Art and nature in Niigata prefecture
In the summer of 2006 while browsing the internet to find some nice contemporary art event and exhibition I found information about the Echigo-Tsumari art triennale (ETAT) and some special performances that would be held on the week end, so we jumped in a car and drove up there with no plan but our "triennale passport" and triennale catalog. We completely felt in love with the concept of the triennale, the with the beautiful mountains and rural area. We also met there some unique people: S. and K. that have become very good friends and that work in Tokyo and live up there most of the time n their beautiful house by the forest. Since 2006 we've made trips there more than a dozen times, we've been there at every season, went snowshoeing in deep snow, attended new year ceremony in the local shrine, went to pick wild vegetables and herbs in spring, young wild bamboo shoot in the beginning of summer, seen traditional bull fight, the red leaves in the mountains in autumn and we have never been disappointed. This area of Japan is truly beautiful with a strong personality.
After some time when we couldn't go because of too mush work on week ends and because of our new house in the country that needed some maintenance, we finally went again, and it was again the triennale. And again it was a perfect stay. Our friends always welcome us in their beautiful old house (that is not completely innocent in the choice of our own house in the country), they feed us with delicious local products and a lot of fresh vegetables from their potager garden, I usally cook with K., and then we drove all over the countryside small roads to visit the art space and see artworks. And we've came back to Tokyo with tones of delicious products. I have my shopping list ready anytime we go there: natural honey and pollen from Akiyamago, 2-5-8 to prepare my own salted pickles at home, Koshikari rice, buckwheat flour from Tsunan... Plus our friends always treat us royally with tons of gifts from their own garden which vary depending on the season. Though very short (we stayed only 2 days) the perfect summer break!
The concept of the triennale is quite simple, it is a contemporary art event that tries to boost this rural area that is depopulated and where there are many empty old houses, farms as well as unused schools because of the lack of kids. So a few houses and schools each time, and some outdoor spaces in the rice paddies, in the forest are also used for installation, exhibition, landscape art... Some of them also use traditional craft of the area, or local history. Since the very first edition in 2003 they've called for some famous artists such as Botansky, Turell, Kusama, Guo-Qiang... and mix with younger less known artists and art students. Of course the quality of the artwork is also very wide, but there is always very very nice discoveries. The art works span over an wide area, so driving is the most recommended, distances are not huge but roads are small and can be quite busy with beginners/paper drivers on week end so it takes time and it's not a fun drive, week days are better for a more intense experience. There is also a number of performances: music, theater and experimental work almost every week worth checking.Since the triennale seems to be quite a success and drains a lot from of people from the city the event is slightly evolving and this time there were lot's of temporary cafe in the main art spaces promoting local food (mainly for penniless urbanites so expect a lot of curry-rice). Local people are also selling local products, so it's good to pack with an icebox in your trunk to bring back the country freshness to Tokyo!