Okayama Art Summit 2022: Do We Dream Under the Same Sky | Former Uchisange Elementary School I

20 February 2023

We would like to present to you a series of photography documentation centring on the Okayama Art Summit 2022.

Adheres to the format of a Triennale, now running into its third edition, Okayama Art Summit 2022 was held from the 30th of September to the 27th of November, spearheaded by the artistic director Rirkrit Tiravanija, who was born in Buenos Aires and is of Thai origin. Exhibitions spread throughout the city across a total of 10 different venues, including historical sites like Okayama Castle and Okayama Korakuen Garden, where the former is known as the ‘Crow Castle’ due to its black exterior and the latter is considered one of the top three Japanese gardens in the country. Having missed the previous edition in 2019, right after the conclusion of Aichi Triennale 2022 I set out on a journey towards Okayama, stopping by Marugame in Kagawa sampling some of the best Udon that the place has to offer beforehand, a short train ride then took me right to the centre of where all the action was in the city of Okayama.

Titled Do We Dream Under the Same Sky, the director popped a largely relevant and vital question amidst the post-pandemic political turmoil, or rather, without the question mark towards the end of the title, it was more about the initiation of an idea that, regardless of nationalities, race, gender or location, that we do in fact, all dream under the very same sky, in spite of the recent rise of political movements like nationalism and populism accelerated by the pandemic. This idea, prevails gracefully throughout the entirety of the Summit, where we would come across a diverse range of 28 groups of artists from 13 countries. One interesting fact that may or may not elude the masses, is that the hard-to-miss logo of the Summit was designed by Peter Saville, the world-famous Manchester-born graphic designer, who was also involved in the first edition of the Summit back in 2016. The logo reads ‘OK’ and it conspicuously refers to the city of Okayama, with the signages scattered across the entire city, it was almost as if the designer was responding to the proposal drafted by the Summit’s director, that everything will be affirmatively “okay”.

The Summit is a private initiative produced by Yasuharu Ishikawa and directed by Taro Nasu, working with the local municipality to launch one of the most mesmerising art events in the country. In the first part of the photography series below, which the second part follows in a separate post, we zoom in on one of the main exhibition venues — the former Uchisange Elementary School. Highlights included the Kimura Ihei Award-winning photographer Mari Katayama, whose work explores social prejudice by using her own body as the subject, is presented here via the media of large-scale photography, as well as spatial installation in one of the classrooms. In another classroom upstairs, Apichatpong Weerasethakul dwelt further with memory and time, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. In an abandoned empty swimming pool near the school building, within which laid a gigantic curious toy bear at its back staring at the sky. Created by Precious Okoyomon, titled Touching My Lil Tail Till the Sun Notices Me, the stuffed innocent-looking bear was dressed in lace underwear, perhaps inspired, or troubled by the ubiquitous ‘kawaii culture’ in Japan, where the infantilisation often sparks complaints and criticism from the West, the artist painted a pronounced contrast between cuteness and perversity. In a further corner of the open field outside of the school, there sat an all-white installation resembling the shape of an umbrella, designed by Sou Fujimoto in 2018 titled, The Umbrella. Being designated as a smoking area now, which is indeed a rare sight, politically correct or not.

In two additional parts of the series covering the rest of the areas, at Okayama Tenmaya, more works from Mari Katayama were exhibited. As passersby walked past, many didn’t even bat an eyelid, the works were surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly, easy to miss. Masquerading impeccably as the shop window displays, titled just one of those things, the High Heels project launched by the artist back in 2011 further questioned the idea of beauty in Japan and the status of Japanese female company workers, where many of them are expected to wear high heels conforming to the social standards in a male-dominated society.

In Cinema Clair Marunouchi, several video works of the Thai artist Apichatpong Weerasethakul were pieced together, composing a movie of 90 minutes. A highly regarded filmmaker by critics and a popular choice among curators of art events. The artist is known for his unique approach to filmmaking, the theme in his works would often involve the exploration of memories and desires, converging the intersections of the spiritual, natural and political worlds. The works of the director are often slow, and depicted at a rather contemplative pace, there were quite a few viewers who dozed off while the movie was screening, which was understandable fair to say, if you weren’t already familiar with the artist’s work or walked in expecting a Marvel production. After several encounters with the artist’s video work in various places across the world myself, there’s always that WTF moment, I personally was never really sure if I had wasted hours of my life trying to dissect the work, hopelessly wishing to make sense of everything I saw, or whether I witnessed something so damn extraordinary that my tiny human brain couldn’t even grasp. So yes, if you’ve ever fallen asleep during one of Weerasethakul’s movies, I share that sentiment and I’m sure you weren’t the first and won’t be the last.

Another delightful find was the works created by Enku the Buddhist monk, which were exhibited in Okayama Orient Museum. Born in 1632 and died in 1695 in what is now the Gifu prefecture, Enku’s sculptures stand out from more traditional Buddhist statues by embracing a modern approach that showcases the natural beauty of the materials. When exhibited at a contemporary art fair, Enku’s work weaves an intriguing narrative that bridges the past and present. His Buddha sculptures, characterised by their rough, textured surfaces and imperfect forms, are highly expressive and convey a sense of warmth and compassion that is central to Buddhist practice, Personally, I believe that the director’s intention was to deliver a message that transcends time. By placing ourselves within the wave of history, human beings have always lived under the exact same sky, warmth and compassion, isn’t that what the world needs right now?

As a special night chapter of this series, it aimed to capture glimpses of Okayama city and provide an alternative perspective to the Summit, which is predominantly active and crowded during the day. Please follow the respective links for each chapter.


Editor & Study: Axel Wang

Photography & Design: Axel Wang

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