KYOTO, JAPAN—On August 19, artist Cai Guo-Qiang introduces Bonsai Ship, a visually spectacular installation created specifically for the UNESCO World Heritage Site Nijo Castle, as part of the Asia Corridor Contemporary Art Exhibition within Culture City of East Asia 2017 Kyoto. The composition of the artwork is founded on a traditional Chinese wooden vessel, which has been reassembled on top of three massive boulders to contain five full-sized pine trees, forming an immense “bonsai” display of over 12m in height.
Towering in the Central Courtyard of Nijo Castle’s palace grounds, Bonsai Ship at once harmonizes with and stands distinct from the surrounding 17th-century architecture. The pines and boulders were carefully selected for their resemblance to landscapes in shanshui ink wash painting, an ancient Chinese artistic tradition that later expanded to Japan and Korea. The installation thus utilizes the imagination and formal expression of contemporary art, while at the same time humorously evoking the history and present state of East Asia.
Bonsai Ship can be traced back to Cai’s earlier project To Build a Ship, which took part in Culture City of East Asia 2016 Nara. As a work that merged performance and installation art, To Build a Ship brought a team of Chinese shipbuilders to Nara’s historic temple Todai-ji, where they constructed a 13m-long traditional junk boat on-site. The building process was open to the public and, upon completion, the fully functional vessel floated on Todai-ji’s Mirror Pond for several months.
Not unlike the progression of human history, this same ship has now arrived in Kyoto to become Bonsai Ship. Discussing the two projects, Cai Guo-Qiang states: “To Build a Ship, realized at Nara’s Todai-ji, was a project that allowed viewers to transcend the boundaries of space-time; it prompted us to reinterpret the course of history and rethink the time that we live in. It symbolized the mutual inheritance and influence that East Asian cultures have had on one another for centuries. In face of the difficult realities that now exist among these nations, the project raised the question: Can we continue sailing in this ship together?”
“Today, the ship has reached Kyoto, integrating with the environment of Nijo Castle to become the fantastical and miraculous Bonsai Ship. Taking on a humorous tone, it asks: ‘The spirit of Eastern philosophy and the ambitions of peace embodied by the Culture City of East Asia — are these simply an immense bonsai display?’”
Asia Corridor Contemporary Art Exhibition is hosted by Kyoto City in collaboration with the Japan Agency of Cultural Affairs and the Kyoto Art Center. Its Art Director and renowned curator Tatehata Akira said of Bonsai Ship: “As the title suggests, it is literally a massive ‘bonsai boat’ that invites laughter with its nonsensical humor … it is an artwork that makes a ‘spectacle of civilization’ on a large scale that is very characteristic of Cai.”
Bonsai Ship will be on view until October 15, 2017.
Culture City of East Asia 2017 Kyoto: Asia Corridor Contemporary Art Exhibition
Venue: Nijo Castle, Kyoto Art Center
Dates: August 19 – October 15, 2017
Hours: Nijo Castle opens every day from 8:45 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Last Admission: 4 p.m.)
Kyoto Art Center opens every day from 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
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About Culture City of East Asia
Culture City of East Asia is a tri-national collaboration that takes place annually in cities selected by the governments of Japan, China and South Korea as a series of yearlong cultural and arts events and exchange projects. The program aims to further the development of the host cities, as well as promote mutual understanding and solidarity in the region through the power of culture. Alongside fellow 2017 host cities Changsha (China) and Daegu (South Korea), Kyoto will organize a wide range of events, including traditional culture, contemporary art, performing arts, music, manga, and anime. Previous host cities include Quanzhou, Qingdao and Ningbo in China; Yokohama, Niigata and Nara in Japan; and Guangju, Cheongju and Jeju in South Korea.
About Nijo Castle
Nijo-jo, or Nijo Castle, was constructed by the Tokugawa shogunate during the Edo period (1603–1868). Construction first began in 1603 under the first-ever shogun, Ieyasu, and was extended in 1626 by the third shogun, Iemitsu. The castle later served as the Kyoto prefectural government and as a villa for the imperial family. Its grounds, surrounded by a moat stretching approximately 500m east to west and 400m north to south, are a designated National Historic Site and were registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The existing Ninomaru Palace (a National Treasure) comprises six buildings made in the shoinzukuri architectural style that conveys the sophistication of Momoyama-period art through its sculptures and ornaments. It houses 3,600 wall paintings of the Kano school, 1,016 of which have been designated as Important National Treasures. Nijo Castle occupies a unique position in the history of the Edo Era; it hosted both the celebrations of the first shogun’s reign as well as the official transfer of power in 1867 from the last shogun to the emperor. 2017 happens to mark the 150th anniversary of the historic event.
About the Artistic Director
Born in 1947 in Kyoto, Tatehata Akira graduated with a degree in French literature from Waseda University in 1972. From 2005–11 he served as director of The National Museum of Art, Osaka, and was president of Kyoto City University of Arts from 2011–15. He has been director of Museum of Modern Art, Saitama since 2011 and president of Tama Art University since 2016. He specializes in modern and contemporary art. He has been involved with numerous Asian modern and contemporary art projects and international exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale, where he was commissioner for the Japan Pavilion in 1990 and 1993, and as artistic director for Yokohama Triennale 2001 and Aichi Triennale 2010.