Kenpoku Art 2016 – Ocean Route

On October 14th, I headed to the Kenpoku region to visit installation sites along the ocean route. As I am not very well-versed in art appreciation, I worried that the exhibition wouldn’t really be for me and I would have trouble writing about it, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The artworks were beautiful and thought-provoking, and accessible even to someone with my lack of expertise, and the pursuit of each work lead me to beautiful places all along the coast of northern Ibaraki. Many of the artworks were interactive, allowing you to be an active participant instead of just an observer. Whether you are an art aficionado or a total beginner, this exhibition has something for you.

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*If you purchase a Kenpoku Art Passport (2500 yen), you are provided free access to all individual exhibitions and you can collect stamps at all the locations you visit. See the official website for more details.

1. Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art

Where: 2083 Tsubaki, Otsu-machi Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki
Public Transport: 5 minutes by taxi from JR Otsuko Station
Hours: 9am – 5pm

Our first stop was the Tenshin Memorial Museum of Art in Kitaibaraki. The museum is dedicated to artist and scholar Okakura Tenshin. Some people from the south might be thinking of skipping Kitaibaraki since it’s quite far – don’t! The art installations at Tenshin Memorial Museum are definitely worth checking out.

The first work I noticed was a row of framed drawings in reddish brown ink lining a wall. There were some headphones – when we put them on we could hear children playing and chattering in Hindi. It was eerie to hear the sounds of children playing when none could be seen in room – in fact as it was still early, and there were not very many other people at all.

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We eventually found the panel labelling the work ‘kenopsia (void of human life)’ and attributing it to India-based artist Mithu Sen and describing her intentions. The use of the word ‘kenopsia’ led me on a very interesting google adventure to discover a website called the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, where the author John Koenig coins terms to describe emotions that we all feel but don’t have a word for. Kenopsia (n.) is ‘the eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people, but is now abandoned and quiet – a school hallway in the evening, an unlit office on a weekend, vacant fairgrounds – an emotional afterimage that makes it seem not just empty but hyper-empty, with a total population in the negative, who are so conspicuously absent they glow like neon signs.’

Mithu Sen’s installation is actually in two parts – the first part, which we did not visit, is at Fujigaoka Elementary School, a former elementary school in Kitaibaraki. Mithu Sen ‘reopens’ the school by filling it with the voices of Indian children. The empty school building is infrastructure with no children to fill it, whereas a lack of infrastructure for schools is a problem in parts of India. The second part of the installation at Tenshin Memorial Museum visually represents the Indian schoolchildren who have been virtually emigrated the site via sound with numerous small portraits in red ink. The installations are an attempt by the artist to supplement the ‘void’ that each culture is experiencing. All of the portraits will be up for ‘adoption’ at the end of the exhibition – those who are interested in adopting a portrait can leave their name and contact information at the Kenpoku Art desk at Tenshin Memorial Museum.

The other artworks on display at the Tenshin Memorial museum are in an exhibition called ‘Infinity of Flowers inside Small Things’ by teamLab, a self-described ‘ultra-technologist group’ who specialise in blending art, science, technology, and creativity. The works at the museum were inspired by Okakura Tenshin and his efforts in spreading Japanese art and aesthetics around the world. This was a really fun exhibit as the artworks are digital and you can interact with many of them. To view them you enter a series of dark rooms. The first work you come across is a number of teacups on a low stage. Inside the teacups you can watch as digital flowers bloom – but if you move a teacup, the flower withers and the petals scatter. This work is titled ‘Flowers Bloom in an Infinite Universe inside a Teacup’, and is rendered entirely in real time – your actions play a part in its creation.

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In the second room there are five works. ‘Nirvana’ is a colourful depiction of animals rendered in a virtual 3D space inspired by screen printing. The screen starts blank and the animals slowly appear. In ‘The Land of Peace and Bliss’ you can watch as a city is built before your eyes. As your viewpoint slowly scrolls across the land you can see small stories playing out all over the screens. ‘Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Boarders’ is another interactive piece rendered in real time. Butterflies float around the walls of the room, the patterns on their wings evolving as they go. They through frames into other installations, dissolving the concept of boarders. The butterflies are influenced by the other artworks and by the viewers – they gravitate toward places where flowers are blooming, but if you reach out to touch one it falls to the ground. The butteflies gather around the work ‘A Whole Year per Hour, Dark’, which depicts a whole year of seasons over an hour of time through the bloom and wither of digital flowers. The final work in the room, ‘Life Survives by the Power of Life’, explores Japanese spatial awareness using teamLab’s ‘spatial calligraphy’, an interpretation of calligraphy in abstract space. Brush strokes develop into a tree which experiences the passage of time – from snow to the blooming of flowers to the teeming of life in mid-summer.

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The next room was also really fun – in ‘What a Loving, Beautiful World’ the walls are covered in kanji, and when your shadow touches one it materialises into the thing it represents – the kanji for thunder and lightning, 雷, creates a booming sound and flashes of light. If you touch 雨 rain will begin to fall – 鳥 sends small birds flying around the room. You are creating the artwork with your movements, and the things you create will interact – birds and insects will flutter around the flowers, but are scared if you unleash fire, and if you create wind you can watch it blow the things around it. I recommend experimenting and seeing how the different manifestations interact, it’s loads of fun!

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Outside this room you will find a table with virtual reality headsets. This work, ‘Spatial Calligraphy: Circle, Infinity’, allows you to draw spatial calligraphy with a small controller. The strokes you drawn materialise into 3D and float away into the sky. It takes a little while to get the hang of it but it was a lot of fun seeing what kinds of shapes could be created and how they would look in 3D.

2. Rokkakudo

Where: 727-2 Izura, Otsu-cho, Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki
Public Transport: 10 minutes by taxi from JR Otsuko Station
Hours
October: 8:30am – 5:30pm
November: 8:30am – 5pm
Last entry 30 minutes before closing. Closed Mondays or Tuesday when Monday is a national holiday.

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After the Tenshin Memorial Museum, we visited Rokkakudo, the famous seaside meditation retreat of Okakura Tenshin. It was washed away in the 2011 tsunami, but was rebuilt in 2012. At this site you will find two artworks – ‘Weeds’ by Tokyo-based artist Yoshihiro Suda, a collection of wooden sculptures of wild grass and flowers inspired by the eastern aesthetics of simplicity and transience championed by Okakura Tenshin and present through the history of eastern art, and ‘Artificial Rock No. 109’ by China-based artist Zhan Wang, a celebration of Okakura Tenshin’s innovative and exploratory spirit, which coexisted with his love of eastern aesthetics.

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One of the best parts of touring the Kenpoku Art sites is enjoying the natural beauty of the areas where they are placed. The Izura coast and area surrounding Rokkakudo is absolutely stunning.

3. Sendo Ryori Tenshinmaru (lunch)

Where: 710 Izura, Otsu-cho, Kitaibaraki, Ibaraki
Access: 3 minutes’ walk from Rokkakudo
Hours:
Tuesday – Saturday: 11:30am – 2:30pm, 5:30 – 9pm
Weekends and Public Holidays: 11:30am – 7:30pm
Closed Mondays
Cost: 1000~1900 yen

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For lunch, we chose a restaurant near Rokkakudo called Sendo Ryori Tenshinmaru. I had been told by coworkers that the servings were quite large, but that was an incredible understatement. The restaurant offers takeaway boxes for 10 yen each for people who cannot finish their meals, and I guarantee that you will be using one, especially if you get the tendon set like me. The tempura was delicious – an assortment of fish, squid, ashitaba leaves, and a slice of sweet potato – but I could only eat about a quarter of it. The rest of it I packed up and took home for later. Tenshinmaru offers a number of other seafood dishes including kaisendon, nizakana, and a tempura set. Come with an empty stomach!

4. Takahagi Beach Takado Maehama Coast

Where: Takado, Takahagi, Ibaraki
Access: 10 minutes by taxi or 20 minutes’ walk from JR Takahagi Station East Exit
Hours: 9am – 5pm

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The next location we visited was the Takado Maehama Coast in Takahama, where two artworks were on display on the shore – US-based artists Ilya & Emilia Kabakov’sThe Fallen Sky’, a giant canvas painted with the sky, sits propped up as though it had indeed fallen from above and pierced the sand. A panel beside the work explains the tale of this piece of sky in quite a lot of detail, leaving you wondering how much of the story is true. Finding the artwork and reading the story is part of the fun, so I’ll let you go discover it for yourself.

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The other artwork on the beach was particularly interesting to me because it resembled a mystery that occurred in my town while I was in high school. In the middle of the night, somebody painted several of the wave blocks on the sea wall bright colours. Although their act was technically vandalism, the locals fought to have it left as it brightened up the scenery and made it more interesting to look at. UK-based artist Nitipak Samsen’s artwork ‘Tetrapad’ had a similar story – the artist became interested in the many wave blocks that can be found along Japan’s shoreline, commonly referred to as ‘tetrapods’, and mimicked them using a beach ball-like material, allowing you to look at industrial infrastructure in a new light.

5. Takado Kohama Coast

Where: 848-8 Takado, Takahagi
Access: 10 minutes by taxi or 20 minutes’ walk from JR Takahagi Station East Exit
Hours: 9am – 5pm

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Kohama Coast is a beautiful area that I wouldn’t have thought to visit without the opportunity created by Kenpoku Art. It is included on Japan’s list of the top 100 most beautiful beaches, and it well deserves the accolade. It didn’t hurt that the weather was so lovely – I could have chilled on the beach all day. The work on display here is ‘Soul Shelter’ by Thailand-based artist Sudsiri Pui-ock – it is a huge, beautifully sculpted hermit crab shell, but instead of a hermit crab a human hand has taken up residence inside. It is unsettling at first glance, but the artist uses the work to question the compatibility of humans with their environment and comment on our ability to seek out and reside in temporary spaces and shelters.

6. Hozumike Residence

Where: 2337-1 Kamitezuna, Takahagi
Public Transport: 10 minutes by bus from JR Takahagi Station (take a bus bound for Sekiguchi (関口) and get off at Kawabata Iriguchi (川側入口) timetable in Japanese here)
Hours: 9am – 4pm

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Our next stop was the Hozumike Residence, a traditional Japanese residence in Takahagi built in 1789, where four artworks are on display. ‘cockle of pearl blue – to the sky, from the sky’ by Ibaraki-based artist Kosho Ito is a ceramic work with 3000 (!) pieces, which are placed in gardens outside the residence. Each piece is entirely unique, and the pearl-blue glaze that covers them reflects and scatters the sunlight. Strolling around the garden looking at each of the clusters of ceramic pieces was very relaxing.

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The Cabinet of Doctor Komo’ by Vietnam-based artist Sandrine Llouquet is an unsettling collection of objects inside a dimly lit room with an interesting tale. The collection is based on a story made by the artist of a Dutch doctor living in the Hozumike Residence. The artist researched the Kenpoku area and cultural aspects of the Edo period, including yokai and misemono-goya. The collection of creepy objects, including a mummified figure in a case, a saber tooth tiger skull, a tiny hand, and a number of grotesque framed drawings lining the walls, is based on the western practice of a cabinet of curiosities, popular with scholars from the 15th – 18th century. It’s interesting examining the objects and trying to work out their origins – there was a large paining of a kappa on one of the cupboard doors.

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As a person, gaze up to the sky and stand on the ground’ by Tokyo-based artist Yuji Ueno was another interesting exhibit. In order to view it you must enter a room that is almost entirely pitch black. At the top of a pile of what looks like soil or woodchips (I couldn’t really tell since it was so dark) blooms a single flower. Mr. Ueno is a floral artist interested in ikebana, and the flower was made via 3D printing.

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The final artwork at the Hozumike Residence is ‘Web of Life’ by US-based artist Debbie Han. When I first entered the room where the work is on display, all I could see was a tangle of copper-coloured wires – however, as you look closer you realise the wires form a huge collection of facial expressions. All of the wires are connected, suggesting at the connectivity of human life even as we are all seeing things from different perspectives and experiencing life in different ways. It’s a lot of fun walking around the work looking at the different faces hidden in the wires and interpreting their expressions.

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7. Hagi no Chaya

Where: 2337-1 Kamitezuna, Takahagi (Hozumike Residence)
Public Transport: 10 minutes by bus from JR Takahagi Station (take a bus bound for Sekiguchi (関口) and get off at Kawabata Iriguchi (川側入口) timetable in Japanese here)
Hours: 10am – 4pm (Lunch menu 11am – 2:45pm)

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From September 17 – December 4, there is a temporary restaurant called Aki no Chaya at the Hozumike Residence in Takahagi. There are a number of lunch options on the menu, including steak and hamburg steak made from Hitachi Beef. We decided to check out the desert menu, since we had already eaten earlier in the day, and we were not disappointed. I ordered a hozuki no-bake cheesecake dessert set. Edible hozuki, also known as a ground cherry or Chinese lantern plant, is a specialty of Takahagi, and this one dish utilised it in a number of ways. There was a small no-bake cheesecake with a sweet hozuki sauce topped with a hozuki that had been dipped in white chocolate, small slices of hozuki decorating the plate, and a scoop of hozuki ice cream. The set came with a drink of your choice. I highly recommend stopping by Aki no Chaya if you visit the Hozumike Residence! Although we did not order from the lunch menu, it also looked quite delicious.

8. Oiwa Shrine

Where: 752 Irishiken-cho, Hitachi, Ibaraki
Public Transport: 35 minutes by bus from JR Hitachi Station (Take the no. 60 bus bound for Higashi Godo (東河内) and get off at Oiwa Jinja Mae (御岩神社前) timetable in Japanese here)
Hours: 9am – 5pm

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It’s hard for me to choose a favourite venue of those we visited, but Oiwa Shrine might be it. Located in the middle of a forest of tall beautiful Japanese cedar trees, including one with a triple trunk estimated to be 500 years old, this shrine has a history reaching back almost 700 years.

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As you walk through the trees, you will soon spot ‘Mirage in the Forest’ by Sweden-based Akane Moriyama. This instillation is made from roughly 6000 thin strips of film suspended in the trees. As they sway in the breeze they catch and reflect the sunlight, giving a slightly different impression depending on the angle you view them from. The work captures the spiritual atmosphere of this beautiful mountain shrine.

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The second work at Oiwa Shrine is a ceiling painting inside Sai Shrine, one of the shrines inside the Oiwa Shrine precinct. The painting, titled ‘Oiwasan Unryu-zu’ by Kagawa-based artist Miki Okamura, takes a new approach to ceiling paintings, which typically depict the world seen from the ground looking up. This painting of a dragon flying over the mountains depicts the world as seen from above, a concept influenced by the modern progression of satellite technology and space travel. However, the mythical subject of the painting links back to humanity’s persistent belief in and connection to the spiritual. The painting will remain in the shrine even after the Kenpoku Art Festival finishes.

9. Hitachi Civic Center

Where: 1-21-1 Saiwai-cho, Hitachi, Ibaraki
Public Transport: 3 minutes’ walk from JR Hitachi Station Central Exit
Hours: 10am – 5pm

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There are six artworks on display at the Hitachi Civic Center, although we did not have time to see them all. My first thought upon viewing ‘Crystal Palace: The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nuclear Nations’ by Kyoto-based artists Ken + Julia Yonetani was that this collection of glowing neon green chandeliers looked like they belonged in a haunted house – they reminded me of popular depictions of ghosts and ghostly activity. Each chandelier is named after a country, and its size is determined by the scale of that country’s nuclear energy production. The chandeliers are made from uranium glass. In an adjoining room there is another artwork by the same artists – fragile faeries under glass jars rotating like figures in a music box to ‘It’s a Small World After All’. If you look closer, you will discover that their wings are actually real butterfly wings, and not just any butterflies – these particular butterflies were hatched from eggs collected from a location 10km away from the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant for the purpose of investigating the effect of radiation on wildlife in the area. The figures, which at first seem charming, quickly take on a different light as you read about intention of the artwork.

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In the Civic Center lobby you will find a tower topped by a retro TV set. ‘HITACHI Denrin Tower’ by Tokyo-based Ei Wada is actually made up on a number of TVs encased inside the walls of the tower. The staff by the tower will hand you a small radio device – by tuning it and holding it at different distances from the tower you can search for a secret song. As for what the song is, I will let you discover that for yourself.

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Stepping outside of the Civic Center you will find ‘Noah’s Bus’ by Finland and Germany-based artist Tea Mäkipää. From the outside, it looks like an old bus with some plant life growing out of the roof – if you get closer and peer inside, it is filled with life. Not knowing what the bus contained was half the fun – I was quite surprised when suddenly a white rabbit hopped by before my eyes. The bus also contained Guinea pigs, budgerigars, a Russian turtle, and a pair of black and white Laced Polish chickens. The plants inside the bus can all be found in the Hitachi region, and the work invites viewers to think about the relationship between urban and natural environments. The animals residing in the bus are cared for daily by staff from Kamine Zoo.

10. Hitachi Station

Where: 1-1-1 Saiwai-cho, Hitachi, Ibaraki
Public Transport: JR Hitachi Station
Hours: 9am – 8pm

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Although described as the gateway to the Kenpoku Art Festival, Hitachi Station was actually our last stop. The walls of the station building are almost entirely made of glass, and the station is located right on the ocean, so you can enjoy a spectacular view from the second floor. Throughout the Kenpoku Art Festival, the glass corridor of Hitachi Station has been decked out in rainbow colours by France-based artist Daniel Buren, in an installation titled ‘In the corridor: the Four Rainbows, work in situ, Daniel Buren for Kenpoku Art 2016. Japan’. As Hitachi Station is commonly the first stop for visitors, this colourful gateway is the perfect entrance to the festival.

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If you turn right after leaving the ticket gates, you will find the other installation at Hitachi Station, ‘Landscape Magic Lantern’ by Ibaraki-based artist Fumiaki Murakami. The installation is in the form of what appears to be a regular, if not funkily-shaped, telescope. Peer into the lens, however, and you will see fantasy and reality collide as stories from the ancient text Hitachi no Fudoki play out before your eyes right outside the station window.

Kenpoku Art 2016 is on all around northern Ibaraki until November 20th. Check out the website for information on shuttle buses, bus tours, and events throughout the festival.

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