Writer: Hui Ki Ki
I like art. I like drawing, movies and beautiful things but am not keen at all. Now when I looked back, it was quite unrealistic that within 24 hours, I brought the air tickets and flew to Japan for being a volunteer in a new art festival.
The Naka-Boso International Art Festival Ichihara Art x Mix 2014 (Art x Mix) aims at working out some solutions for the Tokyo rural area under rapid urban development. Using art as media, it gathers a group of local and international artists and volunteers, to implement a wide variety of projects with existing local resources.
Art x Mix regards volunteer as “Supporter”, that is a very warm name without hierarchy. What’s more during the preparation period, we could live in a dormitory which was an elderly service centre in the past, where some artists are also staying.
It was my pleasure to assist in 3 art projects during that week. The experience has been so amazing and made everyone become multi-talented. You may find your potential to be a painter, a construction worker and even a cook.
Building a grass house in the People’s Forest was most impressive to me. That was a morning after a rainy day, and we worked outdoor for the whole day under 5°C. Artist Iwata first brought me to an Indian family and we enjoyed their traditional coffee together. Getting to work after relationship building is always my preference. Though we were unable to chat in English fluently, we used the simplest words and neglect grammar; I think language has met its purpose already.
To be honest, I was a bit hesitated to do services requiring high energy but it was my choice to have some breakthrough. Keep throwing grass brunches onto the roof was an intensive fitness exercise. I have never imagined I could contribute in creating such a lovely house like those in cartoon. And it was was sweet to share home-made lunch box and receive a pair of grooves from my buddies. By that evening, a big step has been shown and I really look forward to seeing this house serving Indian curry after opening.
A few days later I visited the forest again. Apparently the house has been completed with lovely roof top. To me this is a fusion of Japanese and Indian architecture. Professional Indian workers share their skills and artist is in fact creating more job opportunities for the minorities outside their home country. Ichihara is getting lack of labor due to aging population but they are possible labor force benefiting each other.
This art festival is also transforming 4 schools closed in 2013 into a new platform. Another project I involved is a mixture of recycle, music and drawing. We supported musician Honma in decorating the “drums” and music shaking cups which were in fact some basins and party cups of Satomi Elementary School. Everyone with or without art background could draw on these music instruments. Playing art with each other has been fun.
And I really appreciate a group of Hong Kong university students majoring in design. Their high efficiency and incentive to contribute and learn during the preparation have added energy into this art event. How nice they have been to help in different projects even completing their assigned daily task. Taking part in production told us more stories behind an art piece.
Though this is an international art event, most artists and Supporters are local people. Japanese are reliable working partners leading the team to perform their best. But sure outsiders may be stressful when encountering this working culture. Once a Japanese architect told me he is tired of long working hours and wanted to talk with counsellor. I am glad he was willing to share this with me and realized the importance of enjoying more “me time”.
Besides of working hard, having meal in Ichihara is a kind of quality life. One day when I worked in the closed Tsukide Elementary School, since a pizza house has been planned to build on the school playground, I was lucky to have an opportunity to taste their pizza and bread, which ingredients are local agricultural products. Their tomatoes are the sweetest I have ever tried.
One more tip here, if you pass by Satomi train station at weekend, some stalls selling cheap and tasty snacks will be open.
Thanks to Art x Mix’s kind arrangement, I had time to hang around with some artists in Ichihara too. Taking railway, cycling and walking are all good choices! Train fans are everywhere but I was surprised by so many people shooting photos along Kominato Railway every day. This may not be the magic of art festival but probably due to the train in old style, smart color matching and beautiful nature around. The scene must be more stunning when flowers are blooming in spring. No wonder Art x Mix happens from 21 March to 11 May this year.
There are 7 railway stations decorated in rainbow theme and story, like Tsukizaki featuring blue fish while orange fox in Takataki. You can also meet birds and frogs in somewhere else.
As there is quite a distance between each project spots, I think wandering in the beauty of nature is great weekend leisure. Art x Mix also put some bikes at railway stations for renting during this period. Just 300 yen then you can ride on an art piece for a day.
Art x Mix is not only an experiment for the connection of art and life, but this time art appears for people in Ichihara. Some commented it was like an examination question. Once artists knew where their project would be displayed, they had to think about how the art pieces connect with the venue and related to Ichihara.
But I think Art x Mix is in fact supporting artists and Supporters at the same time. A foreign artist shared his observation with me during his stay. Japanese art is simple and make you smile, while their foreign art focuses on background meaning. From street signs to speaking tone, Japan is a comical country or may be Japanese animation is just reflecting its lifestyle. Art festival can bring out noise for artists, widen their circle and they learn from each other.
We gather in Ichihara for the same goal. In a briefing session for Supporters, I was surprised by the simple but interacting rundown. Comparing with most volunteer ceremonies in Hong Kong, Ichihara didn’t prepare any PowerPoint but just going through the leaflets distributed with some role play scenes. Supporters are from wide age ranges and they raise many concrete questions which showed their active involvement. Inside each package prepared for Supporters, there is a scarf for warm keeping purpose. In Hong Kong, I know many people become volunteers for certain rewards or fulfilling school requirement only. But in Ichihara, when people shouted “Let’s go!” together as a kick-off, I can feel their love of this place and people’s relationships are beyond organizer and volunteers.
How if it is Hong Kong to organize similar regional art festival? After hearing my Supporter experience, many of my friends believe this concept is possible and they want to get involved too. Art projects can be located in different districts and islands for appreciation of our home place. From my point of view as an art circle outsider, elements like great art players and local stories are already here, but Hong Kong art is quite individualistic nowadays. If different art and culture units share a common goal, I think gathering adequate supporters will not be a problem.