• Greetings

    photograph SAITO Sadamu

    The area around Sakuragawa City, located in the mid-western part of Ibaraki prefecture with a view of Mt. Tsukuba to the East, has a flourishing stone industry where high-quality white granite is quarried from the mountains that stretch from Mt. Tsukuba. In 1996, a number of sculptors who had been working in the area got together to hold the “The First Amabiki Village and Sculpture”. Changing the venue and the seasons of the exhibition, “Amabiki 2006”, the sixth of these events, ended successfully last month. Looking back, this was the 11th year. This time there were 44 exhibitors, making it a large gathering. Despite poor transportation to the area, the number of visitors has grown; having heard about the event, some even came from afar. In October of last year, the venue of the event Yamato Village became Sakuragawa City as a result of a municipal merger and with continued backing of the city and the cooperation of volunteers, “Amabiki Village and Sculpture” is gradually gaining recognition in the world.
    The reason that we have been able to continue to hold “Amabiki Village and Sculpture” to the present time is because in addition to the cooperation of the local people, it is managed independently by the artists. Each exhibitor is a member of the executive committee. The monthly meetings of the executive committee are filled with passionate debates that gradually build the exhibition. For over a year prior to the exhibition, everything is decided from scratch, including the selection of the district, the sculpture installation sites, the timing of the event, and the viewing route. After the “Fifth Amabiki Village and Sculpture”, we changed the name of the exhibition to “Amabiki 2006”. This decision was another result of the discussions about the fundamentals of what the exhibition ought to be. By participating in these discussions, each member feels the responsibility and the recognition that the exhibition is his own. Another reason that has made the continuation of the event possible is that it enjoys the cooperation of landowners in each exhibition district. The cooperation goes beyond lending us the land to put up the pieces and providing us with backgrounds of fields and woods. It is that, as artists, we all have the desire to keep sculptures and art in the daily lives of the people in this farming and quarrying community. The Yamato district has a rich natural environment, based on the “Satoyama” pattern of hillside cultivation. Every one of the winding paths between the rice paddies has been built by hand through the long history centered around agriculture. Our works are inspired by the diverse affairs and phenomena of this slow-living town.
    Whether or not sculptures can really become rooted in the landscape and the living environment of Japan, and what role they might have in a local society are among the issues we must address in the future. More than ever, we feel the importance of looking forward and taking one step at a time. Now that “Amabiki Village and Sculpture 2006” has come to a close, the works of art that stood amid the scenery charged with the emotions of the artists now exist only in the catalog. Nevertheless, I believe the winds that curled around the forms of the sculptures will reach the hearts of many.

    July 1st, 2006
    Amabiki Village and Sculpture, Executive Committee
    OTSUKI Takayuki

  • About the exhibition of AMABIKI 2006

    The Path Going Forward for the Young People of Amabiki

    “AMABIKI 2006” began on April 1 as the cherry blossoms bloomed and went on as the blossoms gave way to vivid green leaves. It ended on June 4, just before the onset of rainy season and as the green of the leaves deepened further. Two weeks later, all the art had been cleared away and the flow of time in Amabiki village regained its customary tranquility.
    The pleasant climate of April and May, write ups on the exhibition in various newspapers, and reports on TV and radio all helped to bring the number of visitors to the exhibition to at least 1,500, only in the visitor’s book, 50% more than the year before. The bus tour events we arranged during the exhibition period received many more applications than we could accommodate. We arranged a second tour with more seating and a second bus, but we still had to turn people away. On the Sundays, volunteers staffed the Yamato Nade Shikoan rest area and served tea, the “Handmade Soba Appreciation Society” sold and demonstrated how to make buckwheat (soba) noodles, and people all along the 15km exhibition course provided comfortable rest spots. As a related event, a planning exhibition entitled “From Amabiki Village” was held at Gallery SEIHO in Tokyo from April 24 to 28. The event showed plans and sketches of the 44 artists’ works and served as a satellite gallery for a short period.
    Now that all the art has been cleared away, what has it left behind for the hillsides and for the people who live there? It is as if the 44 artists who participated in the exhibition have left behind a radiant heat that has yet to cool down.
    About ten years ago seven stone sculptors joined together to create the First Amabiki Village and Sculpture Exhibition as a venue for creative work in this quarry rich area. Rather than being staged by town or village authorities, the event was run by the sculptors themselves. They looked for their own exhibition sites, got permission from landowners, and created and installed their works, all in a dialog with their surroundings. Today, that principle remains as the underlying principle of the exhibition and the source of its character. The scenery of cultivated hillsides and hamlets makes a delightful exhibition space, but the sculptors were also drawn to the area as a social space woven from relationships with local people and the community. In spaces such as art museums and galleries, people know in advance that they will see sculptures and what kind of works they will be – that such spaces present art is self evident. But with this exhibition space there is a gap between the public’s perception of art and what the sculptors are doing, and this risks their work sometimes being seen as bizarre or of being misunderstood or ignored by the public. This type of experience gives the artists an opportunity to reflect on their work as it is now and re-examine what it should be. The number of participating artists has grown with every event and now numbers 44. The Amabiki Exhibition gives these artists a chance to question themselves anew about the significance of art and sculpture.
    With the selecting of locations, the process of creating the art has already begun. The site, how the artist interprets it, the relationship the artist forms with it, will be the key to bringing out his or her artistic vision and ideas. Each artist will have a completely different perspective of the same place. As the artists explore these differences among them they lead to new discoveries and further stimulate their creativity. A sense of friendly rivalry is born. As years pass, many group exhibitions lose the idealism and edge they started out with and become no more than a facade of what they once were. Ten years have passed and yet the Amabiki Exhibition still possesses its initial vision, maintaining its ideal as a group exhibition. That might be due to the strength of Amabiki village as a venue. Or it might be due to the will and desire that the sculptors have kept alive through their own self management.
    Be that as it may, the last exhibition was starting to show signs of strain, of going through the motions, so we started working on this year’s exhibition with an emphasis of getting back to basics. The municipal merger incorporating Yamato village into the newly formed Sakuragawa city was another factor. We spent about three meetings just on the issues of whether or not to hold an exhibition and what to call it. We examined each of the issues and dilemmas, one by one, so that we could produce a better exhibition. We hold regular monthly meetings, starting a year in advance, to make the necessary decisions. Every artist is assigned a task, and each has equal responsibilities and duties, regardless of age or career history. Perhaps the monthly meetings function as a kind of ceremony that uplifts the morale of individual artists and builds solidarity between them. At the end of these preparations we sent out posters and invitations, and opened the exhibition under its new name, “AMABIKI 2006”.
    The result, as mentioned above, was an unprecedented success. Many of the pieces drew on the characteristics of their sites, and many powerful pieces gave the viewer an unprecedented feel for the artist’s vision and ideas. Certainly people cycling around the exhibition amid the fresh breezes of spring felt the presence of these sculptures. For many of the artists, these works were probably an important step forward in their artistic development. The bus tours including talks by the artists were must see and popular events.
    Critics in the mass media followed up their previous articles on “artists staging an exhibition for free” to actually commenting on individual pieces. In fact, there was also an article criticizing the exhibition, saying: “for many of the works, the relationship with the surroundings was as no more than borrowed background, they lacked relationship with the community.”
    During the two months of the exhibition, the surrounding environment was in a state of constant change. At the start of May, rice paddies covered with water completely transformed the scenery. All at once, the air was filled with the sound of farm work and the croaking of frogs. The greenery deepened. The shifts in the environment wrought subtle changes to the pieces they surrounded and how the public viewed them. Besides the appeal of an outdoor setting, attention turned to the beauty and richness of the mountain village cultivated hillsides formed by both nature and human work amid Japanese scenery.
    There were some cases of local people unintentionally altering an exhibition space. For example, at the start of May, a photographic exhibition entitled “Citizens’ Gallery” was set up on panels behind the table exhibit that was installed inside the Yamato Station building. That action reflected the desire of the municipal authorities and local people to improve the environment in the unstaffed station and was prompted by the Amabiki Exhibition, but it was subsequently removed, as it changed the meaning of the station space from what the artist had intended. I am reporting this incident as one that made us aware of the difficulty of bridging the gulf in how pieces are understood and perceived.
    When marking the last day of the exhibition and extolling its success, Executive Committee chairman Jiro Sugawara, had the following to say: “We have finally reached the stage where we are seriously reviewed and critiqued, which means that our ten years of diligent work is beginning to be recognized and is taking root. We must take this very seriously.”
    That night everybody talked about a number of issues that arose in the course of the exhibition. We discussed issues that are essential to the success of the event, such as individual artists’ differing levels of enthusiasm, relations with Sakuragawa city, the problems of using e-mail to build a consensus of what the artists want to do, and the gaps between the artist’s and the public’s perception of art. We also had quite a lot to drink.
    I feel that the purity and passion of this exhibition reflect the nature of youth.
    The artists’ drive on behalf of their work and the Amabiki Exhibition, a drive that was sometimes naive, sometimes foolish, is stimulated by an extremely personal drive for self expression. In this exhibition, this personal drive for self expression came together into a cultural movement that cannot be overlooked by the local community. We stood at that point where youth takes the first step toward the next stage of artistic development. Going forward, we will have many more opportunities to discuss what direction our work should take in the context of personal expression and its relations to society.

    KANAZAWA Kenichi, participating artist.

  • Documents of AMABIKI 2006

    Documents of AMABIKI 2006

    Provisional name: “What to Do about the Amabiki Group”
    * Meeting to consider the next exhibition.

    First General Meeting
    * Confirming ideas about holding the event. 34 members in attendance (5 reserved judgment).

    Second General Meeting
    * Confirm participating artists, nominate new artists.
    * Determine the Executive Committee chairman, deliberate on the exhibition period, the event name, and the installation locations.

    Third General Meeting
    * Adopt “Amabiki Village and Sculpture 2006” as the event name, with “AMABIKI 2006” as the official English title.
    * Deliberate over installation sites (Haneda, Aoki, and Takamori districts)

    Fourth General Meeting
    * Inspection visit by all participants with the aim of formulating installation locations and venue routes.
    * Deliberate over locations of reception area, rest areas, toilets, etc.
    Cherry blossom viewing party after the meeting (at the old Amabiki Station).

    Fifth General Meeting
    * Coordinate desired locations for sculpture installations (First-choice candidates, overlapping installation sites, etc.).
    * Desire to use roads (Mahoroba Park)
    * Submit desired site questionnaires (Landowner confirmation).

    Sixth General Meeting
    * Checks leading up to determining installation locations. (Landowner confirmations, requests for assistance from community heads).
    *Determine officers and managers for various tasks in the Executive Committee
    * Explain preparing an English-language website.

    Seventh General Meeting
    * Explanatory meetings for district heads and contacts to landowners.
    * Proposals for posters and fliers etc., selecting a designer.
    * Confirm the mailing list and deliberate over events.

    Eighth General Meeting
    * Deliberate over events (open forum “Village conference”, bus tours, exhibition of small size sculpture, etc.).

    Ninth General Meeting
    * Changes and reshuffles of city hall staff involved with the event due to the municipal merger.
    * Decision to hold the small size sculpture exhibition (at Gallery SEIHO).
    * The bus tour and opening.
    * Inspect the venue tour route, confirm precautionary points (overall length 15km, approximately three hours).

    Tenth General Meeting
    * Use of riverside land (Overlap with water intake seasons and the risks of inundation).
    * Determine the rest area (Yamato Station).
    * Nominate new artists (permitted in exceptional cases).
    * Deliberate over the bus tour, loaned bicycles, (Free rented bicycle) volunteers etc.

    Eleventh General Meeting
    * Use of riverside land (report from the city hall).
    * Check manuscripts for posters and fliers (maps and names used in them).
    * Determine “Planning Exhibition of AMABIKI 2006” as the subtitle for the small size sculpture exhibition.
    – Reports from the various officers on subsidies, sponsorship, collaboration, publicity, volunteers, reception, signage plans, press, comments, and other aspects.

    Twelfth General Meeting
    * Proposal on the “2008 National Culture Festival” from the city culture section.
    * Checking poster and flier manuscripts (1,000 posters, 6,000 DMs, 5,000 envelopes, 2,000 fliers).
    Explanations from the relevant managers for the reception desk staff schedule, the photographic record of the works, moving pieces to and from their sites, venue signage, and other issues.

    Thirteenth General Meeting
    * Work to prepare sending out printed matter (posters, fliers, DMs etc.).
    * Deadline for submission of “Comments from the artists”.
    * Manufacture notice boards and signage etc.
    * Reports and explanation from the relevant managers concerning subscription to insurance, financial statement reporting, reception schedule and venue management.

    Start operation at the venue, start delivery and installation of works.

    Install works using large cranes (25t, 8t).

    Staging Amabiki Village and Sculpture
    Opening ceremony 15:00 (Yamato Community Center CITRUS).
    Opening party 16:00 (Sakuragawa municipal Ikoinoie building).

    “Yamato Nade Shikoan” staffed by volunteers (Yamato Station).
    Buckwheat noodle (soba) demonstration and sale by the Handmade Soba Appreciation Society, a voluntary group “Teuchi-Soba-Daisuki-kai” (Aoki Village Center).

    Newspaper and TV reporting, art lover, etc.

    First bus tour 10:40-16:00, 37 guests.
    Cherry blossom viewing party after the bus tour (at the old Amabiki Station).

    Satellite event plan “From AMABIKI” (Planning Exhibition of AMABIKI 2006).
    (Gallery SEIHO, Ginza, Tokyo)

    Second bus tour 10:40-16:00, two buses, 50 guests.

    Fourteenth General Meeting
    * Request to participate in and deliberate on “2008 National Culture Festival” from the city culture section.
    * Confirm the pictorial record (photographs, layout, comments, introductory greeting).
    * Confirm duration of insurance, with reference to the removal of works, posters, and signs.
    Closing of AMABIKI 2006, Acknowledgements meeting and sendoff party (Amabiki Welfare Center)

    Clear venues, start removing works, start editing the photographic record.

    Fifteenth General Meeting
    * Checking and correcting the photographic record.

    Sixteenth General Meeting
    * Preparing to send the photographic record, sending the photographic record.

    Membership of the Executive Committee for AMABIKI 2006

    In October 2004, the participating artists from the fifth exhibition got together to form the “What to Do about the Amabiki Group” (provisional name), and began by thinking about whether there should be another exhibition.
    Up to the fifth exhibition, it had been a biennial (alternate year) event held in the former Yamato village, but with the merger of Yamato village, Makabe town, and Iwase town in October 2005 to form the new city of Sakuragawa, we decided to wait two years before the next exhibition. The name of the event was changed from “The XX Amabiki Village and Sculpture” to AMABIKI 2006.”
    The executive committee approach previously used for planning, execution, and operation was left in place, with the 44 participating artists forming an executive operating committee for that purpose. Committee general meetings (meetings of all participating artists) were held almost every month as the decision-making body. These meetings pursued deliberations towards the exhibition, with the cooperation of the former Yamato village planning section, and the tourism and commerce section and culture promotion sections of the Sakuragawa city government.
    Executive committee 43 participating artists and one group

    Executive committee managers:
    AMABIKI 2006 took place through the below division of labor.
    Executive Committee chairman / Secretariat / Accounting / Moderator / Secretary / PR / Subsidies / Press / Website / Poster and flier records/ Venues / Sculpture delivery and removal / Sign planning and installation / Captions / Information center management / Comments/ Opening / Reception / Bus tours / Volunteers / Venue management (security) / Social events / Sketch exhibition / Photographic record / Information management / Municipal Publication manager.