Thursday, September 2, 2010

Essay: ‘Satoyama’ an idea of Japan (Fragments from Urada), 2010

During 2009 we had the opportunity to spend time in the Japanese landscape as guests of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial. Echigo was an important experience with numerous and lasting outcomes. It brought into focus questions many contemporary artists are struggling with in relation to production and reception of artworks. One of the most important aspects of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennial was the engagement with the surrounding rural communities and the real life issues brought about by great social, economic and not least, environmental changes.

These are universal question across the world: agricultural communities are losing the youth to the big cities and employment; agriculture is being taken over by new industrial methods of cultivation. Difficult and less productive land areas will have to be abandoned and returned to nature, but is this possible? Satoyama suggests not, the landscape having been carved and shaped, the rivers manipulated and harnessed for a couple of centuries. It is impossible to let go now as the results would be catastrophic: mountains will slide into the rivers; the remains of the soil will be colonised by the most vigorous ferns, bamboo, morning glory and numerous other invasive plants observed by Rizkalla and Davies during their stay. These would form impenetrable barriers to the access of large areas of land.

Letting go would inevitably bring the demise of many villages and the loss of significant aspects of Japanese culture.

Rizkalla and Davies interest is not specifically the Japanese countryside but the highly cultivated landscapes in both western and eastern traditions that have been manipulated into an ideal either for aesthetics or for agricultural production.

For this exhibition the fusing of objects and photographic images as installed at Place Gallery brings together the idea of ‘Satoyama’, an exploration of the relationship between humans and nature. The microcosm of the bonsai underlines human intervention and the shaping of the countryside.

Julie Davies and Alex Rizkalla
August 2010

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