In the context of Art Setouchi, the Chichu Art Museum deserves a separate post. Located on Naoshima, which has been developing as a centre of modern art for years, this unique museum blends architecture, installations, sculpture and painting into a kind of modern Gesamtkunstwerk.
Chichu houses three permanent exhibitions, by Claude Monet, Walter De Maria and James Turrell. But first of all there is the building itself, an underground structure designed by Tadao Ando, built into a hill and lit entirely with natural light coming in through large open ceilings. The effect, which changes throughout the day, is of an intermediate space, halfway between inside and outside, between culture and nature.
Ando's minimalist, bare concrete architecture creates a fitting environment for the works by Walter De Maria and James Turrell. De Maria's monumental granite and wooden sculpture evokes a temple for some alien religion, while Turrell's sculptures of light and space again blur the line between art and architecture. Here, too, a religious metaphor is tempting, as if spectators are initiated into some advanced cult that worships pure light.
(Turrell's most impressive work, however, is located elsewhere on Naoshima. His 'Backside of the Moon', in a house designed by Ando, is a low light installation that - very slowly - turns the very act of seeing into a truly revelatory experience.)
Chichu's stark minimalism can be quite intimidating - to the point where one feels that merely being there ruins the aesthetic effect - which is why Claude Monet's 'Water Lilies' provide a crucial counterweight to the other works. Besides adding a welcomely 'messy' element to the otherwise immaculate surroundings, Monet's large canvases add an interesting historical perspective to the museum's stated concept "to rethink the relationship between nature and people".
No photos, unfortunately, but the Chichu website has images of all the works. And there's always Google images.
A bit like a fractal image, the archipelago of Japan contains the Seto Inland Sea, located between the main islands of Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū, which in turn contains an archipelago of small islands. On seven of these islands, the Setouchi International Art Festival takes place for the first time this summer.
Amid the stunning scenery of vulcanic islands basking in hazy heat, the festival blends into the landscape by its concept of offering empty houses and other locations to artists to turn into their own exhibition spaces. Thus visiting the festival involves ferrying back and forth between the islands, wandering around in sleepy villages and stumbling upon artworks in the most unexpected places.
Art Setouchi hosts works by a wide variety of Japanese and international artists, including such names as Christian Boltanski, Leandro Erlich and Bill Viola, with works ranging from installations to sculptures and paintings. And while any modern art exhibition will have its share of Art best dismissed with a shrug (or, in Japan, with a polite smile), here the relationship between the locations and artworks ensures at the very least a pleasantly surreal element in an otherwise traditional environment.
Highlights that come to mind are 'Sea of Time '98' by Tatsuo Miyajima (part of an older Art House Project on Naoshima), which converts a traditional Japanese house into a meditative pond filled with alarm clock digits; 'Storm House' by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, which vividly and cozily recreates the experience of a thunder storm outside; and 'Sound Scenes in Ogijima' by Akinori Matsumoto, a two-part installation involving various "sound objects", including intricate musical instruments as well as rather disturbing mechanical birds.
But that's after visiting only four of the seven islands, so there's a lot more to discover... Art Setouchi 2010 lasts until 31 October - if you happen to be anywhere near, it's a highly recommended detour!
Photos are of 'A Town Between the Sky and the Sea' by Hiromu Nakanishi and Takeo Nakai, 'Sea of Time '98', 'Sea Vine' by Haruki Takahashi and 'Sound Scenes in Ogijima'.
Update: Raphaël has an in-depth and scathing review of Boltanski's 'Les Archives du Cœur'.
Hokkaidō, Japan's northern island, is where civilisation gives way to vast stretches of wilderness - pristine forests, vulcanic mountains, caldera lakes and desolate sea shores...
Photos are from the national parks of Akan, including Lake Mashū, and Shiretoko.
Japanese gardens, where the moss is hand-swept and the grass hand-shaven, are living works of art, striving to balance meticulous craftmanship with the unpredictable properties of nature, season and weather to create glimpses of transcendent beauty (enjoyed optimally at certain times from certain viewpoints, with the rest of the crowd).
Photos are from temple gardens in Kyoto, the Kinkaku-ji (the Temple of the Golden Pavilion) and Ryōan-ji. The latter is home to the famous Zen garden ('karesansui'), which represents Japanese gardening at its most austere and mystifying.
Built in the 15th century by an anonymous designer, this 'mind-scape' contains 15 rocks in a bed of white gravel, arranged in such a way that from any angle you can only see 14. According to Buddhist tradition, only after attaining enlightenment can one see all 15...
The Sagano bamboo forest in Arashiyama, Kyoto. (Camera died here, so these are phone snapshots.)
The bottom image is an artwork called 'Snow' by Yoshioka Tokujin, part of the 'Sensing Nature' exhibition at the Mori Art Museum. Subtitled 'Rethinking the Japanese perception of nature', it offers large-scale installations and sculptures exploring elemental natural phenomena like snow, water, light and mountains.
The fact that the museum is located on the 53rd floor of a Roppongi skyscraper is not so much ironic as illustrative of the exhibition's thoughtful approach to nature...
Over two thirds of Japan's population lives in its cities, which make up just a small fraction of its landmass. And yet we are still able to read nature with our bodies. Japan's temperate climate and its mountainous topography gave birth to a unique natural environment, which in turn fostered an ancient cosmology and spirituality which have greatly influenced our culture and arts. In "Sensing Nature: Yoshioka Tokujin, Shinoda Taro, Kuribayashi Takashi" we think about how the innate human ability to perceive nature (to sense nature) and the Japanese view of nature exist in our urbanized and modernized world.
Update: For the most probable locations of these photos, see this Tokyo map of where locals and tourists take pictures.
This is what Japan - at 38°C, 100% humidity - looked like when my camera gave up the ghost...
More Actual travel photos soon.