We’d like to coin a new term “Squalid Art” (n), meaning the art created when external artists are invited into a poor housing area to establish a tourist attraction.
Based on our day trip to Valparaiso in Chile ( you can read the post here) and now in Busan’s Gamcheon area, we are great fans of it. However, you do wonder if it’s sometimes imposed on the locals.
Established in the 1950s, as a refugee camp for Koreans fleeing the civil war, Gamcheon’s twisty lanes and steep terraces used to be one of the city’s poorest shanty towns. That was until 2009 when government money started financing the murals and art installations.
Now thousands of tourists get the number 1.1 bus up the very steep hill, buy their trail map and collect ink stamps and postcards at fun, attractive locations. However, when we wandered off the trail, the poverty that still exists behind the squalid art facade was all too obvious.
A 20 minute ferry crossing took us to Naoshima, a small island that’s been transformed, in the past 25 years, from depopulated backwater to serious art colony, full of restaurants and guest houses.
We hired bikes for a ridiculously cheap sum, (£3 each, no deposit needed), bought some takeaway food from the ever present 7-11, and planned a circle of the island to visit both Honmura and the southern area. It felt good cycling along small lanes, through rural settlements, past lovely secluded lakes, and we would later say this was the highlight of the day.
However, we had some contemporary art to see.
In Honmura’s Art House Project, five previously empty houses and an old Shinto shrine, have been turned into art installations by six artists. Two stood out for us, Tatsuo Miyajima’s Kadoya house, and James Turrell (remember him from our Canberra blog) for his breathtaking Minamidera lightwork.
Later we queued to get into the Chichu Art Museum. Designed by Tadao Ando, this is largely underground, yet most rooms are lit by natural light. Here was art curation at its most extreme. The entire museum featured five late-period Claude Monets, an installation by Walter de Maria, and three lightworks by that man again, James Turrell. Hilary thought the place was disappointing, whilst Roger loved it.
A rare day apart, whilst Hilary leisurely explored Okayama, (trying to re-charge her batteries), Roger headed to the north coast city of Tottori.
Whilst we were in Australia, the NewYorkTimes website featured a picture of Japanese sand dunes, and wrote about the latest show at the world’s foremost sand sculpturing museum. I immediately said to Hilary “I want to go there”.
So, three weeks later, I’m making my way into the hanger-like exhibition space. The theme is the United States of America; there’s the Statue of Liberty, there’s Mount Rushmore, there’s Neil Armstrong. And yes wonderfully, compared to my childhood sand castles, or our kid’s dams, these are industrially gigantic.
Under the creative leadership of Katsuhiko Chaen, 19 leading sand sculptors from all around the world have produced tableaux that are both visually stunning and technically excellent. Apparently, the secrets are to compact the sand and water mix thoroughly, not to make the chins too deep that the heads fall off, and then to “get the shadows right”.
Afterwards, I went for a stroll nearby on the largest sand dunes in Japan. From the highest point, there was an impressive view of the Sea of Japan. And a couple of children were making their own castles in the sand.
Ifyouplantodothis Off the standard tourist trail, Tottori is actually easy to reach by day trip from Okayama. Arriving in Tottori mid-morning by train, Roger had plenty of time to see the Sand Museum, walk on the dunes and have a bite to eat, before getting the late afternoon return.
Seen at the Tokyo National Museum, the above folded screen is Mountain Valley in Spring, an oil on silk, painted in 1935 by Matsubaynshi Keigetsu.
Do you view Japanese painted folding screens or sliding doors, or decorated ceramics and clothing as “art”?
Probably yes, thanks to a modern-day perspective that now accepts any material can be a canvas for artistic expression.
But, much to the chagrin of the Japanese, this was not always the prevailing view of the western art establishment. A perspective that was to change, thanks partly to the Japanese Government’s showcasing of their traditional crafts, by hosting exhibitions and supporting art schools, in the late 19th/early 20th century Meiji period, as the country sought to leave behind a period of isolated feudalism.
So next time you go to an art gallery and are told a pile of bricks is art, think back to the Japanese screen painter.
Aboriginal (Indigenous Australian) art use to be confined to the desert, painted on rocks, exposed to the air. Now it’s displayed proudly in state galleries, with the most celebrated work selling for millions. The transition started in the 1970’s in Papunya, Central Australia, with an innovative art collective painting on reclaimed scraps of wood and metal.
In this spirit, at Darwin’s Art Gallery, there’s a display of the work of Papunya artist, Michael Nelson Tjakamarra, reproduced on car parts such as bonnets, doors and bumpers. This twist is designed to represent the journeys made by remote aboriginal communities. To travel across the desert, second-hand cars are regularly purchased and driven until they break down, to become part of the rusty landscape.
We loved the colours and the graphics. But to the painters, all the circles and lines tell stories about their Dreamtime spiritual heritage.
One of the signature pieces at the National Gallery in Canberra is a James Turrell Skyspace called Within Without 2010. It’s quite simply one of the most arresting experiences of our travels so far.
Sitting in a dome, we looked up through a circular aperture at the early evening sky. Natural light, something we should feel entirely comfortable with. But then, a cycle of colours on the dome’s walls is timed to interact with the changing sky and play tricks on our perception.
The simple act of witnessing the sky this way, notably at dawn and dusk, reveals how we internally create the colours we see and hence, our perceived reality.
There are 80 Turrell Skyspaces around the world. He says, “My work has no object, no image and no focus. With no object, no image and no focus, what are you looking at? You are looking at you looking. What is important to me is to create an experience of wordless thought.”
Hopefully, the images we took (below) give you an idea of what we experienced.
Before we head out into the wilds of Australia, it was good to have a day of art; Australian, American and European.
But running through the galleries of the National Gallery in Canberra is the angst Australia still feels about its treatment of indigenous Aboriginies and Torres Strait Islanders. Permanent and special displays by contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, responding to the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Rights Referendum, call for continued justice, rights and recognition.
It’s worth reflecting how recent and raw this issue still feels out here. But some people want to move on. It’s a moral, cultural and political debate, that has echoes around the world today.
It was good to stroll into an art gallery without paying. So different from America where art comes at a price.
Surely, cities should be more than sidewalks and parking lots – the best ones extend into accessible culture, recreation and leisure. America seems to have forgotten that. Most cities in the third world are yet to discover it.
After lunch at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, we spent an enjoyable hour looking at the eclectic collection. The rooms reflecting Australia; European heritage alongside modern confident home-grown.
In March 1962, Hitchcock filmed scenes for his horror film The Birds fifty miles north of San Francisco in the little hamlet of Bodega.
The killing by the birds of schoolteacher Annie Haywood takes place in front of the church Saint Teresa of Avila. And it’s this beautiful place of worship that’s also featured in a stand-out image by American photographer Ansel Adams taken in 1953.
Below we show Adams iconic image alongside a picture taken by Roger. It reveals that photography is not just about great framing. It’s down to selecting the right light and also being there before the approach was hideously disfigured. What a shame about the tarmac – fit for an RV site, not a historical church.