I took the train down and back to Kokura and Hakata for the second Kita-Kyushu Biennale and to see the fourth Asia Pacific Triennale at the Asia Museum in Fukuoka. Both were worth the five hour journey down.
The Asia Triennale is an important and pioneering exhibition which has also helped form the extensive Asia-Pacific collection of the Asia Museum. The fourth edition, held mainly in the museum, presented a mix of old works by established artists such as Cai Guo-Qiang, Xu Bing and Subodh Gupta and newer pieces by younger artists such as Yee I-Lan, Atul Bhalla and Seema Nusrat. Atul Bhalla (India) showed an impressive photo-text work which documented his journey along a river in a large Indian metropolis. Referencing in parts the land art approaches of Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, Bhalla's work was a poignant documentation of both the environmental and human effects of rapid industrialization. In a similar documentary vein was the powerful video and installation by Bangaldeshi artists Yasmine Kabir and Ronni Ahmmed. They filmed workers hauling steel and detritus from massive ship wrecks in a scrap yard along the Bangladeshi coast. From Japan the photographer Higa Toyomitsu's ghostly photographs of the Nanamui shamanic rituals and his images of the anti-base demonstrations in Okinawa during the early 1970s were utterly absorbing.
The 'Imin' exhibition over in Moji-ko outside Kokura for the second Kita-Kyushu Biennale was a silent, serious affair. Held in the disused former offices of Japan Railways, the exhibition consisted entirely of projected and monitor slide works. Takuji Kogo of Candy Factory Projects collaborated with Mike Bode (Sweden), Federico Baronello (Italy) and Charles Lim (Singapore) on documentary-type photo essays exploring immigration. All of the works shared a formal language which I found interesting - being translated into Kogo's signature method of slide shows which jitter between scenes. Each work was accompanied by an A4 text written by the artists explaining the contexts and situations of the respective places documented. Mike Bode and Kogo photographed Brazilian worker communities living near Toyota City. Federico Baronello's work explored the sinking of an illegal immigrant ship near the Sicilian town of Portopalo. Charles Lim contributed a work looking into the hiring of foreign domestic workers in Singapore. The artists group Second Planet created a collage slide show of historical images of Manchuria, which existed between 1932 and 1945 under various colonial and multi-ethnic formations. The fact that such an exhibition is under way in Japan is something to be recognised - and from talking with the organisers (the non profit alternative space Gallery SOAP, Kita-Kyushu), I learned that they were denied funding from various public sources because the theme and title was deemed too strong. They could have changed the title to something like 'Mobility', and shown the same works, and probably received funding - but the fact that they chose to go with 'Imin' is testament to the organisers and artists critical fibre. Having said this, the exhibition left me with a number of questions, particularly regarding the ethical position of the artist when confronting these complex issues. I kept pondering the difficult relationship which is necessarily created between the artist-witness and those who they film for an art work - migrant workers etc. What was this sense of distance which the act of photographing or filming produces? And how am I, as a viewer, implicated in this in the act of watching? The artists decision to use no sound and to stutter the images, so that a segment would endlessly micro-loop were perhaps attempts to address these issues and lessen the spectacular potential of the subject matter.
The opening symposium was held from 5pm to 7pm. I sat between two 'senpai' critics, Mouri Yoshitaka to my left and Noi Sawaragi to my right. Mouri spoke about the ability of those who could move in today's globalized situation and those who simply could not. I offered thoughts on my recent naturalization experience and trends in curatorial and critical writing towards things 'being on the move', nomadic and flowing - a position reflected in Nicolas Bourriaud's recent book 'The Radicant' for example. Sawaragi, in customary art historian mode, contributed three case studies about what he usefully termed 'Imin teki kouka' (immigrant-like effects) on Japanese art history. He cited Ernest Fenelossa and his use of Hegelian modes to write a Japanese linear art history, the 'dentou ronsou' of the 1950s between Jomon and Yayoi cultures as the true origins of Japanese culture (Okamoto vs Tange Kenzo/ Kawazoe), and debates around Mono-ha in the 1970s and the role of Korean artist Lee Ufan in theorizing it. Other interesting points which emerged included: Isamu Noguchi's 'haafu' identity, the essentialist writings of Bruno Taut in the early 1930s vs the counter essentialist position of Sakaguchi Ango, thoughts about architecture and issues about the mechanisms in Japan which continue to promulgate a Japan-culture centric discourse. The discussion centred largely around art and its writings rather than socio-economic issues of immigration, in line with the sessions title which was 'Immigration and Art'. Around seventy people attended the talk, which was held in Gallery SOAP, Kokura.