Breath of life

Breath of life

Now in its 4th edition, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial is a successful Japanese art experiment with large-scale contemporary works installed in rice paddies, closed-down schools and refurbished old houses scattered across a rural region about three hours from Tokyo. It's a region where snow falls for eight months of the year, earthquakes occur frequently and violently, and where local youth are being lured away to better jobs in big cities, leaving an aging population and a stagnating local economy. In short, the region is an increasingly depopulated disaster area.
The Triennial was established as a last-ditch effort to save the region by revitalising it with contemporary art. More than 250,000 visitors are expected to attend the 4th edition, which runs to 13 September 09, bringing with them fully-booked hotels, invigorating all types of business in the local economy and helping to put the rural region on the world art map.
The abandoned houses of the region with their noble wooden structures and links with the past seem to offer the greatest source of inspiration to the artists. The Triennial has saved and restored 50 of these heritage buildings over the last four editions. “Here the artists work with time and memory and they are happy to do so because it rekindles their inspiration” says Fram Kitagawa, curator of this year's event. For instance, visitors to the Triennial can sleep in a House of Light, a traditional house transformed by James Turrell into a lightbox with a roof that opens up to allow guests to contemplate the changing sky. Or they can curl up in another old house redesigned by Marina Abramovic as a Dream Hotel, complete with crystal pillows.
Images (from the top): Christian Boltanski & Jean Kalman, The Last Class; Chiharu Shiota, House Memory; Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Storm Room; Qiu Zhijie, The Thunderstorm is Slowly Approaching; Cai Guo-Qiang, Dragon Museum of Contemporary Art. All images from the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial website