[Viewpoint]Use art to re-develop citiesJapan is a society with a strong emphasis on the whole of society, not on individual capabilities, yet there’s a new kind of individualistic spirit infiltrating the art world.
I recently participated in a residency program sponsored by Tokyo Prefecture, conducting thorough research on Japan’s artists and art world. The residency program is referred to as the “creators’ residency,” which allows artists, curators and critics to actively engage in their own artistic pursuits. With the co-participation of young Japanese and foreign artists and curators, all the participants are expected to create individual artworks based on their own projects.
My study focuses on the Japanese art world, in particular the Yokohama Triennale, an international exhibition of contemporary art. My research, simply put, focuses on the following question: How do the Yokohama city government’s cultural policies develop a temporary cultural event like the triennale into a long-term artistic interest? As we know, large-scale global exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale and Muenster’s Kassel Documenta and Sculpture Project opened in Europe last year.
This year, numerous biennales will be held in Asian cities. Beginning with the Gwangju Biennale set for Sept. 5, many others, such as the Busan Biennale (Sept. 6), Shanghai Biennale (Sept. 9), Singapore Biennale (Sept. 11), Seoul International Media Art Biennale (Sept. 12) and Yokohama Triennale (Sept. 13) will raise their curtains. Among them, the Yokohama Triennale is a prime example of a city government’s use of both the best hard and soft power.
Unused buildings near the wharf will be provided as exhibition halls for the triennale, sponsored by Yokohama city government and the Japan Foundation under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After the exhibition, the buildings are expected to be used for other purposes. “Red Brick,” a venue for the first Yokohama Triennale, has become a theater, coffee shop and store since the exhibition ended.
An audition will be conducted in this theater this year in hopes of offering young artists the opportunity to show their work to the public. After 2008, “Red Brick” will neighbor a new building near the wharf that will be used to host the triennale. Once the event ends, the new building will continue to be used.
In addition, the government has decided to transform the former red-light district of Yokohama into a cultural district. The area will be home to exhibition halls and commercial complexes during the triennale. This deserted area will be re-developed as the base of operations for artists during the triennale. Designers from various fields will be invited, and the government will use one part of the area as an experimental hall. The city of Yokohama plans to provide this place to creative artists and designers free of charge during the triennale.
It also plans to actively devise and implement community programs. The triennale will serve as a great opportunity to let people know the purpose of this re-designed area and also contribute to clearing the slums and creating a new, safe image to these areas.
Meanwhile, the city of Yokohama will be able to protect its historical value by preserving old buildings while conducting minimal renovations. One example is Yokohama’s ZAIM, a district in which the city government has renovated old building and offered them to young artists or planners for reasonable rents. The government chooses residents through a review process.
The city government is driving forward with the urban redevelopment project. It is also simultaneously trying to seek other possibilities for deserted and unused places in the city. The Yokohama government is making endeavors to protect the city’s historical values and promote urban re-development by creatively protecting and renovating, rather than constructing new buildings while destroying old ones.
Japanese companies promote traditional urban development of simply tearing down buildings and constructing new ones because they focus on economic utility. However, the government is pursuing measures to embrace the area’s distinct characteristics. Economic logic does not always apply to the future of art, so the city government is working creatively. They’re using a comprehensive, long-term urban development plan to build the city’s future.
Perhaps Korean cities hosting arts events could learn a lesson from Yokohama.
*The writer is a professor at the Korea National University of Arts.
by Kim Sun-jung