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Winter is coming to the Setouchi islands
(the 2022 edition)
I guess I’m way overdue for a post about my corner of Japan. I know a lot of you have joined this newsletter to hear specifically about this, and I haven’t delivered much lately. Sorry about that.
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So, yes, the Setouchi Triennale 2022 has come and gone. It was an unusual Triennale because of you know what (that is the pandemic if you’re from a country that has already forgotten there is a deadly pandemic happening right now).
The good is that everything was less crowded than in 2019 (which definitely was TOO crowded).
The bad is that the mood was just not the same as usual. There wasn’t the same sense of excitement as the previous years.
Also, I feel that this Triennale was a turning point in many ways and that the next one could be very different.
I talked a little bit about all of this, not in one, but in two videos. Feel free to watch them before reading the rest of this post. One is short, the other one is not.
As you may know, the island I have the most connections to is Ogijima and a page was turned on the island last month when Onba Café definitely closed. The Oshimas, (founders of Onba Factory and Onba Café) who have been more than instrumental in reviving Ogijima, are retiring, and they’re leaving the island. I’m not sure it would have happened at all without them and they will be dearly missed.
If you don’t know the whole story (it’s understandable, it’s spread over many posts and over a dozen of years on my blog), know that it started in 2010. Then, Onba Factory was one of the most inspirational projects of the first Triennale. The art - the Onba - was not something external that an artist would bring to the island, it was already part of the island’s culture and identity and all the artists did was to give them an artistic spin. Also, the artists didn’t just come and go. They stayed on the island for months (some even years), and they became part of the community. They embodied what the Triennale was trying to do: revive the Setouchi islands through art.
Onba Factory literally did it.
When the first Triennale ended, everyone wondered “now what?” Was the island going to fall back to sleep and resume slowly dying until 2013?
It was the Oshimas who made sure it didn’t happen. They kept on organizing small events and meetings and such - very simple things at first - so that the connections made during the festival between the islanders, the Koebi-tai volunteers, and local visitors remained active and that things kept on happening on the island. It seems like a minor thing but it had a tremendous impact on everyone. The Islanders, who during the Triennale, had a wake-up call about the fact that their island was dying and that it was worth saving, decided that… well… it was time to try to do something about it. And as most of them were elders, they were more than happy to have regular and younger visitors to their islands who were willing to help with the task.
People who had discovered the island through the festival got to discover its identity and its everyday self outside of the festival.
It was during that time that I moved to Japan (I had been visiting the area several times before) and I also became a “friend of the island” then.
In 2013, when it was time for the second Triennale, the island hadn’t fallen back to sleep and was ready to welcome the new batch of artists and their projects. And several artists connected with the island in ways that didn’t always happen on some of the other islands, clearly inspired by all the work done by the Onba Factory team and especially the Oshimas.
That led to some families wanting to move to the island. That led to enough people caring and convincing city hall to reopen the school (a condition for new families to be able to move to the island). And little by little, with some hard work from many people, more families arrived, and the island became what it is today. A wonderful and charming and pretty thriving small community in the middle of the Seto Inland Sea.
All of this would have never happened without the Oshimas. So waving goodbye to them was a very emotional moment.
The last day of the Triennale this year was by no means the most intense or the most exciting, but it definitely was the most moving and the most beautiful.
I talked a little bit in my blog there (click on the picture for the blog post):
Now, Winter is around the corner, a time of the year when not much is happening in the Setouchi islands (except for Islanders, of course - they have a life to live). The temporary art of the Triennale has been or is in the process of being dismantled. Some artworks were expected to be gone by mid-November, for some other ones, it came as a surprise. It’s how things go every three years.
This Spring some things will re-open, and some may or may not do it. No schedule has been set in stone yet (except maybe the usual permanent art sites on Naoshima). It will probably greatly depends on the state of the pandemic.
On my blog, I will try to tell you about as many of the 2022 artworks as possible, including the temporary ones, as you have most likely missed them.
I’ll also try to finish my Island Guide over the next two years.
Will I succeed? I don’t know.
As always I want to write too many things about too many topics (hence the existence of this Substack newsletter) and I never get to write all the things I mean to.
So, you see, this is a small round-up about what has been happening in the Seto Inland Sea in the past month or so. Not much, in short.
Stay tuned for more.
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Take care and stay safe.