Transforming through art

 May 20, 2019

Chichu Art Museum | Photo: Seiichi Ohsawa

A unique example in Japan showing how art has the power to transform and elevate a once forgotten and remote, industrial area into a spiritually fulfilling and blooming part of our world.

According to a Japanese concept, when one follows their Ikigai, their “raison d’etre”, the reason to be, to live and to wake up every morning, new opportunities and new beginnings happen.

This is what Soichiro Fukutake, the former head and today’s Honorary Advisor of Benesse Holdings, Inc. - Latin for well-being - (a conglomerate which provides education, language training, and senior care education) and the chairman of the Board of the Fukutake Foundation (supports art, science and regional Japanese culture) followed, when in the 80s he had a vision to create something special on the south eastern islands of the Seto Inland Sea in Japan.

„By harmonising (the art, architecture, and nature), the message emanating from an artwork can then be felt very strongly.“
says Soichiro Fukutake
chairman of the Board of the Fukutake Foundation

The countless islands were losing inhabitants, fading into a forgotten land and with industrial waste damaging the natural environment. The young people were leaving the rural area to big cities and the industries in the islands and neighboring areas were emitting pollution and leaving their waste behind in the surrounding natural habitat.

Fukutake felt the necessity to bring about change to the community by restoring and preserving the natural environment through art. To make Fukutake’s visions come true, Pritzker Prize-winning architect, Tadao Ando joined him with his own minimalist and clear-cut designs.

“You need to focus on the artwork itself, the architecture built around it, and the surrounding environment.” says Fukutake in The Peak Magazine.

These two exceptional persons in their own fields put their best and highest intentions and resources together to realize and create what is today called the Art Islands in Japan.

“When I visited this place for the first time in 1988, with Soichiro Fukutake, the owner of Benesse Art Site Naoshima, he expressed a desire to transform Naoshima into an island that would be synonymous with art and culture, while protecting the Seto Inland Sea and the surrounding landscape. I hesitated because, in all honesty, at the time, the Seto Inland Sea was very polluted and Naoshima was a treeless, barren landscape. But Fukutake had so much faith in the project that I decided to come on board.

Today, I am very proud of what we have achieved. I wanted to put the accent on nature, which is why I designed subterranean buildings in the middle of the forest.” describes Tadao Ando in his interview to Architonic Magazine.

Teshima Art Museum | Photo: Ken'ichi Suzuki

The art projects developed and spread to the other two islands nearby to Inujima and Teshima. By connecting these naturally rich islands through contemporary art, Fukutake built up an example of how art as a process can break down barriers, uplifting communities and boosting diversity with acceptance.

It is an exceptional project also because of how art pieces, installations and sites can be enjoyed outside the walls of galleries and museums in an untraditional way. Art and the supporting architecture blends with nature, giving back the essence of beauty, which is so essential to all humans.

“I was born in a rather rural area, so I love nature,” explains Fukutake in an interview in the Magazine of Architectural Digest. “So rather than installing art in white cube museums, I like to install art in nature, art with strong messages, contemporary art especially, and find the right environment and the right architecture.”

Art House Project “Kadoya” Tatsuo Miyajima Sea of Time ’98" | Photo: Ken'ichi Suzuki

By turning the nature and given landscape into art a chain of transformation followed each other. Younger people started to move to the islands itself, the surrounding nature has been cleaned and preserved, the contemporary art projects and the Setouchi Triennale, an art festival in the Seto Inland Sea, are spreading their individual messages, giving new opportunities to emerging artists and the regions have been reviving ever since.

Fukutake considers himself a regional entrepreneur, he is a supporter however of a new form of philanthropic capitalism that he calls “public interest capitalism,” whereby money should not be the only aim of any economic activity.

“The economy should be a servant to culture. I believe that if economic prosperity is made the only objective, then people will ultimately become unhappy. I believe that the economy exists to create good communities where people can find happiness” he explains.

Fukutake’s concept is about corporations that establish foundations to promote culture and regional community development. The foundations would use dividends to promote culture and the arts, giving back to society.

Through this approach art can be a major actor and a vehicle for development and transformation at large.

Walter De Maria ‘Time/Timeless/No Time’ 2004 | Photo: Michael Kellough

The story of these Art Islands provide a unique and admirable example of how to bring the best out of what we have, what already exists with respect for the existing cultural and environmental landscape. It also shows how art has the power of bringing out the individual uniqueness of a place, supporting its diversity and bringing at the same time people and nature together.

„To share with you my personal view, contemporary art should not be just something that people collect or invest for speculative purposes. We don’t do that; I don’t do that.“
says Soichiro Fukutake
chairman of the Board of the Fukutake Foundation says in the Magazine Architectural Digest

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