At Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, more than 300 works by artists from around the world are dotted throughout a vast rural landscape covering an area of 760 km2 Echigo-Tsumari Art Field was launched in 1994 as part of Niigata Prefecture’s 10-year Echigo-Tsumari Art Necklace Development Plan, which aimed to use art to highlight the appeal of the local communities in the region and increase the number of non-resident visitors. In 2000, the first international art festival, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, was held here. Students in College of Social Sciences Associate Professor Satoshi Nagano’s seminar class are participating in the fifth Triennale being held this year, having developed two works, one online and one offline, with a focus on washi paper, a resource of the local area. The works were created using an approach called socially-engaged art (SEA), in which artists team up with members of the local community.
White Blanket of Tsumari's Milieu: Incorporating Memories into Tokamachi
“To create a space for our new work of art, my students and I repainted the ceiling and beams of the outbuilding with persimmon tannin and applied plaster to the walls. It’s got a lot of flavor,” explains Associate Professor Nagano. According to Associate Professor Nagano, the outbuilding where the work was to be exhibited in the Tokamachi used to house a water wheel. He has been using the same quaint outbuilding since he first exhibited at Echigo-Tsumari Art Field in 2012. It is now home to White Blanket of Tsumari's Milieu: Incorporating Memories into Tokamachi, a work he and his students created in collaboration with Doobu, a local unit focused on community development and architecture.
“For this work, we focused on one of Tokamachi’s local resources: washi paper. The mulberry used to make the washi was grown with care in Tokamachi. Under the guidance of a local Isawa Washi craftsman, my students and I created handmade washi paper. Many of the students had never made washi before, and many things went wrong, but in the end, we were able to make about 500 sheets of paper, ” he explained.
In making the washi, Associate Professor Nagano and his students were particular about the process. Namely, they used the yarn-dyeing method to dye the raw material, paper mulberry, with trees and plants (cherry, walnut, azalea, etc. ) collected in the region. The group transformed the washi paper into a tapestry and combined it with a light performance to exhibit it as an installation. The students also shared their wisdom in how to stage the work.
“Since this event is an international arts festival, professional artists and art schools have also provided works to exhibit. In fact, it is unusual for a social sciences seminar like ours to exhibit. We are using an approach called socially-engaged art (SEA), in which we create artwork with local residents. I think everyone appreciates us for working together with the community to build and manage the project, instead of doing it by ourselves,” says Associate Professor Nagano.
Learning the joys and difficulties of working with a wide array of people.
The students in Associate Professor Nagano's seminar are divided into several groups, and they regularly visit Tokamachi. The works are managed in cooperation with members of the local community, and the students continue to interact with their counterparts in Tokamachi. On August 27 and 28, we talked to three student representatives, Reina Kato, Tatsuya Shimoda, and Kazuma Uemura (all third-year students in the College of Social Sciences), about what it has been like to manage this project.
“At first, everyone struggled with making washi paper, which was the main part of the work. Our first attempts were full of holes. After working under the guidance of a local artisan for about six days, we managed to make washi. It is a big task to do something you have never done before, but once you try it, you find it becomes more and more enjoyable. What’s more, most of the local people were very kind and exuded a certain kind of warmth,” said Kato.
“It was my first time to create a work of art, and in the process, I learned a lot from the members of Doobu who we were working with. I learned a lot about team building, the process of working together to create something, and how to interact with the local community,” said Shimoda.
“The students in Associate Professor Nagano’s seminar held meetings once a week, and there were times when we could not come to a consensus. When that happened, we asked the people we were working with for their opinions, and I think we were able to work toward our goal by combining that feedback with everyone’s best ideas,” said Uemura.
Making connections with people in the community
Socially-engaged art (SEA) is a process whereby artists team up with the local community instead of working alone. The students told us that they were also influenced in many ways by the local people in the process of creating the artwork.
“The local community were helping us out, but I think they also gained a better understanding of what we were trying to do by getting involved themselves. By engaging them in repeated dialogue, I think we were able to convey our enthusiasm and also feel that they were supporting us,” said Kato.
“When we were creating the washi tapestry, we found that the measurements we had done in Kyoto were not correct. We realized that there are some things you can't understand unless you are physically present. This really drove home the importance of output for me,” recounted Shimoda.
Using local resources to promote sustainable development
Although everyone had their own thoughts and feelings, Associate Professor Nagano and the students in his seminar were able to create a single work of art by working with many different people. At times, it was difficult to work effectively with others, but the students were able to learn how they could invigorate a community by working with the local people on the same piece of art. We look forward to seeing how the students in Associate Professor Nagano’s seminar will continue to contribute to regional development by bringing a fresh take on the various issues facing the region while making a point to utilize local resources.