A chip off the old block

by Victoria James

IWATE, Iwate Pref. — The town of Iwate, population 17,302, is one of the last places you’d expect to find an international art event. But though the largely rural Iwate Prefecture put itself on the art map 18 months ago, with the opening of the Iwate Museum of Art (currently hosting a Frank Stella exhibition; see review on Page 9), its namesake town this year celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Iwate Town International Stone Symposium.

The symposium was founded by local artist Taka’aki Saito, a graduate of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Geidai). Born into a wealthy family, Saito, who died in 1985, used his own money to found the symposium. With his friend Minoru Nizuma, a respected Japanese-American sculptor, he organized the first symposium in 1973. Over 30 years, 81 Japanese and 53 foreign artists visited this small town for six weeks during the summer to create a work from a boulder of locally-found black granite.

“This town calls itself a ‘sculpture town,’ we’ve made a commitment to sculpture,” says Hironori Katagiri, a sculptor based here who is one of the four artists participating this year.

“These kinds of symposia were quite popular in Japan in the 1970s and ’80s. They were city-based and prefectural governments paid for them; they were large-scale and created “instant’ sculpture gardens. But how can you keep going? When you’ve got 40 sculptures, do you really need any more? The reason Iwate’s symposium has kept going is that the local people are really behind it. They enjoy the contact with the artists.”

The extent of the local support was made clear when the symposium’s organizing committee appealed to Iwate residents to loan works by past symposium participants for a retrospective exhibition to mark this year’s anniversary. “We had no idea how many pieces were owned locally until we started counting up,” said symposium committee member Kate Thomson. “There were more than 100, of which we’re showing around 50.”

Besides Katagiri, the vice president of the committee, this year’s participants — Norwegian wood-sculptor John Auden Hauge, Romanian Todor Todorov and Kenichi Mashita from Aichi Prefecture — were chosen from a field of 71 applicants. One of the criteria for selection was experience in collaborative work, since this year’s symposium will, for the first time, produce a single piece — a mixed media work in granite and chestnut.

The work will be installed at an elevated location above Ishigami-no-Oka art museum, itself perched on a hillside overlooking the local shinkansen station and, fittingly, one of the first landmarks to catch the eye of passengers disembarking at this small town of sculpture. The symposium begins July 5 with a lecture by Fram Kitagawa titled “Art for the Global Environment.” Visitors are welcome to watch the work in progress at the sculptors’ open studio; the finished work will be set in place at Ishigami-no-Oka on Aug. 21. On July 27 there will be an all-day soapstone carving workshop, admission 500 yen. For more information, E-mail the symposium committee at sekicho@town.iwate.iwate.jp

In nearby Morioka, Kate Thomson is showing recent works in black granite and white marble. Free-standing sculptures and works such as the wall-mounted “Seven Days” series explore relationships between form, space and time, as experienced across different cultures.

Thomson, who participated in the Iwate sculpture symposium in 1997, also exhibits her newest pieces, “Where is the Fourth Dimension?” These layer interlocking shapes to play with the boundaries between two and three dimensions, and ask “is time linear?”