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A Place Where the Countryside and the City Resonate:
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003

Fram Kitagawa, General Director

The 1st Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial the founding of Echigo-Tsumari Art Necklace Project, was brought about after a great deal of difficulty. This is now followed by the second edition. I would like to extend my gratitude and respect to the great number of people who have made it possible, including the local inhabitants, artists, officials of the six municipalities and the prefecture, specialist of the fields and Kohebitai supporters, the memories of whom all move me. Thank you.

Our endeavor was to create an opportunity for regional independence, in the form of an art festival with artists' involvement. However there were many questions raised and objections made against it in the 1st Triennial. Not withstanding, most of visitors concluded; 'hot, humid, too large and exhausting, but refreshing and interesting'. The essence is condensed in their words.

In the face of local oppositions, through extended dialogue, after wide study and collaboration, the Triennial triumphed in showing visitors to the region an inroad to experience satoyama. For over 1000 years local descendants have endured hardship and toiled to turn river terraces and folds of the Shinano into rice fields. Satoyama is the life and scenery, it is the result of human involvement with the earth through agriculture. It is a space that has absorbed the length of time, which stands in complete contrast to the current homogeneous system of global standardization. Satoyama is the fundamental backbone and background of this region. Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial has become a vehicle for us to come to deeply understand this through other people.

In the midst of global environmental crisis, increasing anxiety regarding civilizations and themselves and without any prospect for the future, regions are groping for ways of exchange and methods to co-existence with cities. They must come up with programs that are not addressed to 20th century's modernity. Art is also in transition from urban art of the 20th century to a new and different concept of Art for the new century.

The works of art for Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial explore a new possibility of art. They are the results of encounters between opposite beings: artists, who come from cities (or foreign countries), and the region, which can be characterized as 'depopulated' 'agricultural' and 'considerably occupied by aged people'. That must be the true definition of 'collaboration'. The process of creating works of art on other people's properties initially caused various conflicts, but the encounter between different worlds eventually brought about new energy. What has emerged is a public circuit connecting different fields. That foresees the birth of the idea of 'public' in this country where only the idea of 'authorities' and the 'private' exists. It heralds the beginning of the concept 'Civil'.

The Kohebitai (small snake squad) has moved around bringing widely varied aspects to this region, perhaps even more than the exhibiting artists have. We can perceive many possibilities in the process where 'urban' 'young' 'unknown' people were initially refused access because of their alien nature, but gradually were able to work in collaboration with local people due to their unstoppable enthusiasm. The Kohebitai (small snake squad) is not an organization, it has no rules and no leader; it is a gathering of people of different occupations, fields and ages. However, their activities and gestures contain already extremely public aspect.

In conjunction with the Triennial, 'Spirit Country: Contemporary Australian Aboriginal Art' and 'Inuit' will be held with support of Australian and Canadian Governments respectively. Ainu people have been committed to both exhibitions and the Aboriginal exhibition will travel to Kushiro City. Tsumari will present two exhibitions: 'Breathing of the Earth: Flame-shaped Earthen Ware' in Tokamachi and 'Akiyamago: Wisdom of Living' in Tsunan. These exhibitions will show the folklore, life and art of the places, place that follow their own time and have been continually committed to their natural environment.

In addition to this, many foreign countries have provided us with a great deal of cooperation. The Netherlands have entirely supported 'Real Lear in Echigo-Tsumari', and many countries including France, Spain, Germany, Finland, Mexico and Puerto Rico have assisted us both in moral and financial terms. I believe their cooperation and support come from their sympathy to the project and expectations for this Triennial that is trying to open up this task for the 21st century and is seeking a way for art that is not urban-based.

The Echigo-Tsumari region has about 200 communities, with populations ranging from a few to thousands in size. Only two communities participated in the last Triennial, while this time over 50 communities are fully committed and collaborated with artists in their own customs with great enthusiasm. This is a new beginning.

Aged people occupy one forth of the population of 76,000 total of the six municipalities of the region. I am excited to tell you that 'Real Lear' is a play performed by old people themselves, and 'White Project' is a project where many of the aged have participated. I believe the existence of old people is a positive element to the regional power and should be used for regional revitalization.

In addition to local festivities, there will be many events programmed during the Triennial. This proves that fine art has started to build strong connection with other cultural fields. Also the events will be linked to local festivals.

This Triennial is also featured by participation of 20 architects and 30 university laboratories. The Triennial provides these students with an opportunity to learn what site-specific art is and how hard, dynamic and pleasant it is to work with local people, an experience which will in turn lead them to teach children in the future what they have learned in Tsumari.

'Ryokan Ball' is a game of hide-and-seek game in satoyama that visitors can play in a natural setting. Following the example of 'Ryokan', a Niigata-born priest of the 17th century, who played hide-and-seek with children in Satoyama, please join in 'Ryokan Ball' and enjoy the sunsets of summer in Tsumari.

With numerous art projects functioning as opportunities to revitalize the region, three architectural projects called 'Stages' have been completed as footholds for regional development: 'Echigo-Tsumari Exchange Center: Kinare', 'Matsudai Snow-Land Agrarian Culture Center', 'Echigo-Matsunoyama Museum of Natural Science'. Each architectural project is equipped with devices designed to become core facilities for the region. The Stages are about to start their activities after many trial and error and detailed examination the specialists, inhabitants, local government and Kohebitai over several years. They will develop to become public facilities, the like of which has never been seen before. They will be stages for developing networks and for connecting local tasks to universal tasks of civilizations.

We would be delighted if you could experience this art in its role as mediator between 'place and people' 'people and people'. We will feel we have succeeded if you can sense, through the art our network that tries to go beyond 'region', 'generation' and 'genre', in the process of making a your satoyama trip around Tsumari. Guided by the artworks, please try to feel it with all your five senses. Human beings are a part of nature. Resonating with the earth, Art, with the physiological intuition of artists that is connected to nature. All this is looking forward to encountering you.

Born in Africa far hundred thousands years ago, our ancestors went north to the Himarayas and came down to this archipelago. Pioneers of Jomon period settled in this region and explored their culture of flame-shaped earthenware. And they cultivated the Shinano Basin for 1500 years and turned it into the top rice-producing region in Japan. Now, the rice fields are dying.

Culture was born by cultivating the earth. In the twilight of civilization now, we must burn a fire and let it burn enough to guide a tiny boat drifting in the Japan Sea to where our spirit exists.


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