9 contemporary artists to see in Oita | TABlog
Oita Prefecture on Kyushu Island in southern Japan is a place of scenic mountains, coastlines, and hot springs. It is also rich in culture ranging from centuries-old Buddhist rituals to the latest contemporary arts. Kunisaki Peninsula Art Site, run by the NPO Beppu project, draws attention to all that Oita has to offer with artistic projects that add lasting value to local communities. Tokyo Art Beat took part in a Beppu Project tour of some of Oita’s creative highlights. Here are some artists with works in the prefecture to discover.
Tetsuya Umeda is the featured artist of this year in Beppu, an event selecting a single creator to present works in the capital Beppu and its surroundings. For her Zero-Tai project, Umeda created an interactive experience in which participants visit Beppu using a map and a portable radio. The destinations include geographic features and spaces unique to the region, such as the Tsukahara Crater, the grounds of the ancient Tsurumi-en Amusement Park, and Spa Beach. The radio broadcasts offer the artist’s thoughts and sound clips from various times. A film shot by Umeda in the locations presented is screened at the historic Beppu Bluebird Theater.
Famous British sculptor Antony Gormley chose the edge of a cliff on the Kunisaki Peninsula in Oita as one of the sites for his ‘Another Time’ series. Reach Another time XX, an iron sculpture of a man looking east on the horizon, requires a strenuous hike up the mountain. The installation of the works required careful designs, multiple attempts and the expertise of the inhabitants. The monument is presented as “an attempt to bear witness to what it is to be alive and alone in space and time”.
Artist Shimabuku works with landscapes to create installations that invite silent reflection on their surrounding environments. He currently has four works on the Kunisaki Peninsula from which the Seto Inland Sea can be observed.
The mountain Gion is the site of a pair of works by Shimabuku. “The glowing road: a path without stairs” begins at the entrance of a small sanctuary which has been accessed for hundreds of years by climbing a steep slope without any steps. Shimabuku stepped into the landscape and installed a handrail to help people reach the top. Climbing the slope by grabbing the rail, which lights up at night and can be seen from planes, is part of the artwork experience.
At the top of the slope we find “Necklace: Carrying Stones Up the Mountain”, a circle of stones from all over Japan. Shimabuku has placed some of the larger rocks and invites visitors to leave their own stone offerings, creating a “necklace” for the mountain. The work, which alludes to the region’s history as a meeting point of crossed cultures, stands in front of the Yasaka Shrine.
Breath juts out into the sea. At the end of a jetty on Kunisakimachihama beach, Shimabuku has installed a single lamppost that “breathes” while flashing at night. His breathing is intended to speak to people who come to receive his messages in a calm and meditative place.
For work Manose, named for its location, Shimabuku found a rocky path surrounded by sea just off a highway. The text on the partition of the route asks visitors to exit onto the particular peninsula, which disappears to leave an island when the tide is high. The sign reads: “Look for a stone with a hole in it.” Hold pieces of driftwood. Stack stones on stones. “Shimabuku believes that the past, the future and the present meet in these simple acts.
Tatsuo Miyajima is known for his digital counters symbolizing lifetimes and cycles of life and death. His One hundred houses of life is made up of 100 of these light meters, each enclosed in its own box-shaped habitat on the side of a cliff formed by a volcanic eruption. The speeds at which the numbers rise and fall were decided by 100 people who attended a workshop with Miyajima.
Venice Biennale veteran Tadashi Kawamata creates large wooden structures that emphasize audience interaction. In the Kibe district of Kunisaki, he built The Chair (Church Chair), an open-air work resembling the preaching pulpit and pews of a church. This installation, where events like concerts and even weddings take place, pays homage to Father Petro Kasui Kibe, a persecuted 17th-century Jesuit priest from the region who became the first Japanese to visit Jerusalem. Gradually evolving with the use and the passage of time, the work is intended to be part of the surrounding forest and invites reflection on the relationships between people, time and place.
TeamLab digital art superstars have claimed Bungotakada town Matama Beach. Like their other immersive installations across Japan and Asia, this one dazzles with mesmerizing light displays. Director Toshiyuki Inoko apparently took inspiration from local flora and envisioned an endless cycle of flowers blooming and wilting. Visitors determine the course of the show through their own participation.
the Nagasakibana Bungotakada Campground is home to rolling fields of flowers like the yellow rapeseed plant that blooms in spring. Here you will find works by artist and international celebrity Yoko Ono, who placed 13 Kunisaki stone “benches” around the landscape. Each piece is accompanied by a plaque engraved with the artist’s poems and instructions, such as “Hear the World Go Around”. “Wish Tree,” another Ono work, invites visitors to write their aspirations to change the world on strips of paper and affix them to the tree. Greetings are collected and sent to Ono’s Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland.
The artist Yodogawa technique (Hideaki Shibata) creates colorful sculptures from objects that have been thrown or washed up on shores. Using shiny plastic toys, electronics, and other items, Yodogawa Technique tinkered with a camel for the Nagasakibana campsite. With bumps inspired by the Kunisaki Mountains, the camel – a symbol of travel – features cabinet doors on its stomach. Open it and you’ll find pots of seeds that you are free to take with you, setting them off on their own journeys. You are also welcome to make your own contributions to the camel.
Takahito Kimura Sitting with the sun is another work to appreciate on the Nagasakibana site. Kimura, an artist who creates works that experience nature, echoes the floral landscape with a pair of iron sunflowers on the beach. The shadows cast by the flower heads provide shade falling on stones and pieces of driftwood arranged in benches. The locations of these shady spots change with the time of day and the season, creating different vantage points for moments of relaxation and contemplation of the sea.
From the hot springs of Beppu to the coasts and peaks of the Kunisaki Peninsula, Oita Prefecture is a place of natural wonders which in recent years has come to welcome works by renowned artists. An ideal tour combines experiences of the art, nature and local culture of the region. With creative initiatives like those led by Beppu Project constantly evolving, multiple tours are recommended.