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State of the Arts

The sun breaks through tiara clouds and lights the sea iridescent. A squat, buck-toothed sailor in starched whites insists on carrying my cumbersome new Brics suitcase up the presidential liner’s steps at the port of Himeji. “Waves, waves… Big waves!” He mouths beneath his gleaming white helmet. “Typhoon! Typhoon!” The vessel tilts violently and breaks the swell, casting the ripple an optimistic silver back to Honshu Island. The sound of spray pummelling the boat like a ferocious drum roll as a gaggle of hilltop photographers snap the celebrated Setouchi sunset that lights the sea crimson as it breaks amber, russet and ruby through the cloak of clouds marks our arrival to Naoshima…


Equal parts island hopping odyssey, jetset bucketlist, art tour and living museum, the Setouchi Triennale celebrates its fifth edition over one hundred days from April to November 2022, having not just met but surpassed its manifesto of regenerating Japan’s mesmerising Seto Inland Sea. The captivating inter-island art odyssey is as much a voyage of discovery for visitors to as the citizens of this unique art-ipelago

On Naoshima, the art Mecca island where it all began, Kusama pumpkins stand sentinel at the jetty and decorate shuttle buses darting Gucci-sneakered festivalgoers from the Tadao Ando-designed Benesse House and Chichu, Lee Ufan and Ando gallery museums to a rhapsodically-mosaiced bath house experience and James Turrell’s Backside of the Moon. Passing over the world’s longest suspension bridge near Hiroshima I alighted on the floating five star ryokan Guntu to bathe in bespoke meals and open air baths that bobbed, graceful and otherworldly, atop the starlit sea.

Stark insight and profound revelation unfurled beyond the onsen hotels and world class galleries via tiny promontories gifting immersive living histories of forgotten communities otherwise neither connected nor easily penetrated. Arguably the shining light of the Setouchi Triennale is Ogijima – we even extended our stay to visit here, so curious was I about this cat-centric rising star, that many claim to be one of Japan’s most beautiful islands, where the maze of labyrinthine alleys course slatted wooden houses built up along the mountain’s slope.

A waterfall streamed through a derelict kominka as I traversed shoulder-width passageways to a whole house concert by a windchime orchestra. I was greeted on its twin island of Megajima by a screech of sculptured gulls before visiting a collection of abandoned buildings repurposed as  ‘The Little Shops on the Island’ project. A beach house becomes a ping pong parlour, a cathartic hair salon debuts, a surreal laundromat services both clothes and art hoppers, an upcycling workshop is dubbed “Tinkerbell’s Factory” and a warehouse is converted into a cinema. The initiative is both leitmotif and legacy of the Triennale. When the art festival first launched, back in 2013, Ogijima’s population had dwindled to just 16 inhabitants, now the residents number well into the hundreds, a school has opened, the island’s cafe has sprung back to life and the Triennale’s visitor centre functions as a community hall beyond the art festival’s tenure, leaving an enchanted and crucial legacy for the imagination and community for generations to come.

Elsewhere, the haunting past of a state-sanctioned leprosy colony beckoned – the tableaux tales from those incarcerated unveiled amid the eery auspices of megaphone blasted muzak. These artworks have become enduring features of the islands, alongside installations by Julian Opie, Olafar Eliasson and Pipilotti Rist. New highlights for 2022 include sculptures by Yayoi Kusama, Wim Delvoye and Daniel Wasswa.



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