Why You Should Go Island-hopping for Art in Japan

A major contemporary art festival shines the spotlight on an oft-forgotten part of Japan.

The Secret of Hanasuwajima, by Japanese artist Kana Kou, on Shodoshima’s Mito Peninsula.

Established in 2010 to help revive struggling island communities in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, the Setouchi Triennale already has tongues wagging ahead of its upcoming fourth edition. The festival spans three sessions this spring, summer, and autumn, encompassing 200 site-specific installations (around half of which are permanent) spread across a dozen islands as well as the ports of Takamatsu and Uno. That comes on top of perennial draws like the Benesse Art Site on much-photographed Naoshima and the neighboring isles of Teshima and Inujima.

Teshima-bound visitors should not miss prominent Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist’s video installation tucked inside a traditional storehouse. Similarly, Argentinian conceptual master Leandro Ehrlich (who has twice represented his home country at the Venice Biennale) is bringing a dose of whimsy to Megijima via a video sculpture using laundry machines, and a renovated home fitted with optical illusions. On tiny Ogijima, the former post office will host an installation by German-born artist Sarah Westphal titled The Sea Within – The See Within, which captures the quality of light found in the Seto Inland Sea while depicting giant tentacles that allude to the locally caught octopus.

Yayoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin at Miyanoura Port, Naoshima.

There’s also an expanded calendar of multi-disciplinary performances. During the triennale’s autumn session, U.K.-based Neon Dance will present Puzzle Creature, a new hour-long work inspired by the “architecture against death” of Shusaku Arakawa and Madeline Gins. Other special events include a theater production from Dutch artist Christiaan Bastiaans featuring the acclaimed Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, plus concerts by an a cappella choir of several hundred members, mainly from Taiwan. One could spend an entire week hopping between the islands without seeing it all. (April 26–May 26, July 19–August 25, and September 28–November 4). 

More information here.

This article originally appeared in the April/May 2019 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Island-hopping For Art”).

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