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  • Nov 25, 2022

Highlights from Okayama Art Summit 2022

Installation view of APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL’s The Word Silence Is Not Silence, 2022, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable, at the former Uchisange Elementary School, Okayama Art Summit (OAS), 2022. All photos by Ryohei Nakajima for ArtAsiaPacific

Most of the art festivals launched in Japan in the past two decades aim to revitalize the town and increase the population; but the Okayama Art Summit (OAS), held in the suburban city every three years since 2016, ranks its priority differently. The OAS has “a long-term perspective,” according to executive director and Okayama-born, Tokyo-based gallerist Taro Nasu, who vowed to bring the latest contemporary art back to his hometown. “Our mission is to cultivate the citizens’ minds in and near Okayama City. The city will then become more attractive and hopefully, more revitalized with Okayama Art Summit.”

In the past two editions, the OAS’s previous artistic directors Liam Gillick and Pierre Huyghe, had explored the potential of conceptual art in 2016 and the possible interrelations between art, technology, and nature in 2019. For its 2022 edition, the Summit appointed Rirkrit Tiravanija as its first Asian artistic director, with a task to present contemporary artists that are “peripheral to the western canon” and to increase the cultural diversity at the Summit, especially in a country where a ticketed museum exhibition often showcases loaned works by White artists from museums in the United States or Europe.

But the OAS failed to fully address the voice and needs of the local citizens. The Summit was embroiled in a controversy related to the appointment of Yasuhara Ishikawa as the OAS’s executive producer, who had previously been accused of sexual harassment by multiple women in late 2018. The Summit’s two-month-long use of the Tenjinyama Cultural Plaza of Okayama Prefecture was unpopular with some since it would cause disruptions to the existing and future programs organized by the local community. From November 2021 to July 2022, a civic organization submitted their petition several times, calling for changes within the executive committee of the OAS. Although Nasu acknowledged the importance of communication and “mutual understanding” in response to the petition, the main concern with Ishikawa has never been addressed. 

Amid these clashes, the OAS 2022, “Do we dream under the same sky,” opened on September 30, featuring more than 60 works across ten historical and cultural sites in the center of Okayama City, all within walking distance. Here are some highlights of the exhibits.

Photo of UNTITLED BAND (Shun Owada and Friends)‘s performance on RIRKRIT TIRAVANIJA’s installation Untitled 2017 (Oil Drum Stage), 2017, marble, musical instruments, 250 × 160 × 120 cm, at the former Uchisange Elementary School at the OAS 2022.

Sixteen artists showed their works at the former Uchisange Elementary School, the largest venue at the OAS. In the gymnasium, Tiravanija’s punk-inspired mixed-media installation Untitled 2017 (Oil Drum Stage) comprises marble and musical instruments to activate interactions and engage the public with a series of events such as a music concert, performance, and lecture lined up throughout the Summit. Stressing on everyone’s right to express, the first event featured a musical performance by Untitled Band (Shun Owada and friends) and a poetry reading by Yutaka Sone, whose rollercoaster-like installation Amuseument Romana (2002) was situated behind Tiravanija’s stage.

Installation view of PRECIOUS OKOYOMON’s Touching My Lil Tail Till the Sun Notices Me, 2022, plush synthetic fur, lace, and cast resin, approx. seven-meter-long, at the former Uchisange Elementary School at the OAS 2022. Courtesy the artist.

Exposed and defenseless, Nigerian-American poet and artist Precious Okoyomon’s gigantic teddy bear lied on its back in the drained swimming pool, wearing lace underwear and a pink hair ribbon. Surrounded by the piles of dry leaves in the deserted pool, the work evoked a sense of violence, as well as the loss of innocence and childhood dreams.

Installation view of MARI KATAYAMA’s possession #2274, #2297, #2355, #2404, #2411, #2429, #2499, and #2523, 2022, c-print, dimensions variable, at the former Uchisange Elementary School at the OAS 2022. Courtesy the artist.

Through creating and staging hand-sewn objects that resemble her body parts, Mari Katayama reflects on the various labels that she is often associated with—a disabled person, a woman, and a mother. Through a black swath of fabric and illuminations across a former classroom, she connected the view of her self-portraits with the exhibition space, linking the imaginary world in pictures with the reality.

Installation view of SHIMABUKU’s Swan Goes to the Sea, 2012 and 2014, video installation, dimensions variable, at the former Uchisange Elementary School at the OAS 2022.

Shimabuku used to visit Okayama, his mother’s hometown, and often rode the swan boats on the river around Okayama Castle when he was a child. Four decades later, he was amazed to see that the boats remain there. Reflecting on his life traveling around the globe, he was inspired to take these local swan boats out to the sea in 2012 and 2014, symbolically carrying a part of his childhood with him. The video installation, which documents his voyage, was showcased in a classroom at the former Uchisange Elementary School, where his mother graduated.

Installation view of ASIF MIAN’s Smokeless Fire, 2022, thermal infrared video, HDD video, projection screen, dimensions variable, at the former Uchisange Elementary School at the OAS 2022.

Smokeless Fire, the title of Asif Mian’s latest work describes the material composition of a djinn, the shape-shifting spirit made of fire and air with origins in pre-Islamic Arabian mythology. Subverting thermal infrared cameras, Mian let performers shapeshift between the physical and virtual image.

Installation view of HAEGUE YANG’s Sonic Cosmic Rope – Gold Dodecagon Straight Weave, 2022, PVD-coated stainless steel bells, stainless steel bells, stainless steel chains, and split rings, dimensions variable, at Okayama Orient Museum at the OAS 2022. 

Inspired by a Korean folk tale of two siblings, who escape danger on the ground by climbing up a rope that connects the Earth and the sky, Haegue Yang’s Sonic Cosmic Rope (2022) at the OAS consists of a nearly ten-meter-long rope of metallic bells woven into a geometric constellation, with the golden ones outside and silver inside. When swung by hand, the bells in this work create resonances and the pliable structure moves in curving sweeps, which cause the viewers to look at the ceiling. Alluding to prehistoric tales and cosmic orientations, her multisensory sculptural piece transformed the museum hall into a mystical space.

Installation view of ABRAHAM CRUZVILLEGAS’s Untitled Calligraphy Contest, 2022, ink and paper, dimensions variable, at Tenjinyama Cultural Plaza of Okayama Prefecture at the OAS 2022. Special thanks to Okayama Hosen Senior High School Calligraphy Club, Okayama Higashi Commercial High School Calligraphy Club, and Haru Heshiki.

Abraham Cruzvillegas is an active member of the Intergalactic Taoist Tai Chi Society. Using sections of his lyrics from his 2021 performance Three times three triangles together, two teams of local high school students and a calligrapher were free to respond or interpret the text through calligraphy. The collaboration pushed for dialogues between the international participants and the locals, drawing attention of those who were initially not interested in the OAS.

Installation view of ART LABOR and JRAI ARTISTS’ JUA-SOUND IN THE SOUNDSCAPE, 2022, bamboo, steel, found object, and sound, dimensions variable, at Hayashibara Museum of Art at the OAS 2022. Special thanks to Rcham Jeh, Kpuih Gloh, Puih Han, Siu Lon, Rolan Aleo and Siu Kin.

Ho Chi Minh City-based collective Art Labor collaborated with Jrai, an Indigenous community in the Central Highlands of Vietnam to produce a soundscape through a combination of natural and industrial materials. The word “JUA” in the title is a Jrai word that indicates the dynamic state between water and air, in the form of a stream, rainy cloud, a breeze, or a breath of air. The work was inspired by traditional Jrai bamboo musical instruments, which are usually installed in the rice paddies and naturally played by air, water, and wind to chase away wild birds. The healing sound, recalling the landscape of Central Highlands, played in harmony with the grass garden at the Museum.

Installation view of RYOJI IKEDA’s data flux [LED version], 2021, LED panels, computer, speakers, 24 meters long, at Okayama Castle at the OAS 2022.

Data, which is generally intangible, becomes visible and audible in Ryoji Ikeda’s digital art installation data flux (2021). The data sets include maps of the universe, molecular structures of protein, DNA sequences, four-dimensional mathematical hypercubes, and super-highway of raw data. Synchronized as a symphony, the digital work posed a contrast to the ancient architecture, with its sound amplified and resonating across the castle especially during the evening.

Okayama Art Summit 2022, “Do we dream under the same sky,” is on view at multiple venues in Okayama City until November 27, 2022.