the 2007 Kobe Biennale

24Nov09

November 23rd was the last day of the 2009 Kobe Biennale, which I went to visit last week.  The Biennale is held at the waterfront site of Meriken Park, under the shadow of Kobe’s famous Port Tower and right next to the Maritime Museum.  Because Kobe is historically a port city, the organizers of the Biennale decided that the best way to mount the exhibition would be to build a temporary village from shipping containers.  I’m a huge fan of shipping container architecture, so I was especially excited to visit the exhibit and see how the re-purposed cargo spaces were used the first time I visited the Biennale in 2007 with my friends Joe and Angie.

The 2007 Kobe Biennale featured 45 award-winning works of art mounted in shipping containers in addition to displays featuring ikebana, works by disabled artists, a display of ceramic art, and art made by and for children.  The works of art varied widely in terms of idea, execution, and aesthetic effect but all of them were interesting and posed as their own enclosed worlds that  served to open up enjoyable spaces for thought and encounter.  The piece featured at the top of this entry — consisting of two mirrored panels that come to a point to create a space of unending reflection — is called “Infinite Planet” (無限の惑星) and is by a group from Ishikawa called Star in the TENTEN (天々星組).  The piece pictured above is by Song Junnam and Yoon Cyongsu and is called “Kobe People.”  Here’s what the artists have to say about this piece: “I am a foreigner who lives in Japan. It’s not rare in Kobe. Usually, I’m a minority, but in this work, I fill it up by the photographs of the foreigner’s faces, who are living in Japan. Through the encounter of foreigners living in Japan, who are also neighbors, I hope you can sense yourself, the foreigners, and Kobe.”

Several of the containers had ikebana on display.  The theme at work here was “future ikebana,” and many of the arrangements were truly incredible.

This piece, by Akihiro Kumagaya and Eisuke Tachikawa (熊谷彰博 and 太刀川英輔) was really fantastic.  It consisted of a mostly bare container painted white on the inside, which a few desks, chairs, and banks of red markers scattered around.  The entryway was constructed from pieces of red plastic so that when you looked through them into the container you (in theory) wouldn’t be able to see what was written on the walls.  All of the writing in the container was produced by guests at the Biennale, who were supposed to write down important thoughts, or perhaps childhood memories.  It was incredibly fun to add pieces of text to the jumble inside the container, and to spend time walking around and reading what other people had written.  This piece is listed as being untitled on the official 2007 Kobe Biennale site, but I remember it being called “What’s Your First Memory?”

This work, simply titled “Zebra,” (しまうま) is by Shibata Michiri (柴 田美千里).  There’s something deeply uncanny about walking through a container filled with stumpy zebra torsos.  I almost felt like I was walking through a zebra snuff film.  But at the same time there’s something funny about this piece, as if it were the punchline for a joke that you’ve forgotten the set up for.

This piece, by an artist called ONOYOTONN (小野養豚ん), a name that means “pig-farm,” was one of my favorites at the Biennale.  Here’s what ONOYOTONN has to say about the piece, which is called “A Herd” (群):  “I grew up on a pig farm and have made many works with pig motifs. With the theme of ‘encounter’, I embodied pig-herding images playfully. I mass-produced mini-pigs so that the container is full of them and enjoyed in the space.”  The pigs were made from some kind of wax, and a few of them had fallen from the walls and the ceilings by the time that Angie, Joe, and myself made it to the Biennale.  Because of the scattered nature of the pigs there was almost a sense of massacre about the place, and standing inside an area so full of pink fleshiness made me feel a little bit like I was standing inside a piece of intestine.  Or perhaps a bit as if I were trapped inside a sausage.

This piece — a webwork of glowing white tubules in a container with mirrored walls — made me feel like I was inside some kind of strange futuristic alien spaceship, or perhaps standing in a scene that never made it into the Matrix series.   The piece is by Ryosuke Sai (宰井良輔) of DOLPHIN KICK (ドルフィンキック), which is one of the best names for an arts-oriented design group that I can think of.  In the photo above you can see Joe, in the process of snapping this self-portrait.

Here’s Angie standing in front of a chalkboard that was completely covered with a single, extensive, set of of mathematical operations.  Across from the chalkboard were several wooden school desks equipped with paper and pencils so that you could sit down in front of the board and work up as much abstract calculation as your heart might desire.  So far, so normal.  But what you can’t do is sit at the desks without also sitting on an open ceramic toilet, the only seats in the place.  This is a piece that makes you think about the relationship between abstraction and bodily functions, and our inability to escape from our animal nature, no matter how hard we might try.  The piece, called “Animal Expression,” is by Yamashita Ryuuji          (山下竜司) and this is what he has to say about it: “We, human beings, using various materials, escape from the genus named “animals”, against reality. Even if it was impossible.”

This piece by Florian Claar, called “Symphonic Light Chamber,” is meant to sculpturally imitate the structure of 18th-century symphonic compositions.  I’m not sure that the piece ended up having that particular effect on me, but as a gloriously futuristic sculptural space I thought it was fantastic.  In fact, it felt very 2001 to me — up to and including the final transition in which you step through the circular entrance at the rear of the container and into a black void full of tiny pinpricks of light:  “The thing’s hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God—it’s full of stars!”

This beautiful work is composed of more than 2,500 letters and characters from different languages from around the world.  The colorful writing is illuminated from behind, and walking into this room is a bit like walking into an abstracted conversation in which you’re hearing bits and pieces of the entire planetary population talking at once.  This piece, by Noriko Shiozawa (塩澤徳子), is called “Koto-no-ha” (こと‐の‐は), which is an older Japanese word for “language.”  Shiozawa-san was kind enough to give her permission to allow the photograph above to be used as the cover for the UNESCO Jakarta Annual Report 2008.

This piece, by Hans Schohl, was called “General Cargo Celestial Mechanics” and consisted of several beautiful kinetic sculptures that were illuminated so that long shadows would be cast on the walls of the container.  The sculptures — similar to models of planetary rotation — reminded me vaguely of Aughra’s observatory in The Dark Crystal.

There were far more works at the 2007 Biennale than Joe, Angie, and I were able to see in a single day, and many of the really amazing pieces that we did manage to see weren’t the kind of works that show up well on film.  If I had had the opportunity, I would have visited the Biennale over the course of several days, slowly moving from work to work and taking plenty of time for coffee, relaxation, and clearing the head in between.  I might even have taken some time to watch the sun set from the top of  Kobe’s Port Tower, instead of watching the sun set inside of a container, as beautiful as that in fact turned out to be.  The piece above, called “koyomi,” is by Daiichi Shichino (七野大一) and it simulates sunset and moonrise by projecting slowly moving images of light at the end of a container in which a long reflecting pool has been constructed.  Inside the container, the images of sun and moon are reflected across the pool which quietly ripples and undulates from localized vibrations within the container.  All very dark, quiet, slow, and beautiful.

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6 Responses to “the 2007 Kobe Biennale”

  1. Wow. These are gorgeous! I wish I lived closer :\

    • 2 Trane DeVore

      The Kobe Biennale will be held again in 2011, so if you’re anywhere nearby then I recommend going. Also, I think there’s a Yokohama Biennale, though I’m not exactly sure. If you’re based in Tokyo, that would definitely be closer.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article, keep on writing such interesting posts.

    • 4 Trane DeVore

      Glad you like this post. If you ever get a chance to visit the Kobe Biennale, I highly recommend it.

  3. 5 Angie

    Well written, Trane. Cheers for documenting this fantastic day!

    • 6 Trane DeVore

      And thank you, Angie, for helping to make that day so fantastic. Now, if only I can find the time to write a post about my experiences at the 2009 Kobe Biennale . . .


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