century until nowadays…).
Guess what, I was not interested in contemporary art either before attending the first Triennale in 2010. This despite living in the part of Paris with the most art gallery ratio of the city at the time. Or maybe because I lived in that neighborhood?
The Setouchi Triennale is what made me interested and what made me like contemporary art. One reason I quickly understood is that contemporary art takes many forms and shapes, and the forms and shapes it often takes in Europe and North America are not exactly my cup of tea for the most part. On the other hand, I tend to find contemporary art from other parts of the world to be very often interesting and fascinating.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike all art from my native Europe (actually a lot of my favorite new art this year at the Triennale is from European artists), but unfortunately, I’m not surprised when I encounter European art that I truly dislike. And this is unfortunately what happened in Noma.
In that part of Shodoshima, you can see, or rather hear, Fosse d’Orchestre / White Museum by Rosa Barba.
It is located in this very cute and normally peaceful olive grove that was planted on reclaimed land by the sea. The artwork consists of this path made of wooden plants (my kids loved running on them, so at least there is that) and a bunch of loudspeakers that have been set up along the path and that scream lots of loud and unpleasant noises. Those manage to turn this place that should be quiet and relaxing into a very unpleasant space that sounds like the hall of a train station or something (well, Japanese train stations are not that unpleasant). I’m not sure what the artist was trying to achieve here. I know some artists like to make their audience feel uncomfortable, but sorry, this is not the tone of the Triennale and that goes against its goal really.
And to add insult to injury, apparently, one half of the installation was not working or something. Luckily maybe? If it had, the area may have become even more unpleasant. Literally, I had to physically leave the grove as quickly as possible.
From what I understand, this installation was for the Spring session only and it will be replaced with another one by the same artist for the summer and fall sessions. I doubt I’ll go check them out. If you want to be my guinea pig, be my guest.
We quickly escaped this torture to head a couple of kilometers away, in a very familiar area of Shodoshima that I dearly love, the soy sauce factory neighborhood of Umaki.
There, the second public toilet that’s also an artwork of Shodoshima was waiting for us:
It’s Hut with the Arc Wall by Yo Shimada
I really love this public toilet for two reasons (well, three if you add that it’s very useful). First, from the outside, it looks like a nice mix of traditional and contemporary building. Second, when you’re inside, the way you enter and exit is through curved passages, and it feels that there is no privacy at all, when actually there is plenty, which gives you a funny feeling. Don’t worry, only the sinks are in this open but hidden space, the toilets proper do have doors. They do lock.
One tip if you’re traveling by car: right next to the Hut, there is a free parking lot where you can leave your car while visiting the Umaki area. Which we did.
The next artwork is now becoming a veteran as well as a landmark in the area, it’s the now famous Regent in Olives by Hisakazu Shimizu:
On the other side of the street from the Regent in Olives, there is a former barn/farm that has been used for pretty much every Triennale, and there was something of interest once again. I’ll show it to you in a few paragraphs.
After a short walk in the streets of Umaki (this part of Shodoshima is probably my favorite in terms of “urban” spaces), we had an early lunch at one artwork that I always found fascinating, that is Umaki Camp by Dot Architects.
I really like it despite not looking like anything too special because it’s the “perfect communal space” that anyone can use at their convenience. It has a kitchen, tables, an outdoor oven. It even used to have a computer (it still has public wi-fi I believe), a goat, and vegetables (sadly, I heard that the goat has died). A place for locals and visitors alike, to meet, to enjoy, to use and more.
Unfortunately, that’s the theory.
In practice, I’m afraid that the camp isn’t really used by anyone outside of the Triennale anymore. Maybe I’m wrong, and it’s true that we went on a weekday (but during Golden Week though), and it was deserted. While we stayed there (a bit less than an hour?) just a few visitors came, some a bit surprised to see us having lunch as if it was our dining room. Now, it’s the kind of place that looks like it could house small events on certain weekends, so may that’s what it still does.
Our next stop was right next to these steps. It’s a new permanent (at least it really looks like it) art gallery, the Georges Gallery by French artist Georges Rousse.
The gallery hosts one big permanent installation/painting, as well as a few others by Georges Rousse, and some Japanese artists who painted the café that’s attached to it (namely, Yasushi Kishimoto, Takashi Tochiyama, Miyabi Katayama). I didn’t really go inside the café, so the art that can be found inside will be commented after a future visit.
As far as Georges Rousse’s art is concerned, his specialty is anamorphosis, that is projections requiring the viewers to be in a certain spot to properly see the painting.
You’ll understand right away. This is the main room in the gallery:
And this is what it looks like from a different angle:
Pretty nice, isn’t it?
There are two more anamorphoses from Georges Rousse in the are. One upstairs:
And one in the old barn next to Regent in Olives that I previously alluded to:
Those two other anamorphoses were also pretty nice, but they were more difficult to shoot.
Overall, I liked the Georges Gallery, but I couldn’t help having the feeling that it was a bit too fancy and a bit bourgeois, and that it felt a little out of place. I hope gentrification is not actually coming to Shodoshima.
Right next to Georges Gallery, one can find the old soy sauce cooperative building that has hosted artworks since 2013, it was closed in the Spring, but will house The Silent Room by Hans Op de Beeck starting this summer. I plan on visiting it then.
Continuing along that same small road, we soon arrived at an old warehouse – that also had art in 2016 – to see Bell Shelter by Zhu Zheqin a Chinese singer who is apparently quite famous under the stage name of Dadawa.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect from an art installation by a singer, so I entered the place a bit intrigued. And… It was the biggest surprise of the festival so far!
The work is just stunning, and beautiful, and magical.
I won’t tell you more, surprise matters. I’ll just post these two pictures without much more explanation, and I’ll just advise you to not miss it:
Our last stop in this part of Shodoshima was in nearby Yasuda where you can see the oldest Art Setouchi artwork of Shodoshima, that is Tsugi-Tsugi-Kintsugi by Masayuki Kishimoto.
Do I need to introduce it?
OK, so maybe you know kintsugi, the traditional technique that consists in fixing broken dishes by “gluing” (welding really) the broken parts with gold. Well, this artist took it to the extreme by building those structures made of dishes welded together with the kintsugi technique. Nine years ago, the artwork also had an interactive dimension as you could buy “kintsugied” dishes, except that the piece that you bought would be sent to a random person, and you’d get the one that this same person bought. With the possibility to be put in contact? Maybe. My memory of the thing is a little fuzzy.
Nowadays, it’s just the exhibit. However, note that the work can be found at another location. Another exhibit is located in the window of the 114 Bank in downtown Tonosho. It’s smaller and in full daylight. While you can appreciate the technique better there, I think I like it better in the semi-darkness like this.
Next, we headed to the southern tip of Shodoshima, the Mito Peninsula.
First, we went to see the new and improved Garden of the Border by Mitsuharu Doi.
This land art installation already existed in 2016, but it is now larger and has more elements (you can see the original there).
It’s a fake archeological site that implies that some sort of weird ancient multicultural city (Egyptian, Japanese, Mezo-American, more?) was there before.
The centerpiece is a buried torii, with only the top above ground. And if you look closely you see a model of that “city”:
I like it.
We drove around the tip of the peninsula (and saw a pheasant, my first time in Japan) when the rain decided to join us as we arrived at the site of Yamagoe-do (Mountain Voice Cavern) by Toshimitsu Ito with the help of Hiroshima City University Faculty of Arts (where he’s a teacher, I believe).
It is a follow-up to Shiomimi-so from 2016 that we will see shortly after.
It’s basically some sort of underground bunker with ears! When you’re inside, you can hear the sounds of the mountain and forest nearby.
I really like the idea but with the rain falling and two not-so-quiet kids, I could mostly hear various echos of the aforementioned little people and of the weather not much of the rest.
It is filed under “needs to be revisited as soon as possible.”
Heading to the village of Konoura from the southern tip of Mito, we stopped at an old facility that housed two artworks.
First, Element by Jio Shimizu.
It is located in a former factory (?) and while the rain was a problem with the previous artwork (especially because it was outdoors), it fitted perfectly for Element as water is an important “element” of the artwork. Because the factory is “abandoned”, because there is a lot of water involved in the installation, it almost felt that the rain outside was part of the artwork somehow.
I’m not going to tell you much more about, I feel that it needs to be discovered more than explained (I’m even wondering if I “discovered” all there was to discover in that building). Just know that it mostly revolves around light and water.
Right next door, you can find “Stand Up!” Series / Running Dog, Floating Elephant by Kohsui.
A pretty weird accumulation of furniture and small dog statues covered with some sort of styrofoam. I wasn’t sure what to make of it and was ready to leave… until I saw the floating elephant from the title. I’m not going to show it to you now. Just click on this link if you want to see it (and I only advise you to click if you’re positive that you won’t be able to go to Mito Peninsula before November).
A minute or two later we arrived in Konoura and were welcomed by Shiomimi-so by Toshimitsu Ito, Kana Koh and the Hiroshima City University Faculty of Arts.
As mentioned a few lines ago, it’s the predecessor of Yamagoe-do. I really really love how it looks, those improbable buildings becoming a tangible reality is one of the things I like the most of the Setouchi Triennale, and its purpose is to listen to the sea.
And I realize with horror that I didn’t take any pictures (remember, rain and two young kids for whom it was starting to be a long day, especially as their interest in art is somewhat limited and quite selective).
Ok, while you wait for a post entirely devoted to it (post planned since 2016, but never written, whoops), you can see on this following link pictures that I took a couple of months earlier:
It was time for some rest. We were in luck, as Konoura has is an amazing and very welcoming place that has a shima no ie (Island House) for tired visitors.
Let me explain a little bit. Back in 2013, when the Mito Peninsula welcomed the Setouchi Triennale for the first time, some shima no ie were set up in almost every village of the peninsula, as a great way to welcome visitors, give them a place to rest, meet each other and the locals. Also, as Shodoshima has its very own 88 temples pilgrimage (not as famous as the Shikoku one, but much more walkable if you’re short on time or breath), it also has the same culture of osettai as you can find on Shikoku. Osettai are small gifts in the form of food and drinks that locals give to the pilgrims (and by extension the travelers) that they meet.
Sometimes, I get questions about whether the people from Shikoku have an insular mentality, as it’s a very isolated island and such. Truth is that I find the people on Shikoku much less insular and much more welcoming to outsiders than what I have experienced in the rest of Japan. I believe that it comes from the Shikoku Pilgrimage and its culture of being welcoming of pilgrims, visitors, and other outsiders for more than a thousand years. The same can definitely be said about Shodoshima.
And in 2013, those “island houses” were a great example of that. At the end of the Triennale that year, they all closed with the rest of the festival specific venues, with one notable exception. The people of Konoura decided to leave theirs open, to keep on welcoming visitors when possible (I understand that the place is “staffed” every weekend) and also to use it for themselves for various events and gatherings.
It’s been six years now, and I every time I go, there are locals hanging out, spending time together as well as offering free drinks (tea and coffee) and free food (somen and onigiri) to whoever wants some. Please note that while everything is free, there is a tip jar (something very rare in Japan) and contributions are more than welcome. You’re not paying back, you’re paying forward so that future visitors can enjoy the same welcome that you received.
It’s one of the many reasons why I love Konoura. It’s a cute village, on the coast of a natural port, with people that are as friendly and as welcoming than on Ogijima or Karato on Teshima.
However, we couldn’t spend the rest of the day there, we had more art to see.
I need to revisit Quartz by the Sea by Kaoru Hirano, because I don’t really have much to say about it right now. It looked OK, but that’s pretty much all. I may be repeating myself, but bad weather and tired kids are not the best conditions to enjoy new art, especially if it requires some reflection.
Right next door, Utopia Dungeon by Keisuke Tanaka can be found.
An abandoned house has been emptied of most of its inner walls, floors and more, and inside, wooden sculptures of trees and other woody plants have been installed. Some big, most tiny.
Time for our ferry back to Takamatsu was approaching and we still had three artworks to see in Konoura. Choices had to be made.
We chose Tomorrow’s Sea by Mutsumi Tomosada, and I was a bit apprehensive because it was located in the house that used to be the home of one of my very favorite artworks of the Setouchi Triennale, Yume Akasaka’s Stories – House. When I didn’t see it listed a few months ago, I was a bit confused and feared the worst, and indeed, it has been dismantled and it’s now gone. 🙁
What replaced it? It had to be worth it
Well, it starts with a disco ball in an abandoned shed. Hmmm…
Then, in the first room (the one that used to have the silhouette of the little girl using a sewing machine), this:
Still, not too sure what to think at that point.
Finally, the main room:
A projection on a rotating shoji.
While I’m still not too sure about the first two rooms (well, they helped to enter a certain state of mind as we walked deeper into the house), this last one was stunningly beautiful. I would have stayed hours contemplating this installation.
I couldn’t, it was time to take the road and go home.
The Mito Peninsula is probably one of the least visited parts of the Setouchi Triennale. It is indeed hard to reach without your own car. There are a few shuttle buses from Ikeda Port, in addition to the very rare city bus. It’s a shame as it offers very interesting art, and a wonderful natural landscape and villages too. On the other hand, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable if it was as crowded as Naoshima.
Note that all art in Mito Peninsula is free of charge, passport or not (I need to double check that information though)
After two full days on Shodoshima, my passport page is far from being full yet.
You know what that means, right? A third day, and even a fourth, possibly a fifth on the island will most likely happen sooner or later.
That’s all for today and for that day.
To help you wait until the next post, may I advise you to read my previous Setouchi Triennale 2019 reports if you haven’t done so already?
Stay tuned for more…