Art Award IN THE CUBE 2023: Where Reality Goes? I | Museum of Fine Arts Gifu

2 June 2023

Established in 2017 and adopting the format of a Triennale, the Art Award IN THE CUBE (AAIC), holds its third edition in 2023 at the Museum of Fine Arts Gifu. Summing up, the AAIC presents an art exhibition showcasing a list of winning artists under one universal theme titled “Real no Yukue (Where Reality Goes)” chosen by a panel of judges comprising artists, professors, critics and directors. Notably, each newly created artwork sits inside a spacious cubical space measuring approximately 5m by 5m. This study is going to be divided into two chapters, and both are complemented by a series of photographs documenting the exhibition, please find the link for the second chapter that covers two areas of the exhibition.

Ever since Setouchi Triennale was first incepted in 2010, proven to be a massive triumph for the regional administration, adored by locals and international tourists alike, every other prefecture across the land has been galvanised and has started following suit by initiating its own artistic event, be it an award, a festival, a Biennale or a Triennale, just about anything that employs contemporary art as the medium in drawing the crowd. In this context, AAIC can perhaps be seen as Gifu’s very own audacious endeavour to ride the potential of this cultural wave.

Inevitably, any discussion revolving around the award must also delve into the charming realm of the prefecture of Gifu. Renowned for its majestic mountains, lush woods, meandering rivers, and countless cultural heritages, Gifu has always been a staple magnet for visitors, especially for people living in Nagoya. From the main station, depending on where you would like to go, the train can take you to almost anywhere in this vast prefecture — I personally find myself visiting this land more frequently than any others in Japan simply because it’s so close and offers so much. Curiously enough, it was only last year, during the application phase, that I first became aware of AAIC’s existence, let alone people or artists living outside of Tokai. Even during my time there at the exhibition, there were only a handful of visitors, the relatively limited fame is further proven by ChatGPT’s unfamiliarity with the award, which is somewhat of a shame. For, truth be told, what unfolded before my eyes this year was rather interesting — most of the works consisted of installations fusing spatial and experiential elements. Did I anticipate such from Gifu other than the subjects of nature and crafts? Most certainly not.

So, what does the AAIC have in the pocket to offer this year in addressing our reality?

It’s also worth mentioning that the size of the ‘cube’ in this year’s AAIC finds its inspiration from the theme of the award’s inaugural edition, “Shintai no Yukue (Whereabouts of the Body),” which alludes to the legend suggesting that Buddha stood at a height of approximately 4.8m. In total, there were 14 pieces of works from 14 artists on display this time round, either exhibiting within a ‘cube’ or masquerading itself as a ‘cube’, each assigned with an alphabet spanning over three exhibition halls, providing relatively easy navigation and direct engagement with the works, compare with a typical Triennale experience.

Since every work is enclosed within the confines of individual cubes, I was able to make my way without the constraints of any particular order and sequence. After advancing into the first exhibition hall, eyes were immediately locked onto a white cube adorned with intricate curly lines — a visual representation of an earth fissure, or so I presumed. And I wasn’t too far off it turned out. The artwork residing within is called Melting Hida Mountains (2023), created by Madoka Chiba, a Hokkaido-born artist. As you step into the dark cube, a large video projection depicting what appears to be a volcanic crater, stretching across the expanse of the floor. The ambient sounds of water dripping and rocks melting permeate the space, transporting the viewers into the transformative process of rocks becoming molten magma. Every material used in the creation of this artwork was specifically procured from the lands and rivers of Gifu Prefecture. Considering the apparent abundant presence of active volcanoes in the area and the inherent seismic nature of Japan, very literally diving beneath the surface of the earth, the artwork invites viewers to contemplate upon the passage of time and the essence of the land below our feet, turning an elusive dimension into an immersive experience. Seemingly checks all the boxes, no surprise that it scooped the ¥5 million Grand Prize.

Right across, the cube hosting Afterreal 6 (2023), an installation work created by Yasuhiro Chida. Dominating the entire space, instantaneously the second you enter the cube, you are immersed in a world of innumerable threads, emitting a luminous blue shimmer under the ultraviolet light, the rapidly oscillating installation welcomes you to another reality. Essentially what the lighting artist is trying to convey was, what we see is not what we see, the images perceived by our eyes and processed in our brain do not exist in reality. Indeed, this installation effectively initiates the enquiry aligning with the overarching theme of the exhibition: the reality. As human beings, we possess an innate propensity to ponder the significance behind every encounter our five senses perceive, in turn, questioning the purpose of art. More often than not, art serves no explicit function nor harbours definitive meanings. Yet, Chida’s creation adeptly offers another gateway for the audience to momentarily transcend the harsh realities of life, perhaps revealing that this, in itself, is art’s true and only purpose.

In the same hall, you would also find JK in the street (2023) by Momo Inagaki, where JK refers to a high school girl in Japanese, the artist, at the time of the exhibition, was only 17, i.e. A JK. Remarkable indeed, and being the youngest among them all, Inagaki’s choice of medium, as well as the idea of the work in an attempt to capture the ‘nowness’ of an ordinary teenage girl’s reality, is conceivably the most straight forward, or should I say honest, approach. Drawing inspiration from today’s video culture popularised by social media platforms, in this quasi-documentary film, the artist dissects and symbolically represents different aspects of her identity using a five-pointed star. Each tip of the star embodies a significant part of her ‘self ’. Hold on. Was I not conducting myself in a similar manner when I was around the same age? It somewhat reminded me of my own adolescence, when I, too, held a few things that I once wholeheartedly believed defined, or composed me entirely as a person. As time has passed, of course, none of those things remains relevant today. While I can imagine some might easily write off the work as superficial, its relatability makes it deeply resonant on a personal level. Inagaki’s work may also be seen as a visual manifestation of the Buddhist concept of ātma-grāha 我執: signifying self-possession and self-control in one’s thoughts and actions, corresponding to the exhibition’s idea of the cube. The curatorial direction of the entire exhibition, in fact, mirrors numerous Buddhist philosophies, without drifting off the tangent too much, in this study more focus will be placed on the artistic aspect rather than the teachings of Buddha…


Editor & Study: Axel Wang

Photography & Design: Axel Wang

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