This year marks the 10th edition of the BIWAKO BIENNALE, since the first one in 2001. Over the past 21 years, some things have changed and others have remained the same. To date, more than several hundred artists have been involved in the festival, presenting their works in the Lake Biwa area. On the occasion of its 10th edition, we take a look back at the history of the BIWAKO BIENNALE. Click on the cover of each catalog below for a preview (2004 and 2001 are presentation pamphlets).
The foyer of the hall was transformed into an art space for the first time. The event also provided a platform for creative exchange between international artists and local elementary school children.
The theme of the festival, “Zep Tepi” is an ancient Egyptian term meaning “the first time.” The first edition of the BIWAKO BIENNALE was held, with its main stage at Biwako Hall, which is in my home town of Otsu. At night, the hall’s grand staircase was illuminated by an artwork using light by Kyota Takahashi, who has been passionately active in the creative world. We also had concerts and symposia in the mid-size hall and a craft market in Nagisa Park near the Biwako Hall.
As it was the first attempt to use the foyer as an art showroom, we went through many difficulties. With this as a precedent, the foyer has begun to be used for exhibitions and concerts. The festival featured a workshop where all students of Otsu City Chuo Elementary School and artists from outside Japan interacted with each other. I still recall fondly that the festival’s website using cutting-edge technology was not viewable by many browsers at that time.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2004 大いなる飛翔 〜 QUANTUM LEAP
Charmed by the atmosphere of the old town of Omihachiman
Tokiwa-kan building, a former movie theater to be demolished was used as a venue. Local residents of Omihachiman started to get involved in the festival.
The second edition was held three years after the first one. When I first visited the old town of Omihachiman, there was only one café in the town and it was really quiet as if time had stood still. The town was dotted with old vacant houses from Edo to Meiji periods (1600s to early 1900s). Those abandoned houses looked all the sadder because of their stately and impressive appearance, which wrung my heart. I had no connection with the place but was captivated by its atmosphere. So, I decided to hold an art event in this town instead of any art halls and took actions toward that end.
Tokiwa-kan building, a former movie theater, was slated for demolition in 2005. I can imagine that in old days, the theater was frequented by local people enjoying watching movies. With help of local residents, we hired five venues scattered about the town, including Tokiwa-kan, a former brewery (now Machiya Club) and other vacant houses to hold the event.
Our base was set up in former Kitari-Tei residence, which stood by the Hachiman-bori Canal. After damaged parts were repaired, the house was also used for an artist-in-residence program. Since then until 2016, former Kitari-Tei residence had been our base of operations. In spring 2016, the residence was sold and transformed into a luxurious accommodation.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2007 風土 〜 GENIUS LOCI
A collaborative work by international artists on display
We had more venues and exhibits allowing hands-on experience. Also on view was a challenging work by international artists, which was made using Japanese bamboo as a material.
In its third edition with added venues, BIWAKO BIENNALE has gained growing recognition in the local community. Artworks were exhibited on walls of a café, in a youth hostel, in an open space near Kyukamura Omihachiman resort hotel, and other places. The festival also featured a symposium, which was attended by the director of educational programming at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and workshops for children.
At former Ban’s residence, the doma (dirt floor) was adorned with a huge kinetic artwork incorporating sensors created by established South Korean artist Choe U-Ram, and the mezzanine floor was used for showing wooden toys crafted by late Akio Nishida (former manager of Arima Toys & Automata Museum). Visitors had a lot of fun moving those works. On display on the top floor was a collaborative work created by artists from Poland and Venezuela with support from local people. It was the first time for the artists to use bamboo in their work.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2010 玉手箱 〜 Magical World
Ten-chan, our favorite kitten
Yakatabune pleasure boats on the Hachiman-bori canal, a cruise on which is one of popular attractions in Omihachiman, were turned into artworks. During the event, the boats were seen running on the canal, jazzing up the waterfront area.
In this edition, as many as 15 buildings, large and small, in the old town served as the exhibition venues. We had a concert in a tile manufacturing plant, now lost, which was large enough to serve as a museum. This is not about exhibits, but I will never forget that we met a stray cat Ten-chan. We found a kitten in a critical condition crawling out from beneath the floor of Tenraikyu (former Kitari-Tei residence), our operations base and exhibition venue. Thanks to loving care from everyone, the kitten survived and became a favorite among visitors and staff members. To our further surprise, the kitten looked just like the cat-shaped objet d’art by artist Koji Minami exhibited in the garden. The kitten was adopted by one of our translators and still lives happily with her. (Ten-chan was really adorable!)
With support from an owner of yakatabune pleasure boats on the Hachiman-bori canal, we held a workshop where an artist and participating children transformed three boats into art. During the festival, the boats with passengers were seen proudly sailing on the canal. We also held a one-day only rowboat tour to view an artwork placed on an island in the canal.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2012 御伽草子 〜 FAIRY TALE
First night tour offered in Omihachiman
Venues were added in Gokasho-Kondo district in Higashiomi City, where fancy colored carp swim elegantly, allowing visitors to enjoy area hopping.
In this edition, new venues in Gokasho in Higashiomi City were added, bringing the total to 17 including 8 venues in Omihachiman, the largest number ever. Gokasho-Kondo district is designated by the Japanese government as an Important Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings. The town has large old merchants’ residences and is crisscrossed with ditches, in which beautiful fancy carp are swimming. When I first visited there, I marveled at the beautiful historical townscape and the grandness of those merchants’ residences. Through the cooperation of the municipality, we were allowed to use four large merchants’ residences as venues. Together with other buildings owned by local residents, we had nine venues in total in the Gokasho area alone.
Guzeiji-Temple in Gokasho-Kondo district, one of the venues, was illuminated by projection mapping featuring fancy carp swimming in the ditches. This year, we started to offer night tours in the Omihachiman area, which were well received by visitors, who said each artwork looked different at night.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2014 泡沫 〜 UTAKATA
“Machiya Club” joins as a large exhibition space
A concert was held in the largest space in Machiya Club, creating an incredible synergy between the music and the artwork exhibited there.
The festival was held with a total of 14 venues only in Omihachiman. One of them was a building which used to be owned by Nishikatsu Sake Brewery. The building, which had been used as a venue in 2004 and 2007, got a new owner and was named Machiya Club. Artworks occupied the whole building consisting of maze-like spaces, including manufacturing space and residential rooms, which have been a guest house since 2016. Showing artworks of as many as 23 artists, this venue offered visitors an experience equivalent to visiting an art museum. We also had a concert which was enjoyed together with visual art, and a symposium attended by architect Tsuyoshi Tane in this place.
Machiya Club is located in the center of the old town. It was a pity that the building had ended its 300-year history of being used as a brewing facility, but it was fortunately given a second life as an exhibition space. I was deeply grateful that the current owner of the building has a strong interest in revitalizing the local community and embraced the idea of using the building for the festival. (I was very much relieved to know that the building would continue to exist.)
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2016 見果てぬ夢 〜 Eternal Dream
Director of the Wuzhen Contemporary Art Exhibition (China) invited
Exhibiting artworks by 30 artists and artist units, Machiya Club was filled with a lot of energy.
We held a symposium attended by Feng Boyi, the Director of the Wuzhen Contemporary Art Exhibition (Art Wuzhen), which was inaugurated in the spring of the same year. Wuzhen is a breathtakingly beautiful town with rivers and canals, about one hour away by car from Shanghai. When I visited Wuzhen, I was astonished to hear that the town had been preserved and kept in its traditional way since the 7th century. While visiting the wonderful Art Wuzhen in such a historic town, I felt upset thinking about the pitiable state of Japan where traditional townscapes have been destroyed.
Since Tenraikyu, the house we had used as our operations base, was sold, we started by looking for a place for exhibiting the works that had been to be displayed in Tenraikyu. After many twists and turns, the owner of Machiya Club allowed us to use one of his buildings as a venue. Although only 10 venues were used in this edition, the exhibition in Machiya Club alone, which comprised artworks of 30 artists and artist units, was well worth a visit. Leather craft workshops available anytime during the festival were also conducted in Machiya Club.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2018 きざし 〜 BEYOND
Relationships with French art students deepened
Pre-opening events of the BIWAKO BIENNALE were held in Paris and Manila, promoting Shiga Prefecture and Omihachiman City outside Japan.
As in 2016, we had interns from French art colleges, who were a great help in cleaning and repairing Teramoto’s residence, a new venue for this edition. I remember with humble gratitude that they came all the way to Japan and worked hard in sweat removing damaged tatami mats, decluttering the house, and weeding the garden, without complaining.
Cleaning and preparing empty buildings to be used as exhibition venues is an essential part of our art festival. The festival is backed up by unnoticed, but considerable efforts by those international interns as well as local residents. The best and precious part of the BIWAKO BIENNALE lies in these invisible processes. Such passionate commitment of many people is reflected in the artworks exhibited in venues, probably adding to the power of art to evoke emotion.
We held pre-opening events of the BIWAKO BIENNALE in Paris and Manila. In Paris, works of art by five Japanese artists were displayed at the Church of Saint-Merri, located near the Centre Pompidou in the city center. In Manila, works created by eleven Japanese artists and three Philippine artists were on view in a membership-only club popular among celebrities. In Paris, the artworks shipped by air from Japan were stopped in customs, but, thanks to support from many art college students, they were set up in time, making it to the event opening.
BIWAKO BIENNALE 2020 森羅万象 〜 COSMIC DANCE
Festival held amid the Covid-19 pandemic; artists set up their works remotely
The venue areas have expanded to include Hikone. Although the situation hampered the entry of foreign artists into Japan, support from many people made it possible for us to hold the festival.
The mysterious COVID-19 virus hit the world hard, and the BIWAKO BIENNALE was no exception. In 2020, we introduced additional venues in Hikone, Shiga Prefecture, and established the executive committee of the festival. We proceeded with the preparations for the event, but due to the pandemic, it was not until July that we announced the holding of the festival, which was held one month later than originally planned. This change, however, ultimately brought about a positive effect, allowing us to co-host with the Institut Français a pre-opening event at the Ninomaru-goten Palace of Nijo-jo Castle in Kyoto. After the opening of the festival, we received no complaints about the holding of the event during the pandemic, but instead heard many kind words about our decision to hold it despite the situation.
For the exhibition, artworks were shipped by air from outside of Japan and set up smoothly according to instructions given in advance or remotely. During the festival, the pandemic seemed to have settled down, miraculously making little impact on our event. However, it was really sad that no foreign artists could come, and we missed for the first time the interactions with international artists, the precious part of the festival. By the way, everyone told me that holding the BIWAKO BIENNALE itself was a miracle, until the third edition. It has always been really challenging to organize the BIWAKO BIENNALE. So, I am once again grateful for the support we have received from so many people.