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The Islands of Art With Japan’s Setouchi Triennale
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The Islands of Art With Japan’s Setouchi Triennale

Picture of Andrew Kingsford-Smith
Updated: 21 October 2016
The Setouchi Triennale in Japan, sees over 150 artists install artworks throughout the islands of the Seto Inland Sea. With the aim of revitalising the culture of the isles, 2013 sees the return of this vast transformation of the landscape, following Setouchi’s successful debut in 2010. We discover the magnificent artwork and how the festival has given new life to these communities.

The Seto Inland Sea lies between two of the four main islands that make up Japan, Honshu and Shikoku, and holds a number of small islands each with their own rich culture. Historically, these islands were thriving islets that developed culturally from trading boats stopping off on their routes between Honshu and Shikoku. Recent global trends have seen the population decline, however, with mass numbers of the inhabitants moving to larger cities, leading to a fall in the area’s vitality.

With an aim to rejuvenate the culture of this area, and to act as the symbol of a ‘Sea of Hope’ for other areas in the world experiencing similar problems, the Setouchi Art Festival was set up in 2010. Bringing a large number of practitioners from Japan and across the globe to the islands, the festival saw collaborations between modern artists, architects and local residents, creating artworks of various sizes and mediums that were peppered throughout the area. Taking inspiration from the history and landscapes of the Seto Inland Sea, the islands became living galleries, attracting thousands of international travellers to this somewhat obscure archipelago.

Returning after three years, the 2013 Setouchi Art Festival aims to once again reignite the culture of these areas. Gathering over 150 artists to the Seto Inland Sea, the festival will take place over three seasons of the year: Spring (20 March – 21 April), Summer (20 July – 1 September) and Autumn (5 October – 4 November). Scheduling the artworks between these three programmes, visitors can either scout out when their favourite artists will be on display, or they can choose a season and discover new talent.

Throughout the festival, visitors island hop on various ferries, and can either buy tickets to see specific artworks or buy an open pass. There are also a number of events taking place during the festival. These include talks with influential figures in the art world, Japanese drum concerts, theatrical shows and dance performances, each set in unique locations – on sandy beaches, stunning hillsides and on the water itself.

The Setouchi Art Festival is an inspiring event that is both beneficial for the communities in the Seto Inland Sea and for the discourse of contemporary art. Ridding away of the constraints of galleries, Setouchi sees an astounding number of talented artists interact directly with the area’s culture, both old and new, giving the works an ongoing significance. From artworks the size of boats floating on the sea, to statues that stand tall in farm fields, from old houses rigged to simulate terrifying storms to new structures made from discarded debris, the artworks are diverse and profound. Attracting practitioners and travelers from around the world, and uniting them with the individual communities on the islands and their fascinating history, Setouchi Art Festival offers a shimmering hope to the culture and vitality of the Seto Inland Sea.