The Teshima Art Museum provides an organic setting where water, wind, wood and light are works of art. I learnt about this enticing concept from a French couple I met in Japan in mid 2016. Sibylle and Bernard called it the Raindrop Museum – an evocative description. They were close to the mark. The brief given to the architect Ryue Nishizawa and artist Rei Naito was to create a design of free curves, echoing the shape of a drop of water. Knowing my interest in the elements, my French friends strongly recommended that I make the Museum a priority to visit. So in early October that’s what I did. The Museum has other attractions – its location on an island in the Seto Inland Sea provides an experience of some of the coastline, waterways and islands of Japan, an important part of the elemental story. The Art Museum is also a major draw-card of the Setouchi Trienniale, an art festival designed to reinvigorate local communities that has many lessons to teach us.
The Setouchi Triennale, which spans the Seto Inland Sea in Japan, is held once every three years. Starting in 2010, it has a strong focus on building communities and reinvigorating the islands through creating site-specific art works. The creations are based on unique features of the local landscape, history and way of life. The stated intent is to return the smiles to the faces of local elders and restore the vitality of the Inland Sea region through collaborative art projects. My experience of the Triennale was was greatly enhanced when my artist friend Corinne Costello invited me to join a Contemporary Art & Architecture Tour (CA&AT) that visited some of the art islands. As part of the tour we were fortunate to meet Fram Kitagawa, the Director of the festival. He said that the fundamental idea of art in the 21st century was its connection to the environment, world peace and democracy. The opportunity to learn more about the connection between the nature, art, architecture and local communities provided some valuable insights for my research on elemental Japan and was an interesting contrast to my time based in Kyoto.
My co-travellers on the CA&AT came from North America, Europe, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia. The organisers Kanae and Francesca provided a smorgasbord of food, drink, transport, art, architecture, environments and interesting places to stay. There was never a dull moment. The backgrounds of the tour members were in painting, design, architecture, writing, photography, philanthropy and more. Their projects were diverse, impressive and inspirational. Connections to the elements were apparent with most of the projects the group members were involved in. Gianni even had an ‘element’ back-pack. That’s the name of the company that produces outdoor wear that withstands the elements. It was a stimulating, fun and thought-provoking few days which I feel privileged to have been part of. Thanks go to the participants for the insights and experiences gained from the tour – they wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
Several world class museums and art installations were visited on the CA&AT. As well as the Teshima Art Museum, the installation called ‘Murmuring Forests’ by Christian Boltanski stood out for me. There was a special energy at both sites. Both used the natural elements (water and wind respectively) as the fundamental drivers of their art and demonstrated how powerful these connections can be. To me it felt like you were transported to another world.
When we arrived at the Teshima Art Museum it was all that I expected and more. The Museum is an organic concrete structure that creates an interplay with the elements of water, wind, wood and light that is both intimate and dynamic. Water slowly drips and seeps onto the floor through small ping-pong like balls and holes in the concrete. There were about 50 people in the Museum when our tour group visited during the Triennale. There was a quietness in the space and a reverence for the water and the shapes it formed. As Triennale visitors were not permitted to take photos inside the museum, this image is from the arquiscopio.com website. Terraced rice fields are found close to the museum. They have been restored as part of the reinvigoration of Teshima Island and are a work of art and beauty in their own right. They exemplify the goal of the Triennale to highlight local landscapes, history and way of life. A way of life where the elements play a fundamental role.
The ‘Murmuring Forests’ installation is composed of several hundred small metal wind chimes, hanging from pieces of metal at different heights in the forest. It was subtle yet powerful, like the Teshima Art Museum. Once you get your eye in you will see more of the wind chimes in this image. Even though the wind was light on the day I visited, the chimes were still mesmerising. Wind chimes (Furin), also known as wind bells, are a common sight and sound in Japan, especially in summer when they are used to suggest the coolness of a breeze. An added dimension in this art work is the addition over time of the names of beloved ones on the transparent wind catcher than hangs from the bell. Each wind gust is designed to evoke the names of these people.
We travelled the Seto Inland Sea in large ferries and small water taxis. This ride from Naoshima to Teshima island made you fully appreciate the elements of water and wind. I had the pleasure to share the back of the boat with Nami and Hori Sawada, two wonderful artists who create amazingly spectacular 3D installations. You can see the diversity and beauty of their work here.
Like my first post from this trip, I had another ‘ah ha’ moment during the CA&AT. This time it was when I saw the art work titled ‘Crystal Pagoda’ (2009) – a crystal gorinto (five element stupa) by Hiroshi Sugimoto. It was part of a photographic installation called ‘Coffin of Light’ at Benesse Park where we stayed as part of the tour. Here was a link between contemporary art practice and the long history of the use of the five element gorinto in Japan, with the artist using a 13th century gorinto as inspiration. I was in the right place at the right time. For additional insights on this work of art and the philosophy behind it, see ‘Catching up on the elements‘ on my sister blog site ‘Fire up Water down’. This discovery builds on my observations about the gorinto in ‘Returning to the elements‘ . Later in my trip I came across other expressions of the gorinto at Manpuku-ji Temple in Uji and Zenstuji Temple on Shikoku Island. The pieces are falling into place.
Following the CA&AT tour, I joined a ‘tea tour’ in Osaka and Kyoto with a group from Hobart, Tasmania. Being able to spend time with a Urasenke tea master, two of his students and a tea-loving artist was an opportunity too good to miss. As I wrote in my previous post ‘Taiko and tea‘ the elements play a fundamental role in the tea ceremony. Both directly and indirectly. I have been learning that heightened sensory skills are also an essential element of the way of tea. My observations and impressions on this phase of my second trip to Japan this year is addressed separately in the post ‘Time for more tea‘.
Koicha, thick green tea. A taste of things to come.