ROUND TABLE 6: Mr Naoya Fujita

“Chiiki Art - Aesthetics/System/Japan”- a method to study the local community engaged art in Japan

Mr Naoya Fujita, a literary critic, has analysed the booming of the art festivals spreading among local cities in Japan in the last two decades. He published “Chiiki Art - Aesthetics/System/Japan” in 2016. In English Chiiki art is translated “the Local Community Engaged Art”. The book has generated from his previous article in 2014 “The Zombies of The Avant grade art − the issue of the local community engaged art” in a Japanese critic magazine, Subaru. In the article he criticised what was once the avant-garde, is now used for the revitalisation of the local community and subsumed by the political economy of the region or nation. He tried to expand the argument to understand what is the local community engaged art in his book of "Chiiki Art".

However, Fujita found it difficult to theorise the local community engaged art with the existing method of the critic like the natural scientific method or literary theories of Roland Barthes or Wolfgang Iser etc. Because the local community engaged art promotes a new model of artistic practice, which is often a participative practice working with the community, and focusing on the process of the practice. The outline of the artwork is too vague to be defined by existing way of the theories.

​So for the new form art, Fujita has studied a new method by referring the relativity of the local community engaged art itself in which the primary driving force of the artistic practice is not only the artist but rather the participants. He tried to clarify the phenomenon of the local community engaged art through the discussion with various participants of the Japanese local community engaged art including artists, curators, researchers and critics. He expects that the way also can break the taboo by disclosing what is going on behind the scene while arising arguments and objections in public.

The difficulty of translation of the local contexts

Before going through the discussion, Fujita answered one by one to the question that the agenda of Saloon Tokyo #1 offered about the method. His answer is below.


Q: How do you perceive the method in your practices; research, fundraising, production, or even distribution?
Fujita: I think that the methodology teaches us the new way of viewing and interpretation, so to study the method is very creative practice.

Q: What does the method bring us? How does it affect your practice?
Fujita: As a literary critic, the method gave me the chance to study theories like feminism, structuralism, and so on. They let me see the world differently.

Q: Could the method itself be art? How can we appropriate it for art? How does it match with the artistic processes?
Fujita: In the mean of giving a different perspective, the method itself could work very similarly like art. But I don’t think that the method can be 100% equal to art, and shouldn’t be. Because art embodied a theory such as the proletariat art and the socialist realism was not so interesting. The art is spontaneous, something very alive, personal, and difficult to explain in words. On the other hand, the theory that consists the method is abstract, but it can be linguistically explained. So the method can refine the artistic practice through verbalising, and the artistic practice also can refine the method through physicalising. I believe that this interaction makes the ideal relationship between the art and theory.

Q: How do you share your method with your colleagues, sponsors and audience members? How do they understand it?
Fujita: I have learned the theory of Roland Barthes or Aristotle beyond the living era and countries. Like this, a method as a theory is transmittable. We can share it with the world, and it also can stimulate the different fields.

Q: When do you feel difficulty with the method? How do you overcome it?
Fujita: Every method faces the difficulties when we try to create the new one to renew the artistic practice or the vice verse. For instance, a new form of art like the local community engaged art gave us an opportunity to improve our method, or even invent the new one. However, through this exchange between art and theory, the locality of the artistic practice is translated into a universal abstract idea/method to share it with the others. In this process, something is spilling out. I would like to figure out the point what is lost in the transaction between the local practices to the universal theory.

Q: How do you make your method evolved? What do you want to change by the method? What are you driven by?
Fujita: I would like to reconsider established art theories by the value lost in the transaction from the local context to the universal one. It may give a possibility to discover a new relationship of the local and the universal.

Today Fujita has been researching a Japanese novelist, Mitsuhiro Muroi born in Fukushima, a winner of Akutagawa prize to clarify how the locality in writing can transfer to the world. The writer has stopped his writing for twenty years, then started writing again after the Tohoku Earthquake. His nickname is "Borges in Tohoku". He is writing with a similar style of Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine short-story writer, by using his local dialects in Tohoku. Mr Fujita considers that his way of writing could show a way how the locality connects to the world while mediating the conflicts of the local and the universal issues.

Mr Shintaro Fujii pointed out the ironical situation that the Japanese local community engaged art tend to invite same kinds of internationally prominent artists and curators to appeal the locality.

Fujita agreed and said that the initial model of the Japanese local community engaged art came from Documenta in Kassel, Germany. However, the background of the local Japanese city and Kassel is apparently different, so as a result, how the art festival works for the society, is very different. He thinks that this gap also reflects the essential problem in adopting a universal method to the local context.

​What the local community engaged art will question

Then we move to talking about the KNEPOKU ART begun in Ibaragi prefecture in 2016 as one of the examples of the local community engaged art in Japan. The KENPOKU ART is the international art festival held in the northern area of Ibaragi prefecture, called Kenpoku region. Ibaragi prefecture is located next to Tokyo, one of the communal cities providing a good residential area, and some fresh vegetables, meat and fish to the city workers. The art festival aims to appeal their local recourses, not only about culture but also history, nature and local industries to gain more visitors from outside of the region.

Mr Shintaro Fujii visited there and thought it successful in the mean that the local people rediscover charms of where they are living. Fujita also appreciates that the KENPOKU ART featured not only the positive aspect of the region, for example, “the Fallen Sky” by Ilya & Emilia Kabakov was set at the beach where the giant breakwater for tsunami and ruined factories were behind. It reminds the spectators about how the Tohoku disaster and the ruin of heavy industry effect in the countryside.

Fujita thinks that art can provoke hidden desire beyond a notion of public or private, without concerning the political correctness. Mr Shintaro Fujii agreed and introduced the words of Romeo Castellucci that regard the theatre as a pharmacon, which means that the theatre can be a medicine but also a poison in society. He also said that most Japanese people tend to speak only about the one side of the good, particularly in public art.

Now Fujita is reconsidering the local community engaged art through the notion of rootless. A reason why he began focusing the rootless comes from his origin. Hokkaido, where he was born, is the land reclaimed by the immigrants from the other area of Japan in 19c. His ancestors were migrants, and he regards himself as rootless having less family history and memory in the hometown. Also, he thinks that the rootlessness, a sense of no belonging, facilitates "Relation al art" to explore a possibility of a new community beyond existent communities. Indeed, a Japanese artist, Koki Tanaka’s exhibition “Possibility for being together. Their praxis.” shows the trial of the 6 days lodging and series of workshop in staying with facilitators and general participants under one roof. Also “Shibuhouse”, a collective action in Tokyo by the Japanese artists, founded a sharing house opening for everyone to foster artistic activities and collaborations through living together. He added that the recent democratic movement like “Occupy Wall Street” could also be an activity to build a temporary community in a public space to hope true democracy.

Thus Fujita is questioning an original root and a meaning of community to redefine the local community engaged art by the idea of the rootless. This point of view also could include the contemporary issue of refugees and migrants moving from their own countries for social and political reasons. He said that he would like to see how the rootless people meet the people connecting the local community with a deep root, and examine how the meetings can activate new practices of the local community engaged art.

Photo: Ryohei Tomita

* See AGENDA for personal biography