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
Niigata Water and Land Art Festival
A new projected launched in Niigata City in 2009 to re-vitalize local communities with art. Niigata City (population: 810,000) is the prefectural capital of Niigata Prefecture, where Echigo-Tsumari is located. With two of the largest river systems in Japan, the Shinano River and Agano River, Niigata is Japan’s largest rice-producing regions. The history, knowledge and art of the city of Niigata are closely tied to the blessings and disasters brought by these two rivers in an ongoing battle of “Water and Land.” The aim of this festival is to help the citizens of Niigata share in this cultural heritage, to broadcast it out into the world and to make it a foundation for developing the city.

A program featuring over 60 invited and applicant artists and groups was compiled. Over the six months of the festivals duration, a large number of projects will be carried out in the three main areas of (1) Land Projects displaying some 70 works in locations carrying the heritage of land and water, such as the “elevated river crossings” (places where two rivers of different water levels cross each other on man-made elevated river works), the former “Kurinoki waste water system (a modern agricultural system of public works to carry wastewater from farmlands built in 1948) and old farm homes carrying the memories of now deserted villages and the like; (2) a Niigata Treasures project to help the citizens re-discover the history and culture of the region through “treasures” submitted by the city’s citizens, samplings of water from the Shinano and Agano rivers, 4,000 frottages created over the last year at different famous sites around Niigata and other collaborative works created by citizens and artists to be displayed as nostalgic treasures of Niigata; and (3) and a project to promote the appeal of the region through festivals, arts and culinary culture.

Niigata Water and Land Art Festival 2009
Dates: July 18 – Dec. 27, 2009
Venues: Niigata City Art Museum, Niitsu Art Forum, Niigata City History Museum, the former Sasagawa residence, various famous sites around Niigata City
Organizer: Niigata Water and Land Art Festival Committee (Chairman: Akira Shinoda, Mayor of Niigata City)
Director: Fram Kitagawa
Niigata Water and Land Art Festival
Aqua Metropolis Osaka
An art projects based on the theme of Osaka as an “Aqua Metropolis.” It is a symbol project of the Osaka urban renewal efforts making use of the water system created by the Dojima River, Tosabori River, Kizu River, Dotonbori River and Higashi-Yokobori River flowing through the center of the city. The main venue is a temporary structure made of bamboo named the Mizube no Bunka-za (Waterside Culture Theater) constructed on Nakanoshima island where a variety of artists will provide experiential (citizen participation) programs and art works.

Aqua Metropolis Osaka 2009
Dates: Aug. 22 – Oct. 12, 2009
Venues: Nakanoshima Waterfront Park, Hachikenya-hama area, the water/canal system, famous sites around Osaka city
Organizer: Aqua Metropolis Osaka 2009 Committee (Chairman: Kunio Hiramatsu, Mayer of Osaka)
Producers: Fram Kitagawa, Shinya Hashizume
General Advisor: Tadao Ando
Aqua Metropolis Osaka
Setouchi International Art Festival
An art triennial that will start in 2010 and be held on seven islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The Seto Inland Sea lies between the three islands of Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu in the Japanese Archipelago stretching for 450 km east and west and ranging in width from 15 to 55 km north and south, making it Japan’s largest inland sea. From older times the inland sea served as an important trade route, but today it is an area that also faces serious problems of pollution due to industrialization and depopulation and aging of the populations on the islands.

With the 1992 completion of the Benesse House complex with the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum and hotel facility initiated by Chairman Soichiro Fukutake of Benesse Corporation, a company long associated with support of contemporary art, Naoshima became the center of growing attention as an island of contemporary art. In 2004, the Chichu Art Museum (run by the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation) opened in a building designed by architect Tadao Ando. Also, on the island of Inujima in the Seto Inland Sea, an art project was launched making use of the island’s abandoned 100-year-old finery buildings. The Setouchi International Art Festival is a further development of these movements that attempts to contribute to the restoration of the island life in the Seto Inland Sea by shining the light of contemporary art on beauty and unique culture and culture of the islands as seen in their folk arts and festivals.

Setouchi International Art Festival 2010
Dates: July 19 – Oct. 31, 2010
Venues: the islands of Naoshima, Teshima, Megijima, Ogishima, Shodoshima, Oshima, Inujima and Takamatsu City
Organizer: Setouchi International Art Festival Executive Committee
Chairperson: Takeki Manabe (Governor of Kagawa Prefecture)
General Producer: Soichiro Fukutake (President of the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum Foundation)
General director: Fram Kitagawa
Setouchi International Art Festival
In Echigo-Tsumari, another theme seems to be coexistence with the natural environment, such as the terraced rice paddies.
I dislike the expression “coexistence with nature.” I think that it is much better to think in terms of the laws of nature. I believe it is presumptuous to speak in terms of seeking coexistence when the underlying attitude is one of controlling nature. I want to say “get back to a more primal state.”

You probably didn’t have that attitude when you started out in regional activities, did you?
No. I didn’t. But now I really feel that way. We who are involved in art speak about forms of expression and various such things, but in fact that isn’t what’s important. The important thing is that it is so interesting to be alive this moment in this space in the universe. And that experience is different for each of us and that difference is the true root of art, I believe. Art is not individual expression, it is just our manifestations of that different experience each of us has. That is something I have come to see very clearly.
 Also, although it my be important, for example, to measure the height of Mt. Fuji in terms of numbers, there are also other forms of perception, ways of feeling things that cannot be measured quantitatively. What I have come to understand is that, rather than breaking down things into parts and organizing them into analytical packets, it is often more correct to feel them instinctively and emotionally according to our natures; and that is exactly what art has consistently done and what we can feel most proud of as the heritage of art. And I believe that this is a worldview based on human beings as a part of nature.

Toward new projects

This year sees the start of a new festival you are involved in initiating, the “Niigata Water and Land Art Festival” in Niigata City.
Doing Echigo-Tsumari made me realize that for such a small country, Japan truly has very diverse and tremendously fascinating culture. What is the reason? I came to the conclusion that the reason can only be the land. Japan is an archipelago with coast washed by two black currents that bring warm temperatures and lots of rain. This creates rivers everywhere and many of them have very fast currents and rapids. You can surely say that this is most distinguishing feature of the Japanese islands. As a people who have lived on this land, our ancestors came to know the character of the land thoroughly. For example, even making the mounds that border the rice paddies and direct the flow of water requires a deep knowledge and understanding of the soil. Looking at the works of Koichi Kurita, an artist who creates works using soil gathered from different regions of the country, I realized what great variety there is in the colors of the soil found in Japan. Niigata in particular has an amazing variety of soil colors. They say the Earth is a planet of water, but it is also a planet of earth.
 Thinking from that perspective, Niigata City is built on the delta of Japan’s longest river, the Shinano River, and the Agano River, which has one of the largest water volumes among Japan’s rivers. And that means that it is built on land that has been churned for ages by these two great rivers as they sought courses to the sea. About one fourth of the land in Niigata City is below sea level, and some parts are as much as 2.5 meters below the water level of these rivers. And on this land and its mud wetlands, the people of Niigata have created the largest rice-producing area in Japan, and perhaps in the world as well. It used to be land where farmers waded hip-deep in mud to plant their rice crops, but with tremendous effort over the decades they created the broad plain of rice fields we see today. There are many memories and records remaining of Niigata’s water and land, such as photographs of those farmers’ efforts and the ravages of the flooding waters in the past and the earthworks like the river overpasses that have been built.
 In this year’s 1st Niigata Water and Land Art Festival, I wanted to see these memories of Niigata, including the local festivals and arts, celebrated as “treasures” of the region. Niigata City is the downstream end of the water system in which Echigo-Tsumari is at the upstream end. I wanted to make this festival one that sings the praises of the rice paddy-building culture that has evolved at these two ends of the Niigata water system and to see it in terms of the other river systems that have given birth to civilizations, like the Tigris and Euphrates and the Hwang Ho and Yangtze, and also the connections to northeast Asia that have extended out from Niigata’s rivers, so it will provide an overview of the path we have come and point to directions we may follow in the future.

You have also done art projects in Osaka, which along with Tokyo is one of Japan’s largest cities. You had the Osaka Art Kaleidoscope (2007, 2008) that brought together contemporary art with the Modern period architecture that remains in the city today, and this year you helped launch the Aqua Metropolis Osaka project.
Aqua Metropolis Osaka is a symbol project for the efforts by the city’s financial sector and the government to develop and revitalize the city. In the Edo Period, Osaka was Japan’s biggest commercial city thanks to water commerce that developed because of its seaport and the river system that laced the city. Until the 1910s it was a more active commercial center than Tokyo, and part of the wealth from that commerce went into social assets and infrastructure like the construction of bridges. Considering that history of hard-earned commercial success, “water” was agreed to be the defining theme for a campaign to revitalize the city.
 For this project we have gotten famous Osaka artists like Kenji Yanobe and Noboru Tsubaki, and the NPOs like DANCE BOX to join in a program that proposes “100 ways to enjoy the waterside.” A bamboo structure called the Mizube no Bunka-za (Waterside Culture Theater) constructed on Nakanoshima island to present art and a variety of performances and concerts.
 Osaka is also a city that has absorbed many immigrants from other parts of Asia who began new lives in the city. In the past that aspect of the city as an ethnic melting pot brought exceptional energy to Osaka. Today, a lot the city’s energy has been lost, so I hope this project will provide inspiration for the citizens and help restore some of the energy it once had as an ethnic melting pot.

Today there is a boom in art projects all over Japan. What do you think about this trend?
I think it is due to the fact that people find art projects a bit more interesting than the other things going on. Art is something that everyone can enjoy in their own way, and it provides the opportunity for people to get together and make “much ado about nothing,” if you will, and build connections. That is the distinguishing effect of art, and I imagine that is what people hope for from these projects. But, I think it is best if these projects are done where there is opposition to overcome (laughs).

In 2010, Setouchi International Art Festival 2010 will be held for the first time as a large-scale festival held on seven islands in the Seto Inland Sea. For this grand project, you have worked together with the Chairman and CEO of Benesse Corporation, Soichiro Fukutake, who with his company has been a leading promoter of contemporary art and initiator of art projects on the Seto Inland Sea islands of Naoshima and Inujima. Mr. Fukutake has recently founded a new Fukutake Foundation for Promotion of Regional Culture as further evidence of his dedication to these activities.
What began at Echigo-Tsumari is something that I believe can be called a “gift.” By each person contributing a small gift in the form of labor, communication has been re-established. In other words, the countryside is a place that has that kind of capacity for rebirth and renewal. It is the same on the islands in the Seto Inland Sea; there is capacity and power for renewal. These are places that are saying anyone is welcomed and anyone can earn their daily bread there if they are willing to work, and the people there will help people from the city start a second life on the islands. I believe that these islands can be revitalized as that kind of place. It may take a couple of decades but I think that possibility is there.
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