Third Time’s a Charm

Left: Artist João Modé and curator Daniela Castro. Right: Curator Zeynep Öz, artist Khalil Rabah, and curator Chihiro Minato. (All photos: Agnieszka Gratza)

WHAT HAPPENS WHEN Brazil and the Middle East meet in Japan? Artistic director Chihiro Minato conceived “Homo Faber: A Rainbow Caravan,” the third edition of the Aichi Triennale, as a journey, inviting curators Daniela Castro and Zeynep Öz—based respectively in São Paulo and Istanbul—along for the ride.

The trip was designed to take visitors, curators, and artists across the Aichi prefecture in central Japan from the bustling capital of Nagoya to the smaller, equidistant cities of Okazaki and Toyohashi—all located on the same train line. A new satellite venue, Toyohashi has a sizable Brazilian community, which is partly why Castro was drafted in.

At the press conference last Wednesday, Minato reminisced about how he traveled the world as a photographer in the 1980s, spending a year and a half in South America, near the Amazon. These formative experiences were meant to account for the triennial theme. Over a shandy at the Caravan Party thrown by the good people of Toyohashi the following night, he revealed his true inspiration: Santana’s 1972 album Caravanserail, featuring a giant blazing sun on the cover.

Left: Artists Nicholas Galanin and Maikoiyo Alley-Barnes. Right: Artist Jerry Gretzinger.

Colors in every shade of the rainbow dominated the agenda, starting with the boldly patterned shirt—nothing if not adventurous—Minato sported on the opening day of the triennial tour. Taking up an entire wall in the atrium of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, which kept us busy for much of the morning, Jerry Gretzinger’s multipaneled aggregate of tiny colored maps set the tone. Shinji Ohmaki’s ephemeral floral patterns spreading out in concentric circles from a central pillar in Echoes-Infinity, 2012, were there for visitors to tread on, blending their pigments. The leftovers formed layers on layers of gorgeous color in a neat row of champagne flutes displayed next to the floor-based work.

In contrast to this chromatic orgy, the radiation-contaminated tree stumps from Fukushima and Hiroshima in artist Masao Okabe’s sobering series of black frottage drawings harked back to the previous triennial theme (“Awakening—Where Are We Standing? Earth, Memory, and Resurrection”), which responded to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant meltdown of 3/11.

The idea of the journey itself—from West to East—was conveyed chiefly through sonic means in British experimental musician Chris Watson’s twenty-channel surround-sound installation. Titled Great Circle, 2016, after the route airplanes generally take when traveling to Japan from the UK, the work charted the artist’s own travels from his home in Northumberland, UK, to the glaciers of Iceland, across Siberia and through the Gobi Desert all the way to Mount Horai-ji in the Aichi prefecture. As I lingered, the end of a rainstorm in Siberia’s tiger forests gave way to the eerie wailing sound of orcas captured with hydrophones beneath the Arctic Ocean.

Left: Artist Masao Okabe and curator Hiroyuki Hattori. Right: Artist Mai Ueda.

That afternoon, our human caravan wended its way from one art-filled venue to the next. With no time to spare, we had our packed lunch on the bus. “I’m so glad for this working experience,” Castro remarked. “The schedule for the opening is like a train table.”

The streets around Choja-machi, the heart of Nagoya’s once thriving textile district, were all but deserted in the midday heat. What used to be shopfronts now house art galleries. In one of those, the Jakarta-based collective ruangrupa set up a temporary school for the “citizens” of Nagoya, running workshops on “how to be disorganized” alongside karaoke sessions. Yoshio Shirakawa’s playful installation, stemming from his research into the city’s history, turned a nearby space into a camel-themed shop showcasing the decidedly unflattering LAKUDA underwear in a range of pale beiges.

By the time we reached the Nagoya City Art Museum, a combination of unrelenting heat and talk of deserts (Japan has its own, as Teshigahara Hiroshi’s 1964 black-and-white classic, Woman in the Dunes, attests) had me ready to devour Sharjah artist Abdullah Al Saadi’s lush red mountains in The Watermelon Series, 2014, exhibited inside. In front of the museum, adults and children extended the web made up of many-colored threads tied together in the latest iteration of Brazilian artist João Modé’s NET Project, spanning three venues in each of the triennial’s cities.

The opening reception at Nagoya Tokyu Hotel’s Banquet Room Versaille, which lived up to its name, was thronged—to put it mildly. “OMG—that’s more than the entire population of Palestine,” Beirut- and Ramallah-based artist Khalil Rabah exclaimed as he surveyed the palatial room where the whole Japanese art establishment, rubbing shoulders with local officials and their spouses, appeared to have converged.

Left: Artist Chris Watson and Maggie Watson. Right: Artist Shinji Ohmaki.

“If all these people went to see the works, that would already be an achievement,” Rabah mused the next day, en route for Toyohashi City, where his work is exhibited. The densely wooded hills glimpsed from the bus offered some respite from the built-up industrial landscape around Nagoya and Okazaki.

The second city on our whirlwind tour of the Aichi Triennale served up some unusual locations in which to show contemporary art—from a disused set of rooms above a train station to an ordinary shopping mall that accommodated a new photography exhibition. After a stroll through a drab, dusty building overlooking the Okazaki castle that Mumbai native Shreyas Karle had transformed with subtle interventions, the traditional Edo period house and garden of the Ishihara family, in which several works by Japanese and international artists were presented, felt like an oasis.

When it came to seeing the works spread across several buildings at our final destination, only the most eye-catching pieces stood any chance of grabbing our attention. Laura Lima’s Flight (fuga, in Portuguese), 2008, a playground for birds complete with scaled-down landscape paintings and folded screens adapted to the avian viewer, was certainly among them. The tiny creatures—one hundred locally sourced Java sparrows and finches—didn’t appear to care much for the art. And who could blame them? As Lima put it, “Animals: We think we know about them. But they’re a total mystery.”

Left: Artist Laura Lima, artist Bernardo Ortiz, and musician Cucu Diamantes. Right: Artist Shreyas Karle.

Left: Filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik and artist Kawayan de Guia. Right: Artists Daniella Praptono, Ade Darmawan, Leonhard Bartolomeus, and Saleh Husein.

Left: Artists Nidhal Chamekh, Chelsea Knight, and Mauro Restiffe. Right: Artists Adriana Minoliti and Ignas Krunglevicius.