Sunday, 1 April 2012

Insular Insight

First things first: Insular Insight is a superbly done book; it is a joy to touch, to hold, to look at, leaf through, and spend time with.

What is it about?
It is about islands and ideas. For two decades, Soichiro Fukutake has created - on Naoshima and the islands of the Seto Inland Sea - "a place where local action harmonizes with global thinking", I read in the foreword. Moreover: "Insular Insight seeks to inspire reflection about the potential to create places in harmony with the natural environment - where the conditions that ensure 'well-being' are considered and debated, where social systems are called into question, where alternatives can be creatively explored, and, most importantly, where new ways of life can be discovered." Since, recently, such thoughts have been very much on my mind, I've approached this tome with quite some curiosity.

Insular Insight is a book about art and architecture on the archipelago of the Setouchi islands in the Seto Inland Sea in the southwest of Japan. Why would somebody think of bringing contemporary art to islands? "I began to feel the need for a "civilization of maintenance and development,' one that 'uses what exists to create what is to be.'" writes Soichiro Fukutake. And he was convinced that "it would be possible to effect change by placing art that takes a healthy, critical view of contemporary society in original Japanese landscapes untainted by modernization."

So what does that mean in practice? Let me give you the example of Tatsuo Miyajima, who "came to prominence in the late 1980s with monumental installations" and whose project for Naoshima was to install contemporary artwork in an old Japanese house with the help of local residents who had little experience with contemporary art. In the process, Miyajima made a great discovery: "Rather than learning to understand the obscurities of contemporary art, people discover their own artistic potential through active participation." I thought it especially touching that many of the people who helped belonged to the elderly.

There are many wonderful photographs (by Iwan Baan) found in this book as well as lots of information about the various projects on the Seto Inland Sea. Unfortunately, Insular Insight contains also learned essays that have very little (or nothing) to do with Naoshima, Teshima or Inujima but do quote Shakespeare, the old Greeks or refer to the Judeo-Christian concept of the Garden of Eden – I could have done without them.

Anyway, I feel like ending this review on a positive note for I've very much enjoyed spending time with this tome: on the very last pages there are exquisite Gelatin-silver prints by Hiroshi Sugimoto, accompanied by these inspiring words: "Occupying a space that is intended for the repose of the soul."

Insular Insight
Where Art and Architecture Conspire with Nature
Lars Müller Publishers, Baden 2011

No comments: