San Francisco is often warmer in winter than summer. The ocean is just a bike ride away.
Just three days after the earthquake and radiation leakage, I noticed the very elderly security guard at the supermarket loading area applying a pruning saw to a tree across the alley. The tree was part of the landscape outside a beautiful abandoned wood house. The guard did a skillful pruning job. It seemed a strange gesture given the uncertainties and shortages at the time.
The wood house is one of the few pre-war structures nearby, and whatever plants are in front survive because they are extremely hardy and suited to Tokyo’s climate. Once the potted tree had been pruned back, I could see clearly that the pot was split down the middle, the roots circumventing the asphalt, and the tree naturalized in the city. The abandoned house and garden are a small neighborhood treasure. I also love the thick row of ferns, the multi-level racks with potted plants, and how the front entrance has turned into a small jungle.
The Echigo Tsumari or Niigata Art Triennial was our last stop, and it, too, reflected the themes of history in landscape and rural revitalization. We visited a small portion of the 350 sites, mostly abandoned houses and schools, spread out in several hillside villages. This two month features world-class international art, much of it conceptual, and draws audiences from around Japan and the world.
The above sculpture, using local river-harvested drift wood and washed out neon colors, represents the last three students in an old school started in the Edo period. The oldest parts of the building have been opened to show the mud and bamboo walls below the plaster and paint. With only the very elderly still living in these towns, new and modern buildings that once provided education and shelter are now abandoned. These spaces provide an over-abundance of space for art, and much of it is haunting.
The school above was created only thirty years ago, and was closed nineteen years after opening. It seems to be on the verge of being reclaimed by the forest. For the Triennial, French artists Christian Boltanski and Jean Kalman turned the interior was turned into a theatrical, high art haunted house recalling the school and amplifying the gloom. Visitors enter a pitch black auditorium, covered in hay, with benches and fans. There are hallways with dark mirror windows, the sound of a heart beat, and a room full of what appear to be plexiglass coffins.
Juxtaposed with the gloom were many playful and surreal art works. Below is an outdoor grasshopper sculpture that moves as water fills the heads and cables connecting to indoor sculptures raise and shake dozens of wood puppets.
It was fun to experience the artwork and the environment with the young Nodai students. Many of them are from the countryside, and their interest and confusion in the art was palpable.
See below for more Niigata Art Triennial photos, including abandoned houses, fields, art and stories.
Led by my moss-loving friend Britton Watkins, I visited Aqua Forest, an aquarium store focused more on plants than fish. They have an amazing selection of aquatic plants, and aquariums with wonderful miniature gardens using dozens of plants, stone and wood.
The magic of the underwater gardens is only magnified by the strange underground mall location, Sabunado 3chome (サブナード丁目).