More on biennials, triennials…

I recently wrote a short, illustrated article discussing the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in the context of the international boom in contemporary art biennials, triennials and the like…

Published as part of Craftsouth’s critical writing program, you can find the article online here. [*** Oct 2013 – relocated after Craftsouth’s rebrand to Guildhouse – here]

     Images:  Harumi Yukutake, Restructure (2006), Tokamachi region
(Photographed by Ruth Fazakerley, 2012)

Contemporary (art) pilgrimages

Some notes from the contemporary art trail.

Having recently joined other pilgrims at both the 2012 Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial in Japan and at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, I’ve been struck by some of the similarities with the forms of traditional pilgrimage (at least as I might imagine them to be):

  • a route marked out between locations of significance
  • the importance of human teachers (the “tour guide”), not to mention the BOOK, and increasingly the workshop, seminar, film or symposium – a variety of textual and verbal narratives to help guide pilgrims to gain special insights into the objects or events marked out at each location, over and above what might otherwise be gleaned from the primary sources
  • being with others; the sense of joining together with others in common purpose in undertaking the journey, while nevertheless engaged in very personal, individual quests
  • people watching, but also being watched – taking up a recognised role that is accorded certain conventional responses/behaviour in interacting with others (especially important for the solo traveller)
  • the framing of activity (especially in conversation with other pilgrims) in terms of feats of endurance, trials weathered, problems met and (mostly) conquered
  • competitive like encounters with fellow travellers (see above)
  • frequent irritation with fellow travellers
  • the associated selling (and purchase) of indulgences and souvenirs, and
  • the importance of food, drink and general markers of reward and revelry (between, and after, the days work – at rest stops and gathering places).

Artwork located outside of the institutional walls of a gallery or museum is of course de rigueur for contemporary biennales, triennials, etc. It adds to the experience of the trail that special question that comes with everyday encounters: “is this art?”  As rewarding as that engagement has the potential to be for the pilgrim, I’m sure it can wear a bit thin with the locals:


On the principle that “art is what you say it is”, signage can be very helpful.

Jan Gehl has often written that people attract other people – I’d suggest that people looking at something (anything) probably attracts even more. It only takes one or two people to linger, perhaps point, before there is a general turning of attention – pull out a camera and there is definite movement.

My own initial uncertainty here in deciding what I was looking at, generated by the motionless performance of the gentleman lying on the grass – and his bevy of observers engaged in art-viewing like activities – dissipated somewhat when the group seated to the left of the image started calling out to passersby “Documenta art!  Das ist Documenta art!” (and giggling).

Men in Bronze (3), Tokyo

Also hidden away amongst the summer foliage is the statue of Prince Arisugawa Taruhito (1835-95), created in 1903 by Ōkuma Ujihiro and originally located in front of Army General Staff buildings. In 1962 it was relocated to the Arisugawa no miya Memorial Park. The name of the park marks the Arisugawa no miya branch of the imperial household, which ended with the death of Prince Arisugawa no miya Takehito in 1913. The site had been donated to the Tokyo metropolitan authorities for use as a public park in 1934 by a younger half-brother, Prince Terunomiya Nobuhito who had an interest in children’s recreation and education. The park was handed over to the Minato ward municipal authorities in 1975.


I suspect I may have now exhausted the surviving equestrian statues of Meiji imperial military leaders in the city centre, but will keep you posted!

Sven Saaler, a historian based in Tokyo, suggests that Japan’s first commemorative bronze depiction of a person seated on horseback is the 1898 statue of Lord Mouri Tadamasi in a park in Yamaguchi (in western Japan). Saaler’s personal website includes fascinating images documenting the drawings and prospectus soliciting funds for the Yamaguchi commission, the regulations of the organizing committee, local reporting of the event and subsequent postcards.

More generally, Saaler offers a fantastic resource for historical and contemporary research (or browsing) with an online collection of images of pre- and post-war Japanese statues drawn from photographs, postcards, and lithographs.

I believe that an independent organisation, the Japan Institute for the Survey and Conservation of Outdoor Sculpture may have undertaken, or at least proposed, a comprehensive survey of outdoor sculpture in Japan, but am yet to track down any details. The Institute was founded in June 1997 “by sculptors, conservators, conservation scientists, staff of local government organizations, and art historians… to prompt local government and other organizations that own outdoor sculptures throughout Japan to appropriately manage these works that are often neglected in their current conditions” (Tanaka Shuji).

If undertaken, the survey would provide an interesting complement to the 1999-2001 national survey of memorial monuments by Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology (partly reported on by Hirochika Nakamaki in 2005 in the English language book chapter Memorial Monuments of Interrupted Lives in Modern Japan: From Ex Post Facto Treatment to Intensification Devices).

I’ll spare you further listing of the other prewar men in bronze around Tokyo I’ve discovered (for now at least) but suffice to say there are more!

And I think I’ll also have to leave you wondering for now about the abundant evidence of postwar taste in smaller scale, mainly female, neo-classical nude figures in stone and bronze that seems to have largely replaced commemorative statuary in the urban landscape. (See a discussion of this in the 1993 article by Aoi Shimizu, Sexism in Tokyo’s New Public Art: Preliminary Results from Field ResearchMiddle States Geographer vol 26.)  While this trend overlaps the arrival of outdoor abstract sculptures in city streets and building foyers, not to mention landmark urban development projects incorporating “signature”, site-specific artwork, and everything else in between, the continuing preponderance of figurative, especially nude, sculpture always strikes me as remarkable – its a feature that Julian Worrall, an academic at Waseda University suggests is related to the importance of the Nitten art organization, its annual exhibitions, and influential reach and patronage.

[PS I’ve updated the lost date/sculptor in my earlier post Men in Bronze (2).]

Tokyo Culture Creation Project

Lest you’re starting to wonder whether I’m obsessed exclusively with the late 19th and early 20th C bronze sculptures in Tokyo…

On a Sunday excursion a couple of weeks ago to watch the people of Tokyo at play in Yoyogi Park, I recognised the asphalt drawings at the Harajuku entrance to the Park as one of the recent Artpoint projects of the Tokyo Culture Creation Project.

Yoyogi Park Project


The Tokyo Culture Creation Project was launched in 2008 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture as a collaboration with other arts and culture organizations and relevant NPOs to promote Tokyo as a city of arts and culture. (The Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture is subsidized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government (TMG) to manage a range of cultural facilities in the city, including major museums, galleries and theatres. They have a broader mission, in line with the TMG’s cultural policies, to promote the city’s cultural assets, traditional culture and contemporary arts, as well as providing “nurturing of and support for emerging artists” and promoting the “interaction between artists and citizens”.)

The Artpoint strand of the program aims to support artists and residents, art organisations, and NPOs to foster the creation of unique city “art points” across Tokyo:

The Tokyo Artpoint Project is designed to connect unique people, towns, and activities in Tokyo, and provide people with opportunities to be involved in their community voluntarily, so that they can revitalize their community and towns as “their own”, and create and spread new culture from Tokyo.

The Yoyogi Park project, documented here and here, was undertaken in September 2011 as a collaboration between the Foundation and the Tokyo Metropolitan Parks Association. The white drawings are produced using a heat treated plastic material normally used for road markings. Designed and created by artist Yusuke Asai and local workshop participants, these line drawings have appeared elsewhere in Tokyo streets  (for example, see the White line – Koganai blogspot here).

There’s an informative English language outline of the Yoyogi Park project on Tokyo Art Beat by Jessica Jane Howard, one of a series of articles produced by Tokyo Art Beat writers in conjunction with the Tokyo Culture Creation Project.

Tokyo in Progress

Another Artpoint project is a collaboration with the Center for Interlocal Art Network (CIAN) and artist Tadashi Kawamata.  Tokyo In Progress is a long term project begun in 2010 to explore the changing relationships between the city and its waterfront. The two completed elements of the project so far are Shioiri Tower (Shioiri Park, Minami Senju, Arakawa Ward) and Wood Terrace Construction (Tsukuda Ishikawajima Park, Paris Plaza, Chuo Ward), with a third proposed for construction in October this year (Harumibashi Tokyo Metropolitan Park, Toyosu, Koto Ward).

Shioiri Tower and the Terrace are both large timber structures set in parks along the Sumida River. They provide places to rest and relax, and access to views out (and back) over the rapidly changing landscape (including the Tokyo Sky Tree ever present on the skyline). Both timber structures were designed and produced through a series of dialogues between the people constructing them and those residents, students and others who “collected” around its construction via formal workshops or on-site conversations. (See below, for example, the boxes lining the interior of Shioiri Tower that house the results of a palm-sized tower building workshop with local elementary school children).

The Minami Senju and Tsukuda areas both have longstanding communities (and built forms of dwelling), formerly mixed with industrial activities and now co-existing with new developments of residential multi-storey apartment building at a range of scales. (To get some idea of this click on the panoramas below compiled from the view from the Shioiri Tower looking both across the river, and back towards Minami Senju).

Shioiri Tower


Wood Terrace Construction


And by way of giving some idea of the context for the images above, I have to include some from this weekend’s Tsukuda Matsuri (the Sumiyoshi Shrine Annual Festival), held just around the corner from the site shown above….



Men in Bronze (2), Tokyo

(Men, horses, and a dog in bronze actually…)

Other pre-war western-style commemorative statues that survive in central Tokyo include that of Prince Kitashirakawa, bronze cast in 1903 by the artist Shinkai Taketarō (1868-1927). Hidden among trees near the Crafts Gallery of the National Museum of Modern Art in Kitanomaru Park, facing the Imperial Palace, Michael Lucken notes this statue originally stood nearby at the entrance to the barracks of the 1st and 2nd Imperial Guard regiments (Remodelling Public Space: The Fate of War Monuments 1945-48).

Close by, at the northern entrance to Kitanomaru Park is also the equestrian statue of Prince Ōyama Iwao (for which I am yet to determine a date or sculptor!). [UPDATE: according to the Chiyoda Tourist Association, this was erected in November 1919 and was also produced by Shinkai Taketarō.]

Continuing the theme of imperial military leaders astride horses that find themselves in heavily treed locations, is the statue of Prince Komatsu no Miya Akihito in Ueno Park, sculpted by  Okuma Ujihiro and dedicated in 1912.

Okuma also sculpted the 1893 statue of army officer Ōmura Masujirō at Yasakuni Shrine, founded in 1869 to enshrine the souls of those who fought and died for the Japanese Government. (Although not named Yasakuni until 1879).  Ōmura is reputed to be Japan’s first cast bronze statue in the Western style. Like Lucken, Julie Higashi also stresses that the statue is remarkable for having survived intact and in its original location since 1893 (see ‘The Spirit of War Remains Intact: the Politics of Space in Tokyo and the Yasakuni Shrine’, in Stefan Goebel and Derek Keene eds. Cities into Battlefields: Metropolitan Scenarios, Experiences and Commemorations of War, 2011).

Higashi notes that Ōmura is also remarkable for the symbolism of its location. Positioned at the centre between two gateways that lead to the Shrine, the statue sits between the shrine and the Imperial Palace, reflecting loyalty to a State firmly anchored in the Imperial throne (p 206).


The third such important statue in Tokyo’s landscape (along with those of Kusunoki Masashige and Ōmura Masujirō) is that of Saigō Takamori at Ueno Park. The sculptor is Takamura Kōun and the statue was dedicated in 1898.


Both Saigō and Ōmura are commemorated as having sided with Imperial forces during the civil war that led to the Meiji restoration. Saigō is shown with his dog, a feature that led to particular controversy at the statue’s unveiling in 1898. According to Aaron Skabelund in Empire of Dogs: Canines, Japan and the Making of the Modern World (as reviewed in the Japan Times), Saigō’s favourite dog happened to be a Western breed. The criticism heaped upon an early model of the dog for its similarities to a Chinese breed, however, led the sculptor to recast the dog with “pointy ears” to look suitably Japanese…

Skabelund notes that the dog’s Chinese appearance was seen as a, “stain on the dignity of the newly canonized national hero [and] bore ugly traces of a popular chauvinism that the Sino-Japanese War had recently stirred into a frenzy.”

A similar tale of anxiety about national identity is associated with the representation of Hachiko, the dog first immortalised at the entrance to Shibuya  station in 1934. Hachiko (an Akita dog, a breed from the north of Japan), famously waited every day at Shibuya station for the return of his master from work, continuing to wait for another nine years after the man’s death. A series of newspaper articles and publications  led to the story being used as a popular example to children about faithfulness, even becoming a national symbol of loyalty to the imperial institution.

Saito Hirokichi, the self-appointed promoter and guardian of “purebred” Japanese dogs, raised funds for the original statue and insisted on depicting Hachiko with both ears upright, arguing this is how a pedigree should look. The artist refused and Hachiko’s floppy left ear was immortalized. (Japan Times)

Hachiko is an example of a statue that was recycled for its metal during World War II. However, a committee formed after the war to sponsor its return, commissioning the son of the original artist to recreate the sculpture.  Hachiko returned to Shibuya in 1948.

Art to Challenge the Mid-Summer Burning Sun

OK, running with a theme here…

Yesterday’s wandering took me to the National Art Center in Tokyo to see the Gutai retrospective (and the Center’s wonderful library, populated with art catalogues and friendly staff). The current exhibition GUTAI: The Spirit of an Era is the first Tokyo retrospective of the group’s work (1954-1972). The wiki page for Gutai gives the word’s meaning as “embodiment”, but I think the more ambiguous translation, as “concrete”, used in the exhibition panels, gives more of a flavour of the era and reflects the variety of media being used to make art!

The exhibition shows documentation of the first exhibition of the group members: Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Summer Burning Sun, Ashiya Park, July 1955.  The retrospective includes reconstructions of a number of works from the exhibition, including objects intended to be walked around and on top of, and climbed underneath by passers by (although not permitted in the sanctity of the National Art Center).

While the title evokes the challenges of a Japanese summer, the exhibition, open for 24 hours a day on the banks of the Ashiya river, exhorted the participants to “challenge the mid-summer burning sun”: to “make work that was not eclipsed by the scale of the exhibition site, could be displayed without walls and could be rained on, blown around, touched, played with and seen in the dark” (citing Ming Tiampo’s 2007 article on Gutai’s discourse of originality, Create what has never been done before).

Now all of this is a roundabout way of reminding myself that outdoor exhibitions of contemporary art have a substantial history in Japan…. and a different one from the impression you might get from institutions like the Hakone Open-Air Museum, opened in 1969 as the first open air sculpture museum in Japan.

Which brings me in an even more roundabout way to:

Call for Entries: 25th UBE Biennale International Sculpture Competition.

Not an event I’d come across before, but with an impressive lineage, beginning in 1961 as the 1st Ube Exhibition of Outdoor Sculpture in Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.  Artists are invited to submit applications to exhibit artwork at Tokiwa Park in Ube, with a preliminary screening of entries based on a scale model of the (presumably object-based) work. Selected entries (40 models and 18 realised sculptures) will be eligible for a range of acquisitive awards of cash.

Deadline for applications 9 November 2012.
For application forms and further information about this and prior exhibitions, see here.

Men in Bronze, Tokyo

A change of pace from my recent events listings..

Leaving Melbourne’s gloomy weather behind at the beginning of this week, I’d been looking forward to a change of scene. Of course, I’d forgotten how terrible the summer weather can be in Japan, necessitating that every walk involves water bottles, sunscreen, hats and sun umbrellas – not to mention the ever handy towel for (politely) wiping off the accumulating sweat. As I plan to do a lot of walking around Tokyo this month, this has been a rude reminder!

One focus of my wandering is Tokyo’s many parks and gardens (and the artworks therein). While many include the ubiquitous vending machines dispensing drinks and ice creams, alongside toilets and shaded seating areas, I suspect its only the tourists to the capital (foreign and Japanese) who are crazy enough to be walking around gardens in the middle of the day… (Formal garden spots often include “rest centres” as a welcome refuge from the weather, offering postcards, souvenirs, and airconditioning.)

A trip to the Imperial Palace East Gardens (a gated park with restricted opening hours), and more especially the Outer Gardens, however, does highlight the importance of parks to the local population. At the end of the working day, as the heat of the sun dissipates, a steady stream of people emerge …not that you can tell this mind you, from my photo below of the statue in the Imperial Palace Plaza (Outer Gardens) taken at 5.30pm, and looking suspiciously devoid of humans, like most documentary photos.

According to Thomas Haven’s fascinating history of Japanese public green spaces, Parkscapes, the Imperial Palace Plaza (1889) along with Ueno Park (1876) were the chief public ceremonial spaces for events designed to gain public support for the Sino-Japanese (1894-5) and later Russo-Japanese wars (1904-5), linking state ambitions with the spiritual regulation of the citizenry. However, new parks also became the venues for popular rallies and anti-government demonstrations concerning issues ranging from rising rice prices to labour relations and voting rights.

Ueno was designated a public park in 1873 and formally opened by the Meiji emperor in 1876. The Palace Outer Garden, however, was “formally created in 1940 to commemorate the 2,600th anniversary of the country’s founding”, and only designated a national people’s park in 1947 under the Allied Occupation (Havens, p125).

The mounted bronze statue shown below is of Kusunoki Masashige, a celebrated 14th century samurai, noted for his devotion to the Emperor. Given the location and the era in which the park was created, its presence is just what you would expect to find. It’s made more remarkable, however, by the story that Michael Lucken tells of the survival of this sculpture (and others like it) in Remodelling Public Space: The Fate of War Monuments 1945-48  (in Sven Saaler & Wolfgang Schwentker eds, The Power of Memory in Modern Japan, 2008):

By the 1940s Japan’s parks and public places were well furnished with European styled commemorative statues. In 1943, when the government  decreed the withdrawal of all bronze statues as a symbolic effort towards encouraging metal collection  (not unlike the removal of historic fencing and railings for the war effort in the UK),  9,236 bronzes were registered. Of these, only 279 were marked for retention. Add to this situation the policies of the postwar occupying forces directed towards separating state and  religion, which led to a series of ministerial directives on the question of funeral ceremonies and commemorative monuments.  In Tokyo,  a Commission of Inquiry of the Removal of War Monuments decided upon the destruction of about twenty statues that had survived the metal cull of 1943, mostly (but not entirely) military heroes associated with the Russo-Japanese War; deciding to spare sculptures representing the Imperial family or relating to the imperial system.  Kusanoki Masashige is one of these, and one of the very few prewar statues in Tokyo that has remained intact and in-situ.

Thumbnails: Photographer,  Ruth Fazakerley, 18 July 2012.
Kusanoki Masashige (1893-1900), bronze; sculptor Takamura Kōun

Kusanoki Masahige Statue  Kusanoki Masahige Statue