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Journey of Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale

In 2015,  I did volunteer for the Echigo-Tsumari Art Festival ( a case about art contributes to community regeneration) in Japan. This experience influenced me greatly, so I started to practise social engagement art from that and researched how different artistic forms promote an active dialogue.

There are more than thousands of artworks displaying in this place, and they provide different forms of social intervention and art engagement to mediating the relationship between the cultural community and the natural environment. So, when I start this project, the first thought is to review my journey of this festival because as a participant, I have a deep impression and engagement with these works. and I try to combine my experience and with art theories to explore how art contributes to the community regeneration, deals with the conflicts between nature and the society, changes resident's attitudes and finally activate the community.

This area consists of 200 small villages, located in the southern region of Niigata, with a wonderful landscape. However, this area had been ever abandoned by the government and its residents.    

This area is buried in the snow for more than six months of a year, and therefore it led to low production in agriculture and population loss. Due to the low-speed development, The villagers had lost their pride in their hometown and local culture. At the end of the 20th century, this area hadn’t entered into the automobile society yet, They had no sense of identity for a new city or a new country.​

However, what this area looks like today. It has experienced a fantastic development and become the most outstanding example in the world. It is a favourite place in Japan and has held some international communication events.

Why art was associated with this area in the 20th century? 


The government has tried to do many ways, but there was no effective improvement because of the four complicated problems: passive attitude, place identity, population loss and decline of the economy.​ In 1995, an art director Fram Kitagawa proposed a bold idea that he wants to do public art at this place to mediate the community issues. However, a challenge was that how could the young modern art be grafted on such an ancient farming civilization? No one believed that holding an art festival can help them to solve economic and social problems.

“​​Art can be related to discovery, education, exchange and cooperation.”

— Fram Kitagawa

How did art do?



Gruenewald (2003a, p. 9)states that the significant factor involved in decolonisation is the development of the ability to recognise ways of think that injure and exploit other people and place. 


Nikos Papastergiadis and Gerardo Mosquera (2014) mention that the vitality and value of culture rely on the exchange and is benefited by communication.

It requires artists to see beyond the private and individual and establish a relationship with residents upon mutual interests and respect. Their main approach was to blend in with the neighbourhood rather than make some loud pronouncement about us coming from somewhere else.

Therefore, Fram took seven years to publicize everywhere and organize a volunteer team “ Koheibi” that consists of young people from different backgrounds. They communicated with each resident, listened to their thoughts, explained what happened in the outside as well as popularized the place value and protection knowledge to them. 



“Reinhabiting involves identifying, affirming, conserving and creating those focus on cultural knowledge that nurtures and protect people and the ecosystem​”(Gruenewald  2003a, p. 9).

“The typical feature of the social theory is that the lack of interest in the place, material context and the land, the social science also tend to the generalization without the consideration of specific context" (Somerville 2010).

Measure the relationship between nature, human culture and society

It is important to rebuild the confidence of their hometown by rediscovering nature and local resources. So, the first task is to change the impression of snow and recognise the place value. Artists seek to create an ephemeral joy, express the meaning of existence and the unique memories of people living in this snow country. 

Featuring the snow 

A variety of snow activities and sculptures were constructed in order to generate new joyful memories and experiences for the local people. For example, “Gift for Frozen Village” explores the beauty of snow and the uniqueness of local resources, which contributes to developing a sense of place and rethinking the nature and culture. In this work, each resident planted a LED “light seed” into the snow and these 'seeds' generated a sense of luminous flowers blooming on the landscape. Snow is a painful memory for the local place, while it is also the most productive elements for creating. A new view appeared in their familiar scenery could draw more concerns and create new memories for them, then encourage them to rethink nature.

Discover local resources and realize the local wisdom

Artists revived and reconstructed the vacant houses as the art museum, providing accessible education for the residents, as well as enhance personal identity during the process of education.

In "The Soil Museum", "The Forrest school", and "Home project", artists utilise the local soils, plants and tools as the creation materials, injecting new life to endow these spaces with value and meaning through art to describe the diversity and possibility of the villagers’ living space and lifestyle.

Developing a sense of place and Recognition of the culture

Talking about the recognition of the culture. Integrating the local culture into artworks can help them to realize their own value ---- agricultural society.

With the continuous integration of art, the villagers opened their closed minds and responded favorably to the artists and their works. They worked with the artists and tried to retrieve the memories of family, community and traditional culture. It just gave culture a chance to continue. Through the works, the villagers regained the traditional culture, and at the same time, they gained the new culture from the foreign field. Also, they rethought the meaning of retaining traditional skills and gained respect.


It requires artworks bridge the gap among pastness, presentness and future, and this finally engages with the sensitive and incisive social issues of our time, to evoke some positive response (Smith 2006).

Recording the changes in the multiple time series could draw more attention to the age of terror and prompt to an active confrontation throughout time, things, and thoughts (Bennett 2012). 


Site-specificity & Participation

At the moment of global contemporaneity. Things and places are interrelated. Place as a connecting zone, requires the recognition of the multiplicity and complexity of places (Somerville 2010,p.327).

As the centre of the experience, the local place explains how the world works and how their lives fit into the space they occupy. Therefore, it is necessary for residents to rediscover and rethink this place. Because recovering the sense of the place can contribute to pass down the local memory and wisdom, and finally create new values from the place.

Art in combination with daily life could be a deep connection with the place which contributes to a public context and the alternative representation. This is also the chance to increase participation and community cohesion.


Shed light the natural environment and cultural value

When these artworks were placed at the site, they became the way to frame the landscape and finally engaged the layers of history and place.

Gift for Frozen Village and Forest School show the power of the Site-specificity. These two works challenge the different functions of the snow as well as the utilise of the geographic feature of the place.


The figure of forest school is abstracted by the snake to respond to the local field culture, and according to the surrounding geographical characteristics and weather conditions, its materials, colour and construction have been deeply considered. Made of the thick acrylic, windows can perfectly combine the building with the surrounding environment regardlessness of the change of season. The apparent colour and the huge figure can navigate the directions in the field and particularly in winter, it will be mainly covered by snow, but the snow wall is still visible. Nowadays, the school has been transformed into a natural science museum that displaying all of the wild animal specimens in this place and the traditional farming tools. The artist collected stories from villagers and cooperated with bioscientists to employ this project, transforming the abandonment of the school into a social environment that presents the value of countless personal, collective and agricultural history.