Let’s forget about Setouchi International Art Festival for one minute
What I mean is, that it would be nice to see other practices closer to my reality, apart from enjoying arts in villages surrounded by nature. I would like to suggest other working methods in the same region, examples without extraordinary sponsors, frantic (必死の努力) processes, heroes or paradigms (we don’t need paradigms).
Let’s start with Kyusyu, an area which is similar to the size of Taiwan, where I’m from, with half the population of Taiwan.
Before we start, I visited the non-profit art organization “BEPPU PROJECT” last year, which is kind of another miracle in Japan though. Located in Beppu city, Oita Prefecture, a place full of Onsen (hot spring) that is “cheaper than a can of juice”.
BEPPU PROJECT was founded in a small room in 2005 by Yamaide Yun’ya. He is an artist who has stayed at MoMA PS1 and Paris, and participated in Taipei Biennial 2000 and the 7th Asian Biennale Bangladesh in 1995. From an artist to a successful, regional organizer of creatives, he published the memoir “BEPPU PROJECT 2005–2018”. To date, BEPPU PROJECT has executed more than a thousand art projects in the region over the past 15 years. It has played an important role in creating a new cultural environment. Now it functions as a platform to support a society, co-created with art. It’s a center for gathering and redistributing resources, links governments, institutions, creative workers, and citizens.
BEPPU PROJECT facilitated the triennial art festival “Mixed Bathing World” during 2009–2015. It intended to encourage diversity, generate cultural capital and stimulate the economy with arts. BEPPU PROJECT also curated the Kunisaki Art Festival, a three-year public art project proposing the fusion of art tourism and nature.
During my two-week visit, BEPPU PROJECT arranged my travels around Ōita Prefecture. I was initially here to observe “The 33rd National Cultural Festival Oita 2018” which mainly organized by BEPPU PROJECT, but later I understood that I was also providing an impression of “artist-in-residence” to the local administration, since there were only a few cases of artist-in-residence in Japan. During a small discussion, a government staff asked, “What can an artist-in-residence do to help the regional economy?” I understand the need to quantify for a capitalist state, however I’m not sure how we calculate the value of cultural activities.
“National Cultural Festival” is the largest annual cultural festival in the country since 1986, which aims to invoke citizens in taking part in cultural activities and promoting “new arts and culture”. During the same time “The National Arts and Culture Festival for Persons with Disabilities” is also on view, working to promote the awareness and understanding of disabilities to the public. Both festivals together hold by different prefectural governments every year. But it is said the public is unaware their existences.
The theme of the event “Oita Daichakai” (Grand Tea Ceremony) was inspired by the historic event Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony (北野大茶会) held by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1587. It is said that anyone is free to join this large Japanese tea ceremony. During the National Cultural Festival, a modern Daichakai is held in Kitsuki: In the 21st century, you can fill the gap between different cultures through weekend market.
Relatively speaking, the cultural administration in Japan is a well-established structure, that allows cultural workers to advance large scale and long-term projects. But the climate is still not liberal enough, which we get a glimpse from the decisions made around Aichi Triennale’s comfort women debates. BEPPU PROJECT might have tried to invoke diversity, but essential change is still on the way. “It is no coincidence that BEPPU PROJECT directs many governmental projects, with budgets that could be hundred(s) of millions of JPY a year”, one of my Japanese friends reminds me.
At Oita Prefectural Art Museum, the exhibition “Action!” stunned me. The exhibition was composed of delicate arrangements of artworks and room-sized pages of texts, that led me walking into different perspectives. All the artists in this project were persons with disabilities. The exhibition was a prompt: not only to imagine an inclusive “living together” but also to invoke actions for a barrier-free environment. This project was initiated since 2015, and could be a reference for practicing Taiwan’s new “Culture Basic Law”. It brought me to examine myself… Did I ignore too many perspectives? How to make accessibility for “all visitors” in every exhibition?
One of the representative works of celebrated artist Anish Kapoor, Sky Mirror was planted on the lawn absorbing the current sky in Beppu Park. This high quality polishing concave stainless steel requests the forging welding craft, mirrors an upside-down, inverted world. Between a small forest of Japanese red and black pine in the park, two pavilions composed by Japanese architects Takematsu Yukiharu & E.P.A. appear. One is Void Pavilion V, an installation with two spaces displaying a huge ball and a small black hole both applied with his ultra-black Vantablack S-VIS pigment. Another pavilion showcases serial pieces, Concept of Happiness: Anish Kapoor’s Outline of Collapse. The tough, painful texture of the sculptures force viewers to look straightly into the dirty corners inside yourselves. Kapoor is flaying your skins.
It was great to see Kapoor’s work in Beppu, but it felt out of place. The curating of Anish Kapoor in BEPPU may value Beppu as an important metropolis by presenting work from the art-world heavyweights that is usually seen in the city. But since one finds Kapoor’s works everywhere, place loses its distinction. I want to ask further from an organizing perspective — How do we understand the public sphere in a more imaginative way?
 Quote from Oyama Saeko, project assistant of BEPPU PROJECT at that time.