19 January 2023
We would like to present to you a series of photography documentation centring on Aichi Triennale 2022 Still Alive, that took place between August and October 2022, in various venues across different cities and towns in the prefecture of Aichi in Japan, namely Arimatsu, Ichinomiya, Nagoya and Tokoname.
The theme of the Triennale is pretty much self-explanatory, in case you’ve been away from the planet, for the past two years there’s this thing called COVID-19 that has barged into everyone’s lives, crudely stripped mankind of anything fun and pleasurable. Doomsday it seemed, when it surfaced globally in early 2020, humanity was facing the greatest threat since World War II… Maybe that was a step too far but at some point, I’m sure many of us have felt that way. When finally, finally in the year 2022, the COVID restrictions are lifted — Japanese borders are opened once again welcoming the return of tourists, combined with all the geopolitical bullshit going down, prices soaring up across the world, “Still Alive!” as mankind shout, the title of this Triennale is probably nothing but apt, like, fantastic timing. “Still Alive” is also a name directly derived from a series of works created by the Aichi-born conceptual artist On Kawara, started back in the 70s until the year 2000. The work comprised a collection of over 900 telegrams, under different forms, that the artist had sent from New York to his friends and foes, curators and collectors, within a plain and direct message declaring his existence that he had not committed suicide: “I am still alive.” — which is no longer the case today and a bit ironic, because our man has already passed away.
The controversy that clouded the previous 2019 edition, was surrounding the topic of a comfort woman statue installed in one of the main museum venues. “A scandal” — many newspapers in the country headlined at the time, one section of the museum was subsequently closed with the work removed after being on display for no more than a measly few days, with complaints and threats even, pouring in. To this day, I personally still see it as somewhat of a shame. If an art object is not there to provoke critical thinking, nor to evoke emotions; if an art event is set out to serve the purpose of nothing but a theme park attempting to draw a crowd and please everyone within that crowd during the process; or if every art biennale in the country is to meet the requirement of the local government with an underlying message hinting at area revitalisation using the guise of contemporary art — of course, this is not to say that the intention is bad to begin with nonetheless, surely all the tax money could or perhaps should, be invested more wisely instead?
Regardless, what’s done is done, and that “scandal” — only speculating here — was probably one of, if not the dominant factor as to why this time round, for its latest 2022 edition, the Triennale committee had brought in one of the largest cannons working in the industry today, Mami Kataoka of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, to spearhead the direction of this massive game, raising the curatorial question of what it means to stay alive, living in an era of uncertainties and struggles — working collaboratively with over 100 artists from more than 30 countries and different parts of the world, whilst making sure that nothing would go south I imagine.
The below first part of the documentation focuses on the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art. Kicking off with Marcel Broodthaers’ Map of a Political Utopia and Small Paintings (1973), followed by Kawara’s works of telegrams, through to Watanabe Atsushi’s I’m Here project, by projecting each of their own individuality to the world, in an attempt to investigate the temporalities, historical, political and social emergencies while attesting to the existence of human beings, in spite of the turbulent times that we are living in. There was no lack of interactive artworks allowing adult and child visitors to participate and leave their marks in turn completing the works in question. Meanwhile the exhibited works in each city aroused a great sense of locality with many of the works being deeply community-oriented, which is clearly another one of the curatorial directions that was initially set forward, in terms of encouraging the artists to excavate the relationship as well as triggering a dialogue, between a lesser-known region of Japan and the rest of world. Take Chiharu Shiota’s exhibition in Ichinomiya for example, a city with a flourishing textile production industry. Here we saw Shiota’s new work of installation titled Following the Line (2022), which embodies hundreds if not thousands of her signature red yarns which were said to be locally sourced, radiated from the textile machinery weaving a monstrously expansive web of blood vessels resurrecting the memories of the bygones. The red threads traversed across the entire space of an abandoned saw-tooth roof factory (Nokogiri 鋸) now turned gallery studio, overspreading through the ceilings and superimposing themselves on the aged walls, in here you would also find traces of its former life remained elucidating the tales of a forgotten past.
Many of the partnership programs this year were noticeably more prominent than ever before, GROWING SPACE (2022) included I dare say. KONMASA Gallery in Arimatsu probably hosted one of the most mesmerising exhibitions that I have seen in the past year in Japan. With a chic café located on the ground floor, upon entering the gallery exhibition space upstairs, you would be greeted by a Triennale-related Shibori exhibition, paired with an experimental series of showcases done by KONMASA the artist should you decide to venture further amongst the darkness, while I was there it almost felt like the whole scene had transported me back to some underground gallery that I used to goof around in East London.
Nowadays whenever I get to visit an exhibition or an art event, I begin to see through the process behind each physical manifestation of the artistic expressions and the effort and finance necessary in eventual materialisation, thereupon learning to appreciate more about the production value, especially with a curatorial direction in place, you don’t simply just put an object on top of a plinth or hang a picture onto the wall and say ‘voilà’. Overall the Triennale felt intricately designed, with detailed guides and maps available right from your fingertips. Whether the exhibition is situated inside a museum white cube or a kominka (古民家), they were thoughtfully planned to leave enough room for visitors to navigate their way through objects, installations and additionally wall text statements. However.
On a different note, upon visiting nearly all the venues in 5 areas across the whole prefecture in a total of 6 days over the course of 7 weeks, regretfully a feeling of utter incompletion lingered, like somewhere down the bottom of my heart I was desiring, craving even, for more, for more intellectual and physical challenges, something a bit more in-your-face. Granted, most of the works exhibited dabbled around the theme of the Triennale, everything played out peacefully and safely. Living in the city of Nagoya I for one, understood the imperative political correctness demanded this time round in order to save some face or rather, the Triennale itself resulted from all the chaos, conflict and disturbance caused by its predecessor. And hey, let’s not forget that the aftermath of the pandemic hasn’t evaporated just yet, some optimism and orders can in fact contribute to greater greatness. The flip side of that coin, nevertheless, is that there lay an apparent discrepancy between the showcased exhibitions themselves, with the ones in Ichinomiya being probably the only exception, the fact that the venues there were absolute badass, immense enough for the artworks to breathe, haunting enough in providing a disparate viewing experience for the viewers — a utopian amalgamation of the old, the modern and the abandoned. Many of the other exhibitions conversely, felt like a mashup of work after work, what’s more, they at large conveyed a feeling of dilution, that the artworks were being excessively diluted by presenting them in such a way that, eventually, inevitably and unfortunately, the only things that ended up with the viewers were conceivably nothing more than mere dozens (or hundreds) of photos on our mobile phones, and that perhaps, is the ultimate testimony of authenticating our aliveness in the modern era.
Editor & Study: Axel Wang
Photography & Design: Axel Wang