Yokohama Triennale and Murakami Kyoto

| Judy Annear
 + Emergency Library Shiga Lieko, 2024. 8th Yokohama Triennale installation view, Photo: KATO Hajime.

Yokohama Triennale and Murakami Kyoto

Yokohama Triennale And Murakami Kyoto | Judy Annear

Much has changed in Yokohama since the first International Triennale of Contemporary Art in 2001. For the occasional visitor like me, the major areas of this polyglot city, which are being continuously fed by railways and the port, look as before—until I start hunting for the offsite locations. Then I realise the same process is occurring in Yokohama, a city of nearly four million, that has been consuming Tokyo and other large cities in Japan for decades—the perpetual state of rebuilding. For example, the 20-year-old, peripatetic contemporary art space BankArt which is one of the Triennale venues this year, has relocated from its former harbourside warehouse home and split in two, one part housed underground at Shin-takashima Station, the other at a restored building, becoming BankArt Kaiko.

The august Yokohama Museum of Art became involved in the Triennale for the fourth iteration in 2011 and has organised it ever since. In 2024, it is where the majority of works are housed. The Kenzō Tange building has been renovated to celebrate its 40th anniversary and appears more spacious and simpler, less competitive with the art. This is entirely appropriate given the way the art is presented, and the kind of art chosen for the 8th Triennale by Beijing-based co-curators Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu.

 +  8th Yokohama Triennale installation view at Yokohama Museum of Art Photo: TOMITA Ryohei (Joar Nango foreground, Lieko Shiga behind).


Entitled Wild Grass: Our Lives, this Triennale draws on the life and work of Chinese writer Lu Xun (1881-1936). Lu Xun studied medicine in Sendai, Japan in 1902 before devoting his life to art and literature. His book Wild Grass 1927, with its collection of 23 prose poems, reflects the difficult political and social situation in the China of 100 years ago. Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu believe there are parallels with our current troubled era and that we can draw sustenance from the kind of small, yet lasting interventions Lu Xun observes, rather than grand statements and flamboyant gestures. Wild grass itself is ignored as an inconsequential plant yet it signifies such sustenance by its very existence. Liu Ding and Carol Yinghua Lu propose ‘…a modest imaginary where we are all outsiders living in the cracks, often stealthily dismantling the systems that are killing us.’

This Triennale is sombre, though not leaden as heavily research-based exhibitions can be. I was free to wander through the loosely designated ‘Chapters’ which began with the ‘Directory of Life’ on the entry floor. Overall, this level formed the Chapter ‘Our lives’ and pointed toward other kinds of possibilities in life and work than those we are socialised into accepting. The co-curators noted ‘Our lives’ refers to campsites, the temporary environments into which vast numbers on the planet now reside. 'The Directory of Life' offered ten short texts by diverse writers placed on a round table which offered subtle ways to intervene in our twenty-first century globalised war ridden world. These ranged from Kojin Karatani’s discussion of his counter capitalist/nation state New Associationist Movement, to the loosely anarchist Sinophone Tangpingist Manifesto. Here the observation is that all the ‘others’ in our world might contemplate forms of unity with each other, in recognition of the multifarious small yet lasting gestures of resistance that each can contribute.

 + Repeat After Me Open Group (Yuriy BILEY, Pavlo KOVACH, Anton VARGA), 2022. Courtesy of the Artists. video still.

Moving through this initial Chapter, and past Open Group’s haunting video, Repeat After Me, of Ukrainians singing the sound of approaching bombs, I came across Lieko Shiga’s Emergency Library. The warm red carpeting and upholstery invite the leisurely perusal of the books of all genres—poetry, philosophy, sociology, art, novels. The selection of publications relates to her discussion with deer hunter Onodera Nozomi and her photographs documenting that discussion on the next level of the museum. As with the 'Directory of Life' at the beginning of the Triennale, this selection of writings provides various forms of knowledge to aid the audience in their journey.

 + Emergency Library (DIALOG IN THE FOG: FIRE detail behind) Lieko Shiga , 2024. 8th Yokohama Triennale installation view, Photo: TOMITA Ryohei.

If the red of Shiga’s Library conveys comfort as much as urgency, her series of eleven large-scale photographic works DIALOG IN THE FOG: FIRE—what Nozomi Onodera, a hunter, told me in the mountains of the Oshika Peninsula in Miyagi Prefecture projects the shifting reds of life and death. Handwritten on the images is a record of Shiga’s interview with Onodera, who asks, ‘by whose standard do we measure things?’. Shiga moved to Miyagi Prefecture on the east coast of Japan in 2008, continuing her work with communities, evident from the beginning of her practice. Miyagi Prefecture was devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent ten-metre-high tsunami. Shiga herself was very lucky to survive. This event further embedded her impetus to collaborate with communities and understand people’s lives in the face of weighty bureaucratic and political standards as much as natural disasters. Shiga is noted for her ability to depict in her photographs the dynamic atmosphere surrounding individuals and communities, their relationships to their environments, whether urban or rural. This new series DIALOG IN THE FOG is emphatic in that regard. Shiga uses the contradictions of the photographic process to reveal rather than pin down the ever-changing interactions of life whether human, animal, social, or in nature.

The next and largest level of the museum included three presentations of historical moments. One of these focussed on left wing woodcut exchanges between Japan and China from the 1930s which had been instrumentalised by Lu Xun, another on Taro Okamoto’s study of Jomon culture, and the third on mid-twentieth century painter, writer and critic of power structures particularly in East Asia, Taeko Tomiyama. Tomiyama wrote about her life experiences and involvement in workers’ rights in My Liberation: Journey to the Frontier and the Bottom (1972). Her life and work, from 1921 until 2021, is seen by the co-curators to cover the span of this Triennale, not least Tomiyama’s belief in individual responsibility for historical events, and the connection of art to the social and political.

 + Consigned to Oblivion Matthew Harris, 2023. Courtesy of the Artist and FUTURES, Australia, Photo: KATO Ken.
 + 宿舍 Ký Túc Xá/ Dorm Your Bros. Filmmaking Group (SO Yo-Hen, LIAO Hsiu-Hui, TIEN Zong-Yuan) 2023/24. 8th Yokohama Triennale installation view, Photo: TOMITA Ryohei.

Matthew Harris’ thirteen metre painting Consigned to Oblivion is a still point in the Chapter ‘Fires in the Woods’. The co-curators note, ‘In this chapter, we look at history as a reflection of the present. It brings back moments in history when sparks flew as fiercely as when flint was struck.’ Other artists in this Chapter focus on the explicit dynamics of conflict (Pope. L., Jeremy Deller, Takashi Hamaguchi) or the clear exploitation of workers (Alan Sekula, Josh Kline, Your Bros. Filmmaking Group), whereas Harris provides subtle layers of information in his monumental work: ‘From afar…the type of monochromatic, repetitive, minimalist paintings you might find at a contemporary art museum…, up close the lumpy surface reveals the texture of their materialcrushed charcoal and white ochre, white ochre being most commonly used for sorry business. Far from pure abstraction, the paintings depict a museum storage facility with endless shelves of archival boxes containing bones held in institutional limbo. Blank white facades suspending ancestral remains, sacred objects and cultural heritage behind layers of impenetrable bureaucratic control’.1 Written on the wall above Harris’ work is an excerpt from a colleague of Lu Xun, Hakuson Kuriyagawa (1880-1923), who argued that artists should be closely engaged with real issues.

There is a small number of works offsite as part of this Triennale. The Chapter, ‘All the rivers’, is housed at BankArt Kaiko and Former Daiichi Bank Yokohama. There, various groups and individuals such as Pangkerchief, Inter-Asia Woodcut Mapping Group and Pyae Phyo Thant Nyo explore contemporary modes of printmaking, signalling through mundane objects, recycling, and small activities involving community and communication. These are the new ‘wild grasses’, yet very familiar from the past. Continuing growths in the cracks.

 + Inter-Asia Woodcut Mapping Group 8th Yokohama Triennale installation view, Photo: OHNO Ryusuke.
 + A Story of Our Lives Pyae Phyo Thant Nyo 2024. Photo: OHNO Ryusuke.

Of individual works isolated in public contexts, the most successful as a presence that passersby do pay attention to, and I found easily, is Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s Fruits Song No.2. This substantial yet modest work (73 metres long) is located at the Motomachi-Chukagai Station Accessway which runs under Yokohama’s Chinatown. Facing off equally long advertising panels Chan’s work in all its subtlety holds its own. Chan’s song, based on her research into her ancestors, the Weitou women of Hong Kong, laments a bride’s separation from her family at her wedding and memorialises the diaspora of Chan’s forebears to Australia as much as historical migration from China into Yokohama.

 + Fruit Song No. 2 Chun Yin Rainbow CHAN, 2024. Photo: KATO Hajime.

Such low-key gestures which nonetheless are recognisable to visitors and passersby like myself are in direct contrast to Takashi Murakami Mononoke Kyoto at Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art. This is Murakami’s first large scale exhibition in Kyoto, and the first in Japan for eight years. Tailored to a Kyoto audience through the incorporation of historical figures into paintings and sculptures, the exhibition has a grand entrance with Murakami’s take on giant warrior figures usually seen guarding temples. There is an equally grand ten-metre-high gold leaf on bronze statue, Flower Parent and Child, standing on a gilded Louis Vuitton suitcase in the park at the rear of the museum. Murakami’s signature figure DOB appears throughout the exhibition tracing DOB’s journey from inception in 1993 until now. DOB is a figure Murakami developed out of his fierce interest in manga and anime, and his desire, in collaborating with specialists in those fields, to create an entity which was both unique and could be recognised globally.

 + Flower Parent and Child Takashi Murakami, 2020. Ⓒ2020 Takashi Murakami / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Louis Vuitton Monogram Multicolor Trunk, Photo: Reiko Mitake.

The artist was critiquing both local systems for art as much as the control of Western institutions over the acceptance of what art could be. In some ways Murakami has been successful, at least in the United States of America and Japan. Murakami is, himself, a corporate entity with a large cast of people who make his work, regardless of whether that work is running a café or creating the images and objects for which he is known. At Kyoto City Museum of Art, the gift shop at the end of the exhibition was almost as big as the exhibition itself and showcased everything from keyrings to very expensive limited edition Murakami figures. Is there anything wrong with this? Not if one considers the globalisation and corporatisation of museums in the twenty-first century. However, Murakami has become a product of these systems rather than the streetwise interloper he once was. One could say Murakami himself has become another luxury brand who mirrors the issues in museums and does not transcend them.

The fruits of small individual and collective art enterprises, in whatever form, seem to be more optimistic than an emphasis on the surface of objects which, regardless of the artist’s intentions, uncritically signify the products of capitalism and globalisation.

Wild grass: Our Lives, 8th Yokohama Triennale of International Contemporary Art, Japan. 15 March—9 June 2024.
Takashi Murakami Mononoke Kyoto, Kyoto City KYOCERA Museum of Art, Japan. 3 February—1 September 2024.


1. Matthew Harris, 'Artist Statement: Matthew Harris', Australian Centre for Contemporary Art,

Links & Info
Cite this ArticleCite

Art + Australia
Publisher: Victorian College of the Arts
University of Melbourne

Art + Australia ISSN 1837-2422

All content published after October 2023 by Art + Australia is available under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) except where otherwise stated. For more information about use and distribution you can view our Editorial Guidelines.