The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
Art bringing hope to Echigo-Tsumari  The ongoing journey of Fram Kitagawa
Art bringing hope to Echigo-Tsumari  The ongoing journey of Fram Kitagawa
Since reaching its peak in 2004, the population of Japan is now decreasing. The population in the cities continues to grow, so there are concerns that the depopulation of the regional areas is going to accelerate at an even faster rate. Are there things that you have learned from your activities in Echigo-Tsumari about new ways to deal with these issues?
One is a way to help the elderly farmers of the region continue to work their terraced rice paddies by having people become terraced paddy owners. The number of people who have become members of this owners program and the fan club both is now around 500. To support Echigo-Tsumari it is essential to have support groups from the urban areas providing both personnel and financial support, and what has surprised me most is the fact that the people in the cities are searching for places like Echigo-Tsumari that they can become involved in even more than the rural communities are searching for supporters. Some corporations have already recognized this trend. The travel agency JTB is one, and they have launched a business serving as mediators for people from the cities who want to move to rural communities. They are now cooperating fully with us in Echigo-Tsumari and they have planned advertising and tours for us.
 It costs at least 300,000 yen a month to live in Tokyo, but in a place like Echigo-Tsumari you can live on 100,000 a month, which means that it can be possible to enjoy a more affluent lifestyle there in the country. The number of people thinking this way is on the rise. I believe this is a big tectonic shift. But usually you have to have children in order to enter a new community. In Echigo-Tsumari, however, an involvement in art can be your key to becoming a part of the local community. This is a defining difference. Art can be your ticket of entrance in Echigo-Tsumari.

Learning from Gaudi about concern for regional communities

When you involve yourself with a regional art project, you begin by doing a tremendous amount of research into the region and then you always initiate art projects that reflect that knowledge. For example, before starting the vacant house projects, you brought in architectural experts and surveyed the houses of the area. And for you project involving Niigata’s Shinano River you had a survey done on the flow dynamics of the river and you also had the artist Yukihisa Isobe, known for his works involving tracing on the land, do a project.
I don’t know if you can really call it survey as such, but I always travel personally all around the region I am dealing with. In the case of Echigo-Tsumari, I put 12,000 km on my car’s odometer driving all over the region before the start of the first festival there in 2000. But nothing interesting will come of trying to use the knowledge acquired that way for the edification of the community.

Your involvement with regional communities didn’t begin with Echigo-Tsumari. It seems to be something that goes back to the fact that you were raised in Niigata and your early involvement in student demonstrations and such. Just looking at your activities as an art director, you were producing exhibitions involving regional venues from early on, such as organizing the first exhibition to introduce the works of Antonio Gaudi in Japan in 1978, which toured to 11 venues, a “Print Exhibition for Children” that traveled too elementary and middle schools around Japan (1980), and he produced the “Apartheid NON! International Art Exhibition” (1988) that toured to 194 venues around Japan.
My original point of departure was actually a much narrower one. Put simply, I was wondering why there was so little interesting work going on in Japanese art. It was an art scene dominated by a very limited number of people and it was not supported by the public at all. Given that situation, I decided that, rather than becoming an artist and seeking my own form of expression, I could perhaps do more working behind the scenes to direct artistic activities. And that is what I have been doing ever since. I believe that the place where you can bring out the problems and issues involved in art most clearly is in the regional communities with their clearly defined interpersonal relationships. I still basically only believe in arts and culture that are born from selling tickets one by one, not arts and culture that have been “authorized” by some authority. I believe that is the basis of regional arts and culture and only within that context can things really be seen for what they are.
 Concerning regional culture, I believe I learned more from my study of Gaudi than anywhere else. Gaudi’s works exist very naturally in Barcelona and they fit in very well with the surroundings of the place. It is also natural that Gaudi didn’t leave many architectural blueprints, because his working process was one of give and take with the artisans [stonemasons, carpenters, etc.] and involved starting out with a 1/200 scale model, then a 1/50 and a 1/20 and then finally a 1/1 that was the actual building. Therefore, when I think about Gaudi, I think in terms of the world of those “Gaudis” and the primal experience of things being born in that world.
 Gaudi was still in his 20s when he represented Spain at the Paris World Exposition. He was Spain’s rising star. At the time, Gaudi was supported by local weaving industry that had risen with the industrial revolution and the churches of Catalonia, but they were frail entities. His patron, Eusebi GuNell and others in the weaving industry were interested in building a utopia in lines with early socialist thought. But that dream was crushed by the first Great Depression. The churches of Catalonia was eventually suppressed by the central government and rendered ineffective. With the loss of these backers, Gaudi was finally left with only his Sagrada Familia.
 The interesting thing about the Sagrada Familia building is that its creation began with collecting materials from dismantled buildings. Although it is different now, in Gaudi’s day it was built by deciding what stones went well with what other stones. This process led to rough and unsophisticated sense of material. The origins of Gaudi’s art went back to the chorus association he was a member of in his youth and the association of exploration in Catalonia. The chorus association was an underground organization that sang in Catalonian, which was outlawed by the Spanish government at the time. In terms of a Japanese equivalent Catalonia’s association was something like the Rojokansatsu Gakkai (ROJO: Unknown Japanese Architecture and Cities or Street Observation Conference) formed by architect Terunobu Fujimori and other artists. I believe it was these roots that enabled Gaudi to find possibilities in architecture that were not headed toward Modernism.
 In other words, I was greatly influenced by my serious delving into the Gaudi phenomenon and asking myself what was behind it. And that is the source of my conviction that things can only be seen in terms of region. I come to the conclusion that reality cannot be separated from region or place, and see anything else as being simply in the realm of fashion. So I believe that finding things that can be done in a specific region or community and doing it in that place is what leads to solid gains and results, even if they would be small.
| 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 |