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Kobe Biennale 2009
Written by Takeshi HIRATA   
Published: December 24 2009

    Over the year, various kinds of biennale are held at a number of places, such as in the mountains, along rivers as well as in cities. Nonetheless, this is the first time that I have heard of a biennale held “at sea” like the one this time at the Port of Kobe. We, the viewers, get in a tour boat named Fantasy which departs from Kobe Port to view art works while enjoying a cruise. To clear things up, I would like to state here that the exhibits are displayed not on the surface of the sea, but at breakwaters and jetties out at sea. We can enjoy looking at creations made by Keiji Uematsu [fig. 1], Chu Enoki and Jun Tsukawaki while enjoying the ocean air. During their cruise, passengers can have a pleasant time while viewing dance performances held without notice on the boat. Indeed, I have to confess that the concept of this cruise, akin to that of a theme park, does produce a wry smile. Still, I would like to appreciate the excessive service-mindedness of the Biennale. Particularly, tourists would be amused by the scenes which they can enjoy while at sea on a ship.

fig. 1 Keiji Uematsu; courtesy of Kobe Biennale 2009 Organization

    After getting off the Fantasy, passengers are advised to head for Kobe Meriken Park and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.  At the Kobe Meriken Park venue, exhibits created by artists selected from among the public in the “Art in a Container” International Exhibition, are displayed in shipping containers.  At the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, the guest artists’ exhibition “LINK - Flexible Deviation” is being held. Participants include artists active in the front lines in the field of modern art, such as Chu Enoki, Yukio Fujimoto and Yasue Kodama.  The composition of the exhibits in the Biennale has been divided into two parts, namely the publicly-offered creations as well as those made by guest artists. This division may have been adopted from the standard convention at international film festivals which are composed of two sections named Competition and Special Screenings respectively. Nonetheless it remains an extremely unique method.
    The form of display used in Kobe Meriken Park is also rather characteristic in that the creations are shown using container space.  The Biennale seems to be aiming to cover almost the entire range of artistic expression, as can be seen from a glance at the names of the various exhibits and events: Modern Ceramics Exhibition, Artistic Photo Exhibition, Children’s Painting Exhibition, Citizens’ Horticultural Art Exhibition, “Future Ikebana” Exhibition, Chigiri-e Exhibition, “The World of Calligraphy” Exhibition, “CAN Arts” Exhibition - Art by disabled people - and Street Performance Competition. There is also a competition of contemporary artworks.  The Biennale encourages us to feel of sense of unity due to the fact that such a variety of art forms as those mentioned above have all been installed in the same format; namely, in containers.  
    The concept of showing all the works in the same format may have been based on an open-minded view of exhibits, but there is some difficulty in enjoying creations.  It is hard to view exhibits when the venue is crowded with viewers, while we can enjoy looking at creations easily when it is empty.  I am not sure of the number of people estimated to have visited the exhibition, but, considering the size of the Biennale, I hope that more attention will be paid to helping reduce congestion in the venue from now on.  In addition, it is also regrettable that most of creations shown in the “Art in a Container” International Exhibition are installations. There are almost no paintings and planar works to be found among the exhibits due to the peculiarity of the venue, i. e., its containers.
    In this kind of biennale, held with the aim of creating festive chaos through citizens’ participation, there is a big difference in quality between publicly-offered artists and guest exhibitors.  Furthermore, the current aspect of society where there are disparities among people was clearly shown in the display form of this exhibition in which creations of publicly-offered artists are shown in the containers, while those made by guest creators are allowed to be displayed in the white cube – the museum.  I expect that unknown young artists will also be provided with an opportunity to present their works not in narrow spaces, including containers, but in relatively large venues (kaijo), such as at sea (kaijo).  Are my ideas “fantastic” or realistic?  I need some time to find the answer to this question.
(Translated by Nozomi Nakayama)

Related Event
Kobe Biennale 2009
03/Oct/2009 - 23/Nov/2009
Venue: Kobe Meriken Park and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
Last Updated on September 28 2011

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