The Japan Alps Art Festival 2017 is taking place in Omachi City until 30-July. Produced by Furamu Kitagawa (creator of the Echigo-Tsumari Triennale), Omachi’s festival is also planned to take place once every 3 years. For its inaugural exhibition, the Festival sure managed to attract some world class artists for some absolutely stunning art installations. Some pieces will likely remain permanently, but you’ll have to come before 30-July to see all the artwork.
What makes Omachi’s art festival so unique is the way the artists incorporated local material and cultural heritage into the make-up and thematic design of the art. While enjoying the visual and emotional beauty of the art installations, visitors get new perspectives and appreciation of Omachi’s Alpine beauty as well as it’s rich culture.
I was invited to take place in a Go-Nagano bloggers tour of the art festival, and would like to share some pictures and thoughts on Omachi.
Among the various festival locations spread out throughout the city, our first stop was Takagari Mountain. Located to the east of the city’s center, the 1164-meter tall mountain features a lookout point at the top featuring a panoramic view of the Northern Japanese Alps across the valley. Taking advantage of this trademark mountain vista is arguably the most noteworthy artwork of the festival, Mé. This is a typical old-fashioned farmhouse with white plaster walls and ebony posts and beams, where the walls have morphed into elliptical shapes engulfing the wooden frame in such a way as to draw your eyes to the beauty of the Alps in the distance. I really hope this is one of the artworks that will continue to exist after the festival ends, as it is a visual treat, especially the way it pays homage to Omachi’s Alpine vistas.
Nearby Mé is “Windy” by Taiwanese artist Kuei-Chih Lee. Taiwan and Japan share a proneness to typhoons, and the artist used materials found in the forest to make this typhoon-like swirl. Majestic ferns were left in place and the existing trees used to support the structure. See if you can resist the temptation to run around the verdant vortex!
Besides being the site of these Art Festival installations, Takagari Mountain is also a Lover’s Sanctuary, with the Northern Alps as a romantic backdrop.
After Takagari Mountain, we descended down to the Yasaka area, to enjoy the “Bamboo Waves” installation by Russian artist Nikolay Polissky. Inspired by waves in ukiyo-e prints, the artist teamed up with area residents to use the locally-abundant bamboo. Yasaka was apparently the main supplier of bamboo to the lord of Matsumoto Castle, and boasts some seriously huge bamboo. Some used in this installation were 18-meters long!
Also on the east side of town are two other amazing installations:
“Hameau d’ ellipe” by Swiss/French artist Felice Velini, a series of psychedelic ellipses superimposed on 3 old farmhouses showcasing one of Omachi’s many tiny hamlets, and
“Corridor to Buddhist Temple” by local woodworking artist Sadao Takahashi whose pieces that combine wood carving and lacquer art majestically expound on the spacious interior of Reishoji Temple. (The temple’s intricately carved gate is art in it’s own right.)
After that inspiration, we descended back down to central Omachi City, first to the Omachi Onsen District, where our tour of art complementing history and culture continued. For example, “Invisible City: Long Goodbye” is like an ode to Omachi’s crystal clear winter nights as well as the town’s historical Salt Road roots,
and Maaria Wirkkala’s work “ACT” embraces the musical arts that so often take place on the Forest Stage.
One other thing the Japan Alps Art Festival also does so well is to highlight Omachi’s culinary heritage as well. After all, viewing art work is bound to make one hungry. As part of our tour, we had a lunch that featured bamboo shoots at Iroriya Yasaka (the place appropriately famous for bamboo)
and 3 o’clock tea ‘dolce’ infused with salt at the Omachi Salt Road Museum aka Choujiya.
If you want to see all 38 of the installations, make sure to come by 30-July. However, Omachi’s historical, cultural and culinary heritage will proudly continue on.
NOTE: For getting around, using a car is highly recommended. Rental cars available at Shinano Omachi Station. Regarding footwear, some of the installations are located in rugged areas so sturdy shoes would come in handy. However, please keep in mind that several locations require removing your shoes and changing into slippers.
(Special thanks to Ogawa-san from Nagano Prefecture for the insightful tour.)