The morning after (Turrell), I spent some time wandering around the village district of Honmura in Naoshima, taking in the historical townscape. Akin to a scavenger hunt, some of these old houses had been turned into permanent site-specific installations since 1997 when Naoshima’s town hall first identified an inhabitant who wanted to sell his old house and consulted if Benesse Corporation wanted to purchase it. A true experiment in installing site-specific artwork into real life, I was interested in seeing how art can effect change as a function of and in the everyday.
Out of the seven Art Houses, two of my favorites were Kadoya by Japanese digital artist, Tatsuo Miyajima (1998) and Gokaisho by Yoshihiro Suda (2006). Kadoya, meaning “Corner House”, was the first Art House to be created at one of the largest houses in the Honmura district, built about two centuries ago. For the project, Tadashi Yamamoto supervised the restoration, traditionally restoring the exterior, complete with charred boards and a tiled roof. Inside, there are two site-specific works by Miyajima: Sea of Time ’98 (1998) and Naoshima’s Counter Window (1998). For the former, a shallow pool was created in the main part of the house. LED counters counting from one through nine at various speeds were then submerged into the pool. Miyajima took the opportunity to involve the island inhabitants in this site-specific work; inhabitants with ages as varied as five and 95 set each counter with a speed of their liking, indicating how people uniquely view the passage of time. In a wall of another space in the house is Miyajima’s Naoshima’s Counter Window. This is a window made of liquid crystal display glass, with three large digital time counters. Set up to detect motion, the numbers on each pane move to reveal slices of the scenery outside as the numbers change.
Gokaisho is the realm of Yoshihiro Suda, a Japanese contemporary artist who has exhibited globally. (For a review of his show at the Asia Society in 2009-10, please click here.) The name of the house, Gokaisho (or Go Game Parlor), comes from the fact that island residents used to gather at the location of the house to play the game of go, a board game between two players using black and white stones. Usually Suda’s delicate sculpture work of natural flora is characterized by elegant and extremely subtle intervention. In this case, Suda decided to utilize the architectural space to prominently display his artwork.
Suda himself, together with restoration supervisor, Tadakatsu Honda, created a pair of identical rooms laid with tatami mats. Both rooms in the house face a serene, traditional Japanese landscaped garden in which a camellia tree is planted. In one room, Suda’s beautiful handcrated camellia blooms are strewn out on the tatami mats, with a bamboo stick demarcating the entrance to the space and the outer corridor of the house. The other room appears to be totally empty except for the tatami mats and the bamboo stick. Suda’s playfulness becomes apparent when I realize that the bamboo stick in the seemingly empty room has had Suda’s interventionist touch as it has been carved by him. For this project, Suda successfully works in pairs, questioning the slippery definitions of the “natural” and “artificial.”
For both houses, I had wonderful guides walk me through the houses and the site-specific works. At Kadoya, an intern from Benesse Holdings, Inc. explained the genesis of the Art House Project and Fukutake’s motto for the Naoshima project, “Use What Exists To Create What Is To Be.” The intern also articulated her own views on how art and culture can effect economic change. At Gokaisho, I met a lovely retiree who travels from Okayama prefecture by ferry to volunteer as an art guide throughout the various art sites. Standing by the camellia tree with a twinkle in his eye, he asked me what part of the house I thought Suda had worked on, thoroughly enjoying the big reveal. I was excited to have a chance to interact with these guides who were clearly passionate about Naoshima’s various art sites and art’s ability to rejuvenate and re-invigorate the island.
Special thanks to Mitsue Nagase of Benesse Holdings, Inc. and Yoshino Kawaura of the Fukutake Foundation for their kind assistance.