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2018.10.18 Thursday

Naoshima Art Complex: of how a praying mantis rocks at James Turrel’s Open Sky


    When trying to understand how the island of Naoshima, located in the Seto Inland Sea, became a major tourist destination within the last two decades, one takes a closer look at the foundation of the Benesse Corporation and tries to understand its interest for the island and its relationship with the Mitsubishi company, which has been exploiting the resources of the northern part of the island for hundred years. Nothing seems clear. On the one hand, the Benesse Corporation has been enriched by the need of rich parents to overeducate their kids, producing correspondence publishing and educational materials for children. On the other side, the local administration of the island is looking for investors helping to change its land’s image overseas. According to rumors, the project starts with the idea of creating a summer camp for kids. A learning environment in direct contact with nature. Apparently, this never happens. Instead, the chairperson decides to build a very sophisticated hotel, the first in the island, in order to share his top-art collection with his friends and spread the company’s motto “Benesse” of -Well-Being. Designed in partnership with the great architect Tadao Ando, the hotel is just the beginning of an enormous project, which nowadays involves the islands of Naoshima and Teshima in Kagawa Prefecture and the Inujima island in Okayama Prefecture.



    Naoshima’s public main attraction is the Chichu Art Museum. Using only concrete -the material by which Ando’s work gained international acclaim, the museum has been entirely designed in order to ensure the best contemplation of its artworks, while working in dialog with the natural environment of the island. The spaces have been built almost entirely underground, creating a playful aerial view of basic geometrical forms such as squares, rectangles, and triangles. This powerful perspective, which is only available through the image archive of the museum, cannot be experienced as Earthling. The whole complex has a very strict no-photo policy.

    The visit begins through the Chichu Garden. Along the roadway from the ticket counter to the museum’s entrance, a little river waters dozens of types of flora similar to those planted by Claude Monet, such as water lilies. A unique introduction to his work, which later on will be seen inside the museum.

    (I enjoy looking at the gardener. He seems so proud of this beautiful place and shows some visitors the most valuable specimens.)



    Once inside the complex, the visitor is conducted through a semi-open-air experience of concrete and light. The side walls of the triangular venue, contain an interior hallway open to the outside, allowing to experience the changing effects of light and shadow from different perspectives, while the visitor goes up and down to the following spaces. As if the shape of this very first space introduced the trinity of artists selected for this almost sacred experience, the visitor is invited to contemplate the masterpieces of Walter de María, Claude Monet and James Turrel. Ando’s meticulous design succeeds in creating the best atmosphere for the contemplation of these artworks. Nothing seems to be left to chance. The pristine staff’s uniform is the perfect camouflage for the environment and their efficient commitment to arrange every pair of shoes equidistantly on the access to the art pieces is almost performative.



    I experience the highlight of my visit to James Turrel’s Open Sky installation. When entering” this square space, one is firstly blinded by the reflected light. While sitting on the bench annexed to the walls of the inner square structure of the room, my eyes slowly get used to this brightness. I look at the window to the sky and for a moment I experience that intriguing blued flatness. There are no clouds. It seems like a perfect day in heaven. Suddenly, something breaks the illusion. A praying mantis has visited us from the outer world and is now struggling not to fall down into space. The insect’s in and out movements reveal the hidden volume of the window’s fence/frame and ruin Turrel’s intention. I cannot avoid that smile on my face. This little insect seems so powerful for a moment and the situation is irremediably linked to subtle irony. A certain sort of pathos makes up a bittersweet sensation inside me.



    I leave the building and enjoy a bike ride to the Art House Project of Honmura, looking for a more earthly (maybe less elitist) experience of art.

    I higly recommend having a baht at Shinro Ohtake's installation and enjoying some of the local culinary specialties.