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Thursday, Sept. 18, 2008
Artistic director Tsutomu Mizusawa delves into his 'Time Crevasse'
By EDAN CORKILL
For the last two years, Yokohama native Tsutomu Mizusawa has been juggling two jobs — chief curator of the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura and Hayama, and artistic director of Japan's biggest exhibition of contemporary art, the Yokohama Triennale. The Japan Times caught up with him on the first day of the triennale as he walked through Sankeien, a historical garden somewhat transformed by the subtle additions made by several of the triennale's artists.
Today is the first day of the Yokohama Triennale 2008. How do you feel?
With more than 60 artists, so many venues, and so many performances, it was a very complex and difficult exhibition to make. My feeling now is that we have done pretty well.
What was your first reaction when you were chosen to direct the triennale?
A number of curators had put forward proposals. To be honest, I was surprised mine was accepted. The theme I had developed — "Time Crevasse," a gap in time — has both positive and negative connotations, life and death. I actually wasn't confident that it was appropriate for a big public exhibition such as this, which would be seen by so many people.
Why do you think it was chosen?
Well, the triennale has been held twice before. The first time, in 2001, was a big presentation, with more than 100 artists in venues totaling 15,000 sq. meters. In terms of looking at the totality of contemporary art, it was very interesting. But the theme, "Mega Wave," was so general that it was akin to having no theme at all. That was a little unfortunate, I thought. When you have a clear theme for a triennale then understanding of the works on display moves to a different level.
One of the defining characteristics of your triennale is that it has so much performance art. When you developed the "Time Crevasse" theme, did you plan for it to involve so much performance?
No. I knew performance would be involved in some way, but I was thinking larger than that, that the appreciation of all art could fit into this idea. As I talked to the other curators, though, we decided we needed to limit it a bit more.
Well, when you have this many contemporary art biennales and triennales taking place around the world (one count puts it at about 120), there is a danger of them becoming homogenized. But, if you make performance the underlying theme, then the experience is of that place and that time. It naturally becomes differentiated from other events. Like the mist here that Fujiko Nakaya is making in the garden — it occurs in this way only here and now, like a natural phenomenon. It exists in time.
Japan has a long tradition of performance art. Do you think some people will look at this and think it was an appropriate choice for Japan?
Well, I didn't really think about that. I don't think the curators did either. But, of course, we did think about the place, Yokohama. We needed to look for venues that would make the most of Yokohama, such as the garden here.
Did you consciously choose artists from diverse backgrounds?
Because it's an international exhibition, it can't focus on just America and Europe. It can't focus just on Asia, either. These days, of course, the trend is India, following after China. But we were very careful not to be influenced by art-world fads. We thought simply about whether the art work fitted within the theme.
With a publicly funded exhibition this big, there must have been pressure to make the triennale accessible to the general public. How conscious were you of that?
I wasn't really conscious of that. I just wanted to focus on the theme, because that would make it a compelling exhibition.
What did you hope to gain from the team of international curators you assembled?
The other curators know more about contemporary art than I do. My own specialty is Japanese and German art in the period of Modernism. They know the real frontline, so we needed to combine that knowledge with our theme. Some of the works are new commissions, so we had to check whether the proposals from the artists fitted the concept. There were also old works. Yoko Ono's "Cut Piece" combines video of a performance from the 1960s with video of the same performance in 2003. We are showing videos from both performances, so it was selected because you can experience the flow of 40 years' time (as presented by) a single artist.
If you were a visitor to the triennale, what aspect would you be most looking forward to?
I am really interested to see how each of those venues come to life. We've chosen the venues and combined them with artists thinking that the two would feed off each other — like with Tino Sehgal's performance in the historical Yanohara House here in Sankeien Garden. They hold tea ceremonies in the garden here, so it is all very refined. But, as part of the performance, the dancers in the house hug and kiss each other. Apparently a middle-aged woman who saw them yelled out, "Hey, you two, cut that out." She didn't want them to kiss in the house? No. She found it surprising and shocking. That is how some people will react. But that reaction forms part of the experience, too.