People enjoy outdoor art exhibition as a regular seasonal landscape
I'd like to pay respect to Abiko International Open-Air Art Exhibition as it has been held for consecutive 18 years since 1998. Looking back, I recall that“Amabiki Village and Sculpture”exhibition started in 1996, Toride Art Project started in 1999, and Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale started in 2000. The fact that open-air art exhibitions sprang up in suburban and rural areas all over Japan around 2000 shows important characteristics of this era when we look back on the 21st century.
In the latter half of the 20th century, growing international capitalism explosively accelerated its globalization. In accordance with such a trend, art exhibitions developed on a large-scale. Some huge exhibitions went on world tours to show artworks of extraordinarysize.Thisseemstoindicatethelaststateof“modernistic”valuesthatswept the whole world based on a belief that the value of artworks is universal and considered the same across borders. It might be interpreted as some kind of terminus, but it was at the same time the dead end.
A movement to go beyond such a trend might have been an open-air exhibition. The reason for my view is because I saw Takashi Murakami's 500 Arhats exhibition showing four large works of 3m high by 25m long respectively. The museum itself, located nearly on top of a skyscraper, looks like a terminal of modernity to me. It seems as if humans were challenging God's eminence just like the Tower of Babel to try to reign over the world. Golden shining Buddhist sculptures sit in the center of the gallery, surrounded by works with cosmic themes. Is there veneration of nature (deities and Buddha), however? In contrast, I remember one exhibition, which, taking a“counter-modern”or“un-modern” standpoint, toured in 2014 through 2015. An essay by the exhibition's curator at the beginning of its catalog is impressive.
“God means workings, and our ancestors gave the name of God to what is latent behind the universe and nature beyond human knowledge.” Kiyoshi Ejiri,“The Coming of Susanoo,”catalog of“The Coming of Susanoo---The Life, Anger and Prayer”exhibition (Tokyo: Yomiuri Shimbun-sha, 2014)
His point that God is“working”caught me off guard. If that were the case, in the world filled with such workings, we wouldn't need to prove that God“exists.”Humans would be unable to explain all the workings of nature however advanced science might be. If so, God would remain as a proof of nature's workings despite of modernistic thought.
This way of thinking is also applicable to art. The value of art is not in the existence of an artwork itself, but it resides in its workings. Needless to say, the volume of an artwork such as its size is not related to its value. Feeling an uneasy void at the exhibition of
“500 Arhats,”I was afraid if it was evidence that I could not catch up with the times. I realized, however, that the work did not“work”on me. The reason was clear when I studied preliminary sketches up to the completion of Murakami's works and“instructions.” The artist's staff wrote“Mr. Murakami game me such instructions,”and Murakami's instructions included scribbles of some abusive language. I was surprised that such communication was displayed in the exhibition as it was. There I saw a relationship between the artist who acts like God and his staff who wait for his oracles.
God's existence used to be expressed visibly so that people could feel it directly. Prior to the modern era, the role of an artist was probably a spiritual medium to pass on oracles to us. Contemporary science denies God's existence, but it does not mean that artists have taken the place of God. And yet, art is considered the expression of an individual's talent and the outcome of a genius. Caught up in narcissism, humans stand in the center of art in place of God and admire artists as their representatives.
Renovations occurring in art since the latter half of the 20th century until today must have been the time's request to correct such distortion. It is related to the fact that exhibitions are shifting from modernistic white cube galleries of a museum to the open air. It is also relevant that the theme of Abiko International Open-Air Art Exhibition is fixed to“Breathing Forest, Water and Smell of Culture.”I participated in a lecture hiking held on October 24, 2015, walked around the venue and once again felt geographical features and geopolitics of the open-air exhibition. The participating artists must have felt the power of“workings” in that area. Abiko is currently a commuter town located on the south bank of the Tone River. The area began to undergo such a change in the second half of the 1970s, and the population of the area increased three times in forty years. A park, the main venue of this open-air exhibition, is located on the border of the residential area and farmlands. A park that is conceived as a creation of the present day seems to play the role of maintaining a buffer zone between humans (civilization) and nature. Before modern times, temples and shrines must have played such a role.
It was impressive that the first work we saw going on a hike was in the middle of a rice field and the second one was in the shrine's precincts. Having experienced only these two works, I felt that the whole picture of this open-air exhibition became clear. In the rice field, \-shaped parts are installed as if to follow the lines of rice planting, and the very relationship between nature and people was visible. Agriculture is almost entirely dependent on nature's workings. As if catching sight of the“workings”repeatedly, people structured days in the farm village conducting a chain of religious rituals with a harvest festival at the top of the list. In between nature's workings and humans' work (the economy)—on the border of the extraordinary and the ordinary, there must have been a place for art. We went on to Sengen Shrine and saw patterns made with sifted lime powder surrounding the pavement. I heard that the patterns were a mixture of dragons, snakes and Mexican good-omen patterns. The way in which lime powder sprinkled early in the morning that day soaked humidity of the local atmosphere showed me a subtle and deep relationship between humans' conduct and workings of the place. They present people's respect for God's workings, apart from the admiration for a long time of hundred-years unit given to stone sculptures from Edo Period enshrined on the side of the pavement, though both are rooted in the same ground. Here I don't have enough space to write about each of the other artworks inspired by natural (God's) workings and revelations, such as the spirits' dwelling and glitter in the forest behind the shrine, a work that makes us think of a passage of light, and morel mushrooms and matsutake mushrooms hidden in Fusa citizen's forest.
Artists are not expected only to express God's workings in a passive way. People themselves work as a part of nature. To believe that humans exist independently from nature makes us conceit. To get mixed in nature in camouflage is the reverse side of the same conceit. I would like to point out that I saw two works that tried to correct such a situation. Additionally, in Miyanomori Park, we can still see the sign explaining that radiation hotspots contaminated by the 2011 nuclear plant accident have been decontaminated. There an installation of a small sun made of bamboo seemed to deliver light of peaceful hope to a group of artworks which resemble local children's prayers, contrasting with radiation that was emitted by humans' conceit.
Visitors to this exhibition (including myself) are invited into this specific site (Abiko) where humans and nature have been building a long-term relationship, and would act as new media through the site's workings. It seems that as one of such media, I am expanding the network through this essay.
Shinya Koizumi Professor, College of Education, Ibaraki University Art Critic