The First Sapporo International Art Festival
This summer, the city of Sapporo, Japan is set on a mission to define itself as a contemporary art destination with it’s first organized art event, the Sapporo International Art Festival. Spreading across the city’s cultural institutions and unlikely venues, the festival celebrates contemporary art, sound and performance based work, all curated by New York based Japanese artist and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Up until September 28th the festival has adopted the theme of "Cities and Nature". With this lens, Sakamoto has linked art and activism, hoping to engage visitors with artworks that reference the history and land of Sapporo through the eyes of the artists he has chosen. For its debut, Sakamoto has chosen sixty-two international and Japanese artists and groups from the past and present. The two main venues are the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art and the Sapporo Art Museum. Innovative works like Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculpture and Takashi Kuribayashi’s paper mountain experience will mesh with Sakamoto’s love for new media, and are installed at several off-beat satellite venues, all of which go to lend SIAF international art festival status.
For the past two years, appointed director Ryuichi Sakamoto has been developing SIAF, fusing his experience with the art world of his adopted home of New York with the selection of both cutting edge international and Japanese artists, to create a globally influenced vision. As a result of these efforts SIAF is different than other international festivals, with an emphasis and focus on enriching Japan’s culture, rather than on monetary gain. By fusing art and activism, Sakamoto hopes that SIAF will create a long lasting global dialogue that puts the importance of preservation and history in front of the nose of the art world. Sakamoto is joined by two assistant curators; Shihoko Iida of the Aichi Triennale, and Yukiki Shikata, an associate curator from Mori Museum.
The absence of nature is the theme of Youki Hirakawa’s Vanished Tree. The video installation, which is projected onto the ceiling, depicts the holes in the forest canopy above tree stumps the artist found in Makomanai Park. These holes, that reveal glimpses of the sky, are like “vanished forests,” symbolizing the encroaching urbanization that seeps across rural, forested areas everywhere.
Japanese artist Takashi Kuribayashi’s large scale installation, Forest from Forest, is another immersive piece that draws the viewer into a fabricated nature experience. Made from washi paper (which is made from trees), the forest spreads like a canopy along the upper portion of one of the museum’s galleries. In order for visitors to experience the artificial forest up-close, they must remove themselves from the gallery itself, and climb ladders through vantage points that thrust them into the middle of the white environment. Standing atop the ladders, the visitors experience the snowy paper forest on solitude, until, of course it is the next person’s turn.
Outside of the museum, Ryo Yamada’s Air Garden is perched above a grassy hill. Made from plywood, the installation is a narrow walkway that extends from a private garden into the sky. Accessible by only one visitor at a time, the piece is meant to thrust visitors into the fresh air above, allowing each person to experience a moment in the sky and connect with nature without the distractions of other people.
Aside from engaging with nature, Sakamoto also has a penchant for new media. Young robotics artists So Kanno and Takahiro Yamaguchi have brought their Senseless Drawing Bot, an automated robot that spews colored paint from pressurized cans. The robot is placed within a room lined with blank canvases, where it creates an automated graffiti abstractions as it moves around, taking the artist’s hand out of the art making process.
Beyond the museum settings, is a program called Sensing Streams, which takes place in an unlikely venue, the 520 meter Sapporo Ekimae-dori Underground Walkway which connects two subway stations. Curated by assistant Yukiko Shikata, the exhibition contrasts the flow of information and data with the physical flow of the rivers in the topography of Sapporo, contrasted with the commuters that flow from one station to the next in the walkway each day.
A full schedule of talks, musical performances, and film screenings will enliven the city throughout duration of the festival. Despite Sakamoto’s tragic diagnosis, the Sapporo International Art Festival is poised under his vision to permeate the city with his finger print, setting a precedent for future curators of SIAF to be inspired by.