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The Setouchi Triennale: a re invention

Jun 03, 2013

The Setouchi Triennale  uses the islands dotted around the Seto Inland Sea (Japans largest inland sea) as a site to host artists and artworks for this event, but the unique histories of these islands is as affecting as the artworks themselves. Much like the ‘Cockatoo Island effect’ for the Biennale of Sydney  the histories of these sites often effect how the viewer experiences an exhibition and also how the artists rise to the challenge of creating new work. Unlike Cockatoo Island which is now treated as a historic site and protected from reinvention, the Setouchi Triennale is concerned with saving and revitalising a region which is in steady decline. The islands are a unique offering for visitors, holding a rich diversity of cultures and stunning scenery which varies from island to island. This value maybe recognised by occasional visitors, but younger generations have left the Islands to live in major cities, leaving the Seto area in a state of steady decline, solely populated by the elderly in small villages. The Triennial seeks to breathe new life into the area boosting its tourist economy and re inventing the area to be more attractive to a younger generation.

Titled TRACES- BLUE, Australian artists Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango have created a series of work affected by the story of the archipelago. The duo engaged the small fishing town of Kou on Teshima Island, undertaking a month long residency on the island and working closely with the local communities to create the resultant works which covered multiple sites.

Craig Walsh describes in his own words a couple of the outcomes of this collaboration.

The Honki Dori is a mirrored boat which is moored in the harbor; the original was an old unused fishing boat in a similar condition to the boat moored beside it. It is now completely clad with mirrored perspex and floating in the exact same position it occupied in its original form. It both reflects and connects to its environment and at times also disappears. A symbol of the changes affecting this village as the fishing industry is in deep decline.

The second aspect of this is a community generated sculpture and performance which used the Honki Dori flags from up to four generations of fisherman. The flags are given to a fisherman from local community members when he has a new boat launched to ensure bountiful catches and prosperous fortunes for the boat. Historically and culturally the flags are only ever allowed to be flown on the boat when it is launched. The local fisherman saw the mirrored boat and the concepts behind our project as an opportunity to create a traditional bamboo flagpole and fly the Honki Dori. Everyday an elderly fisherman raises the flags at 7am (weather permitting). These flags are very precious objects to these fisherman and there is great pride to see them flying as a response to the new boat in the harbour as there is an awareness that it is highly unlikely that there will ever be a new fishing boat launched in the village. A performance /ritual was created with Hiromi, in which members of the community danced and circled the Honki Dori, connected by a rope made by the community.

An old unused traditional house is the site for the other major component of the project.

In the house there is a collaborative sculpture generated by Hiromi with hundreds of people. Hiromi conducted workshops everyday generating artworks predominantly responding to ROPE. As something which connects and secures, it was a strong motif in which locals could respond to and express their community and cultural connection.  Hand made rope from all types of local materials and second hand cloths donated to the project are interwoven with discarded rope and handmade rope still being made in the village. Also there are a mass of responses and objects connected in the sculpture including things like old octopus traps. The community ropes also assist in holding the mirrored boat in place in the harbour.

The success of these projects is further testament to the long lasting value of art and the diverse ways in which it can be harnessed. Reaching far beyond the fleeting two minute viewing of a work in a white cube, art can be a powerful tool in community relationships, corporate and government partnerships and in rich cross cultural exchange. The Setouchi Triennale demonstrates these varying functions do not need to come at the cost of artistic integrity, rather they can work hand in hand, as Walsh notes ‘Setouchi is one of the most powerful art projects I have experienced, it has; in real terms created a way in which art can make a significant financial and cultural contribution to the sustainability of these islands.’

Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango received funding through the Visual Arts Board for their participation in the Setouchi Triennale.