Spiral Report 2021 Special Feature 3

The Hidden Gems – Loose Ties Emerge Between Artists and Locales

Yoshie Ota (Spiral Curator) X Naoki Ishikawa (Photographer)

Our art production division leverages our creative network to organize events outside of Spiral for the integration of art into the real world. Throughout 2021 we sent artists to stay in local areas for a time, for projects such as ‘Dogo Onsen Revitalization Project: A Project for All’ and ‘DESHITABI’, as part of an experimental program. On this occasion, we had the chance to talk with photographer Naoki Ishikawa, who spent some time in Ehime Prefecture after applying for the ‘Creative Stay Program’, and the program producer, Spiral curator, Yoshie Ota.

Photo: Mizuho Fukahori

—Firstly, can you please provide a brief description of the ‘Creative Stay Program’?

Ota: We had been involved for about two years in the launch of the ‘Dogo Onsenart 2014’ standalone art festival held in Dogo Onsen, Ehime Prefecture. The work was carried on by a different group after that, but we continued to be involved in different projects in Dogo Onsen based on the relationships we formed in 2014. With the ‘Dogo Onsen Revitalization Project: A Project for All’, Matsuyama City and the local people were not looking to hold a festival, but rather asked us to formulate a town-building project that incorporates ‘Dogo Onsenart’ and other programs. Our response to their request was the creation of the ‘Creative Stay Program’. COVID-19 was spreading around the country, people began talking about ‘workations’, and there was a complete change to the arenas in which artists could create. It presented a moment for everyone to reconsider where they feel free and how they want to spend their time. We implemented the program with the hope that having artists stay locally for a time would benefit both the artists and the region. When we opened applications, 752 people applied for just 50 spots. All kinds of people, including leading artists like Ishikawa-san.

Photo: Mizuho Fukahori

—Ishikawa-san, what was your motivation for applying to the ‘Creative Stay Program’?

Ishikawa: To date, much of my work was created through travel overseas. Since the COVID-19 crisis started, apart from a one-month trip to Nepal, I basically hadn’t been able to go anywhere overseas for more than two years. With a totally changed routine, I began to switch my focus to inside Japan. I was lucky to be able to participate in a project called ‘Creators Workation’ run by Ise City in Mie Prefecture. It was such an enriching experience, and I was so surprised by the many encounters it afforded me. It made me think that maybe it was better to stay somewhere for an extended time. Separately, Shikoku has a special place in my heart because I’ve been visiting Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, every month for more than seven years to run photography workshops. An acquaintance mentioned the ‘Creative Stay Program’ to me and I decided to apply, because within Shikoku, I had very few chances to visit Ehime previously. Having stayed once in Dogo Onsen, I imagined it would be pretty interesting to stay a while, so I sent in my application.

Ota: My impression, Ishikawa-san, is that you capture both urban scenes and nature in your photos. I think Dogo is an incredibly fascinating place, but how did you find it?

Ishikawa: Just recently I published a compilation of photos of Shibuya, and I also have a series capturing traditional events around Japan. I think my work is 50-50 nature and cities, but I possibly have more photos of the daily lives and culture of people than anything else. At first, I had no real sense of Dogo Onsen’s geographic location, and I mistakenly thought it was its own city. I pictured it as a crazy labyrinth of small laneways, but it’s a surprisingly organized area. I rode around lots of places on a bicycle and it was easy to get a grasp of the town because the scale is not too big.

Ota: Did you visit the temple Ishiteji?

Ishikawa: Yes, I did. It is a little strange, right? I like places that are odd, or should I say, distinctive? One of my favorite places was the Shiki Museum, which commemorates the life of Matsuyama poet Masaoka Shiki. I went twice, I think. There’s so much to learn – I can spend hours looking at everything there. It’s a little clichéd, but very intriguing. The main purpose of my stay was to see Shinro Ohtake’s NETSU-KEI, which I visited on countless occasions.

Naoki Ishikawa(@straightree8848) Instagram  Shinro Ohtake NETSU-KEI, Ishiteji

Perceiving a place with the whole body

—During your stay, how did you spend your days? Was it mostly doing research and taking photos?

Ishikawa: I stayed for a week, and I did take photos, but I wasn’t snapping all over the place. I took it very slowly. I like to use my body and slowly get in touch with a place. In order to understand somewhere new, I first like to look with my eyes and then put my body in that space. In Dogo, too, I was constantly moving around, walking and observing. I guess you could say my whole body becomes my eyes.

Ota: Did you speak to the people of Dogo Onsen?

Ishikawa: Really only to the family who lent me the bicycle. I was not all that proactive about speaking to people. Did the other artists actively engage with the people?

Ota: One artist spoke with people at bars and eateries the whole time and documented those scenes. It really depends on the person. I think it really brought to life each artist’s unique character. There was a lot of variation – someone even wrote a song.

—Once their stay is completed, the creators on the ‘Creative Stay Program’ share video messages on YouTube. Are we able to see a message from Ishikawa-san?

Ota: Instead of YouTube, Ishikawa-san uploaded images from his stay on Instagram. And it’s not the work of Ishikawa-san per se, but he served as the judge for a project called ‘Machikotoba’. Late 19th century author Natsume Soseki had a placement as an English teacher in Dogo, which later became the setting for the novel ‘Botchan’. So because Dogo is known as a literary town, there are also many initiatives linked to language. With that background, we asked those involved in the ‘Creative Stay Program’ to choose pieces written on the theme of ‘The Joy of Living’ – the overall theme for ‘Dogo Onsenart 2022’. Those written works will be creatively displayed in places around Dogo Onsen, to be discovered by visitors as they stroll around the area.

Artists share reports from their stays and works produced during that time on a YouTube channel called ‘Creative Stay in Dogo Onsen’.

Local ‘gems’ not found in official pamphlets

—What was the most significant outcome of the artists engaging with this locale for a time?

Ishikawa: At first, I wasn’t used to hearing the word ‘workation’, but now we hear it everywhere. For artists and creators, it’s a little different to work and may be better described as a ‘one-stop, extended-stay trip’. Those kinds of experiences stay in your memory as long as you live. My memory of the time when I spent the end of the year in Dogo Onsen, and the experiences I had there, will remain with me always. And no doubt it will form some connection and kick off the creation of something new. A truly irreplaceable experience. Also, it’s very hard to create new works without stimulation from outside. As a photographer, I get out and about, but if my body doesn’t respond in some way, I don’t release the shutter. That’s why it’s essential in some way or another to go to new places and stay for a little while, walk around, and really put yourself in that space. Just like an onsen, it’s as if we’re ‘immersing ourselves’. I personally think it’s important for artists to spend time like that, so I’m very grateful for the opportunity this project gave me.

Ota: The places Dogo shares with visitors are pretty much set. The tourist information includes places that people are naturally attracted to – that’s the focus. The artists had no particular assignment this time, and were simply told to do as they please, so they found all these unknown gems. Residents of Dogo discovered all these new points of view through YouTube and Instagram. And for me too, despite having visited frequently since 2014, I was surprised at how the artists discovered places I’ve never seen before. We only have 24 hours, so if we repeat the same thing every day, we miss those chance encounters and opportunities to discover new things. I think a large part of this program was noticing how many things we assume we know but actually don’t.

Ishikawa: With shorter stays, even if you get the hang of things, you rarely go beyond the usual, and into the depths of a place. But if you stay a little longer, there’s a chance to go further. To happen across the ‘gems’ you mentioned – the spaces, moments and relationships. I think ‘Creative Stay’ worked well because we weren’t expected to produce anything in particular. It was just the somewhat loose goal of leisurely experiencing a place and posting a little on SNS.

Ota: It’s not like you set out to discover those gems, right?

Ishikawa: I think you mean that rather than searching for them and finding them, they jump out at you unexpectedly. Of course, at first you set out for certain destinations, but in the process of getting there you come across a strange house. It’s the things in those encounters, those discoveries along the way that are so interesting. I found this curious house shaped like a daruma tumbling doll. Have you ever seen it? It is a free-standing home that looks just like a tumbling doll. It’s those discoveries that you’ll never find in an official pamphlet – those surprises – that are so gratifying.

The population of individuals who are neither resident nor tourist, but linked to a region in various ways are referred to as ‘connected minds’. A ‘Connected Minds Summit’ was held as part of the ‘Dogo Onsen Revitalization Project: A Project for All’, to discuss the potential in tapping connected minds.

Ota: For us also, much of our work is done outside the Spiral complex and despite often recommending residential programs to all kinds of people, I felt like our advocacy had become this very standard ‘it’s good’. But perhaps this time we truly have discovered the best way for the artists and the local area to interact. The economies of Japan’s regions have suffered due to COVID-19, people are interacting less than ever, and without action, they’re on the verge of dying out. Ours was a plan to ease that stress and create something that would someday, but ever so gradually, bear fruit. We didn’t predetermine the desired outcome and then design individual exchanges to work desperately toward its creation. It’s about gradually preparing a platform for building connections. And within that may lie the potential to trigger transformation in society.

—Ishikawa-san, the pandemic has prevented you from going overseas, keeping you at home in Japan, but do you think your work will continue to focus on Japan going forward?

Ishikawa: I’ve just released three photographic collections in succession. They’re all of photos taken in Japan, which is a very rare thing for me. It’s only natural because how we live is reflected in our work. If I can start travelling overseas again like I used to, I think the photos I take will be different. I do have plans to spend two months in Nepal, and inside myself I feel like I’ve reached a new phase. I’ve captured the changing face of Tokyo across two years of the COVID pandemic in a series called ‘STREETS ARE MINE’, and having brought that project to the point it is now, I feel like I can take my next step.

Ota: If you’re interested in city projects after your return, we’d love for you to join us.

Ishikawa. Yes, by all means. I love cities, too, so please contact me any time.

Naoki Ishikawa
Naoki Ishikawa was born in Tokyo in 1977 and completed the doctorate course at the Graduate School of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. His keen interest in anthropology and folklore studies has taken him on travels to all kinds of places from cities to remote regions, which are the basis for his ongoing work. In 2008, he won the Photographic Society of Japan’s Newcomer’s Award and the Kodansha Publication Culture Award for Photography for ‘NEW DIMENSION’ (AKAAKA Art Publishing) and ‘POLAR’ (Little More Co., Ltd.). Ishikawa was awarded the Domon Ken Award for ‘CORONA’ (Seidosha) in 2011, and in 2020, he won the Photographic Society of Japan’s Lifetime Achievement Award for ‘EVEREST’ (CCC Media House) and ‘MAREBITO’ (Shogakukan Inc.). His many publications include the Kaiko Takeshi Nonfiction Award-winning ‘The Last Adventurer’ (Shueisha Inc.) and ‘Creating Constellations on the Ground’ (Shinchosha Publishing Co., Ltd.). His works can be found in collections across Japan, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Yokohama Museum of Art, and Okinawa Prefectural Art Museum.

Yoshie Ota
Yoshie Ota graduated from Hitotsubashi University before completing a Masters in Western Art History at the Graduate School of Humanities, Kobe University. After working as a magazine editor, she joined Wacoal Art Center in 2001, and from 2004 onward she worked as a project manager on projects within and outside of Spiral. She was responsible for modern art exhibitions, festival curation and the promotion of international programs. Ota became the Director of ‘Port Journeys’ an international exchange program from 2012, and was named Chief Curator at Spiral in 2016. Major projects include the ‘Spiral 30th Anniversary Exhibition: Spectrum’ (2015), curation of ‘TOKYO ART FLOW 00’ (2016), and ‘Lu Yang: Electromagnetic Brainology’ (2018). She is currently in charge of curation for ‘Dogo Onsenart 2022’.

Interviews and text: Spiral Press

Special Feature 1

Weaving Art into Daily Life: Mana Kobayashi (Design Office Ima) Interviewer: Ikuko Kato (Spiral Curator)

Special Feature 2

Forming Sustainable Partnerships with Creators The establishment of the new SICF section and the opening of +S Spiral Market Osaka

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