People meeting people, from Fukuoka to Tokyo

Installation piece at vacant pub space at Nishi Kawaguchi.

Installation piece at vacant pub space at Nishi Kawaguchi.

I was travelling in Japan from October 29th to December 28th 2008 as participant of the Japan Foundation Invitation Programme for Artists and Designers under the larger Japanese government initiated JENESYS (Japan-East Asia Network of Exchange of Students and Youths) scheme. This episode of residency line up has 4 other Southeast Asian curators/art workers from Bandung, Bangkok, Jakarta and Singapore hosted by different institutions across Japan.

My assorted scopes of interest were on alternative art spaces and curatorial practice and Intermedia Art, but essentially this residency trip served as an excellent networking and observation trip.

For the first 3 weeks, I stayed in Osaka city. Together with Gustaff Harriman, director of Bandung Common Room Network Foundation, we were hosted by Professor Hisako Hara of the Osaka Electro Communication University, also a prominent curator and critic on Media Art and Contemporary Art.

Tadanori Yokoo's live painting performance at Setagaya Art Museum.

Tadanori Yokoo’s live painting performance at Setagaya Art Museum.

While in the Kansai area, we have also visited Hyogo, Kobe and Kyoto checking out museums, galleries, universities and some interesting groups and space such as the Kobe CAP (Contemporary Art And Programme) Q2 _ a converted harbour pier platform into an art and community space; REMO _ Record, Expression And Medium _ Organisation focusing on public engagement and education in Media Art; GRAF Media _ a successful entrepreneurial project by five founding members of different expertise in bringing in visual art and curatorial practice, fashion, interior and product design, music and a cafe in spanking 3 buildings complex right behind the Osaka National Museum of Art, and with projects around the world; and Space 208 _ an independent space near Tenjinbashi of Osaka, mainly coordinated by media artist Takuro Ibamuchi, which we also cooked up a SouthEast Asian feast for a dinner discussion with the members.

From November 17th to 24th we joint the 4th ASEAN Museum Curators Conference by the Japan Foundation beginning at the Fukuoka Asian Arts Museum, followed by an express trip from Fukuoka to Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo in 3 days on the super fast Shinkansen _ buying bento sets from each station could be a treat on its on.

at-koganecho-bazaarThe touring conference brought us to the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of Art at Osaka, the National Museum of Modern Art at Kyoto, the Yokohama Triennale and the Yokohama Museum of Art and concluded with a roundtable discussion and presentations at the Japan Foundation Tokyo HQ. It serves as a platform for young curators to meet, discuss, to share knowledge on challenges and practice in respective organisations and hopefully to develop possible future project.

The final period of my residency was a 5 weeks stay in Tokyo hosted by the Japan Foundation Visual Arts division. The stay was packed with appointments with universities media departments, art centres and museums, and trips to nearby cities, Yokohama, Kawaguchi, Moriya, Mito etc. to see residency programs, performance and public art projects.


Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

In a situation of regeneration versus gentrification in public art project, the Koganecho Bazaar at Yokohama, is an interesting case of contestation of space between local business and residence with the red-light district operators _ winning over council and authority intervention and later inviting the museum to coordinate a cultural-cum-management program to regenerate the area through the coexistence of art and community with newly constructed studios and commercial ventures such as fashion (a temporary Issey Miyake outlet during the Yokohama Triennale), cafe and housing projects. Yet it was great to witness local residential volunteers as young as 7 years (as a tour guide!) to retirees of 70 plus of age, all participating with high spirits while attending and connecting with the visitors and more importantly the projects workers and artists _ and the director actually moved in to stay with the community!

A community leader at Koganecho Bazaar with portrait by artist. Also sells excellent bonito flakes.

A community leader at Koganecho Bazaar with portrait by artist. Also sells excellent bonito flakes.

Horizontal and interpersonal networking is indeed vital part in building cross cultural exchange and communication, besides the many top-down generated policies and programs. The exchange of art and cultural would be multilateral or multi-levels, building a networking through friendship, or collegial relation would definitely be more encouraging and rewarding. An anecdote, I made acquaintance with a young curator from Setagaya Art Museum in the conference and discovered that we had mutual artist friends from Singapore, whom the he met while studying in the UK _ he has personally introduced me to some prominent artists, and also some independent spaces, but the best is still our conversations on and over Japanese beers and going for an authentic ‘open’ session of onsen.

Yap Sau Bin is a visual artist, art programmer and lecturer at a local University. He stayed in Japan for 2 months from October to December last year under the JENESYS’s Invitation Programme for Creators. Here is his report on his exiting research trip to Japan.

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