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The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale

Tokamachi City in Japan’s Northeastern Niigata Prefecture is currently hosting its fifth installment of The Echigo-Tsumari Triennale. The large-scale art festival, directed by Fram Kitagawa, is spread throughout a nature-rich rural area which is unfortunately over-characterized as dealing with depopulation and the resulting effects.  One of the concerns posted on the festival’s website reads, ‘more than ten elementary schools have been closed in the Tokamachi metropolitan area due to the decreasing population,’ however, there are projects to convert abandoned schools, as well as homes, factories and rice fields in similar condition, into cultural hubs for the community. In turn, these abandoned structures, spaces and localities become points throughout the rural festival.

Visitors to Echigo-Tsumari leave the city behind to not only encounter the region and its people but  also artworks, installations, performances and architectural projects as well as community-focused initiatives like this rice cooperative program. The festival also becomes an occasion for visitors to look in the rear view mirror, to see where they stand, and how they got there.  Held some months after the one year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake, which brought much of the nation into self-question, Echigo-Tsumari may also amount to a reflective moment and place, not only for the Japanese, but for everyone. The festival is not a panacea although its practitioners and supporters participate with the aim of revitalizing and rejuvenating the area in a way that the economic heyday of Japan’s bubble era proved to no longer be able to.

In addition to suggested itineraries due to the geographic scale of the festival, workshops, lectures and community projects are also on offer. Participating artists include, Christian Boltanski, Yayoi Kusama, Daido Moriyama, MVRDV (mono.kultur #18), Carsten Nicolai (mono.kultur #01), Hiroshi Hara, Naoki Ishikawa, James Turrell, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Ilya & Emilia Kabokov, Hermann Maier Neustadt, and a complete list can be viewed here.

The Echigo Tsumari Triennale runs until September 17 2012.