by Dilpreet BhullarApr 18, 2023
The Japanese island of Inujima is a living example of coexistence across nature, sustainability, and culture. In the twentieth century, the island served as a copper refinery for a short period of time. The refinery is not functional anymore, yet its remnants highlight a slice of history which is now turned into the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum. Spread to a distance of 0.54 sqkm, the island is home to a series of galleries made out of recycled materials, transparent acrylic glass, and aluminium. The selection of the material is an attempt to reflect as well as preserve the landscape, ecology and industrial history of the island. Due to its history, the island also serves as a venue for the Setouchi Triennale modern art festival.
To widen the awareness of the island Inujima, the exhibition Symbiosis: Living Island at Japan House London is an exploration of the large-scale art and architecture project led by the Inujima Art House Project. Inujima Art House Project has a long history of working with artists across the globe: Nawa Kōhei, Kojin Haruka, Asai Yūsuke and Olafur Eliasson to name a few – the island is now home to five pavilions, alongside outdoor exhibits which evolve with the landscape over time. Given the declining population of the island, the project aims to add a new life rooted in cultural activities to it. Moreover, since 2016, the project has even included a botanical garden in a greenhouse Inujima Life Garden.
The exhibition is curated by the director of the project, Hasegawa Yuko, Director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, with architect Sejima Kazuyo, a founding member of the SANAA office and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 2010. In an interview with STIR, Yuko talks about the curatorial strategies used to select the artists who speak to the long history of the island, “I selected artists who were capable of forming a deep, two-way connection with the island as it is now – the islanders, and life on the island as a whole, not just its history. The works of the artists who have researched the island and managed to incorporate elements of its materials, landscapes, and history are on display. Artists who were able to create powerful forms that instil hope and energy into viewers, rather than getting caught up in highbrow concepts.”
The experiential journey the exhibition offers allows the audience to “step onto the island”. Furthermore, a walkthrough of art and diorama installations, photography, videography and oral testimonies from residents open the interiors of the island to the visitors distanced geographically. To mention, the testimonies are a reflection of the rightful impact the project has had on more than 30 inhabitants. The project is developed in close interaction with the people to ensure the life of the island is duly restored. In other words, the exhibition pays acute attention to the details of the life led on the island. Yuko takes us through the different art situated in the exhibition space, “I placed a full-scale replica of A-Art House, featuring the vibrant, pop colours of Beatriz Milhazes, on the ground floor, which opens onto the street, to give a feeling of reality to the art/architecture relationship. In the basement, I set up a diorama using silver metal to thread together a route through the project’s various sites, alongside large screens projecting ambient images so that visitors can experience with all five senses the island’s ecology, linking together architecture, art, everyday life and nature.”
Japanese ecology is replete with a variety of flowers and their beauty is globally known. To capture the same vibrancy, a replica of Yellow Flower Dream by Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes is located on the ground floor. The freestanding floral structure of the life-size flower brings the audience a step closer to what resides in the Inujima landscape. The installation was created as a part of A-Art House in 2018 on the island, within the Inujim Art House Project. The sculpture, conceived in a way to forge a relationship between community and nature, is site-specific determined by the artist’s understanding of the architecture of the outdoor gallery A-Art House. Depending on the position of the viewer, the installation changes colour and shape. It has transplanted the inherent floral beauty of the Inujima Island to Japan House London.
The symbiosis of the title weaves the design of nature and architecture to underline how the installations, buildings and creative creations are inseparable from the surroundings. Towards this end, the audience is acquainted with the long-term vision of Yuko for the future of the island since the blueprints are also on display. The blueprints underscore the concept of symbiosis to illustrate the availability of the many possibilities to achieve harmony between community and nature. The exhibition is crucial against the backdrop of the set of new realities in the post-pandemic world. Talking about how the pandemic has made us more aware of what surrounds us - environment, neighbourhood and mutual ecological relationships - Yuko expounds, “Symbiosis, in the sense of mutual aid or altruistic coexistence, is a way of trying to reconsider such things from a de-anthropocentric worldview and scale. We did this against the backdrop of an island ecosystem, in a venture that is quite different from any speculative, capitalist project: we deliberately did not define any aims or goals.”
The exhibition nurtures from the de-anthropocentric vantage point of view in an effort to envision an altruistic coexistence. The effect of the fresh breeze of ecology blowing through the island bestows a sense of multiple overlapping layers, like listening to polyphonic music. For Yuko, the visit to the exhibition is, “Like Shangri-La, a place you can only visit once: I want visitors to take with them the experiences and memories they gain from an hour’s stroll around this human-sized island”.
Symbiosis: Living Island is on view at the Japan House London until September 04, 2022.