The Koebi-Tai Diaries (21 July to 14 August 2016)
3週間、こえび活動に参加していた フゥイ がブログを書いてくれました。
Huay- the Singaporean in Japan
I am a budding lighting designer and I am interested in the collaboration of Nature and Art. Setouchi Art Festival 2016 became my learning ground.
I came to know about the Setouchi Art Festival through a conversation with an artist in Singapore. I was interested in the collaboration of nature and art and I went to research further into the festival. A guest speaker in my graduate school spoke about the pieces from Chichu Museum in her lecture and that made me want to spend a substantial amount of time with the festival. I read about the Koebi Tai programme and I thought it would be a good opportunity to understand the artwork, space, nature and islands.
The day starts early where the Koebi team will gather at 7.15am for the day’s briefing and notes. The high energy of the staff members leading the Koebi Team will keep our energies pumping for the day! We will then take a ferry or high-speed boat to the islands we are assigned to for the day. The works and islands are assigned randomly and it is pretty exciting to anticipate what our next Koebi task may be; which is made known to us every night for the next day. For the day’s duties, we could be assigned to an artwork to be a receptionist or to help out as a service crew at different islands’ restaurants or cafes. Not knowing Japanese, I had to decipher the handbooks through Google translate and figure out the equipment around the space to get the artwork going. If it were a complex configuration, the staff leader would render help to start the day.
Moments to remember
I have had some interesting experiences as a Koebi-Tai doing reception. At one of the installations, Tetsuko’s room by Tetsuya Yamamoto, I did a small photo shoot with the performer playing Tetsuko and thereby I gained deeper understanding of the concept and idea behind this piece of work. It might have been very different if my role was a visitor where I may never consider doing a photo shoot.
For one of the Koebi-Tai tasks, we were sent to Honjima to assist in the work of Siebold Garden by Yutaka Kawaguchi and Kaori Naito, aimed to open in the autumn season. We were gardeners for the day, helping to clear weeds and grasses. It was such a hot day that we had to take a rest every 15 minutes. It was hard work, but rewarding. At the end of the day, seeing the plants and flowers sway in the wind in a neater garden, it is their way of saying thanks for clearing away the weeds for they can breathe better now.
I am honoured that I had the chance to work at Shima Kitchen (Teshima) designed by Japanese architect Ryo Abe and Café Shiyoru (Oshima). These are the two places that I will remember fondly as a Koebi- Tai. These spaces are made for the people, by the people. It is a combination of art, food and life. An artwork is made; a business sustained and lives changed. I am touched and inspired by this collaboration of efforts to make these spaces meaningful. It is pure pleasure to dine and experience the natural space and spirit that Shima Kitchen embodies. Local produce on Teshima is used in the restaurant dishes.
There are voices on Oshima that she wants the world to know. Director of the Art for the Hospital Project, Nobuyuki Takahashi, puts these voices in perspective and created installations in the once-inhabited rooms of the former Hansen’s disease sanatorium on Oshima Island. Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy) patients were quarantined onto this island from 1909 and only had its ban lifted in 1996. This is a concerted effort to bring about liveliness to a 101 year old island that only started opening up to visitors in 2010 because of the efforts from the Setouchi Art Festival. Residents on the island are former patients of the Hansen’s disease, aged 70 and above. Activities continue on the island even after the end of the art festival; time needed for the healing of the body may be short, but the healing of the heart is a lifelong project. It is meaningful for me to be working in Café Shiyoru, where I hope to bring about a smile to someone else’s day.
One of the activities that were planned for my Koebi schedule was to assist the artist Noe Aoki in her annual activity of serving fresh fruits and watermelons (suica) to passersby at the Karato-no Shimizu (Spring water at Karato) which is beside her artwork, Particles in the Air (2010). It is her tribute to the space every triennale and I am honoured to be part of this performance activity this year. Through her efforts, she hopes to bring joy and smiles to local residents and passersby in this once crowded communal space.
As volunteers for the Teshima Matsuri, we were given different tasks to complete. We had to present a dance to the song Ebikanikusu for the pre-celebration event. It was a lovely atmosphere to be in, soaking in the glorious food smells and listening to the cacophony of sounds from the excited crowd at the Matsuri.
I was tasked to do water balloon yoyos for one of the game stalls where people can come to fish out balloon yoyos in a huge pool of water. We became professionals to do these water balloons after making them throughout the Matsuri. It was a joy to watch children walk away with these prized possessions and it is the greatest appreciation we could have had for our sweat and labour.
I also had the chance to take part in the Bon-dance procession, where it is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It was a great experience to take part in the dance. We danced and moved in a circle. There is a sense of solidarity and solemnity to observe and enjoy.
The day ended with a great showing of fireworks over the sky of Teshima.
Man and Nature and Art
I live in fast-paced Singapore and visiting nature is almost an activity that comes once in a blue moon. In my time as a Koebi-Tai, I visit the islands 5 days a week. The cicadas, birds and bees come to greet me everyday.
It is lovely to observe and listen how these nature workers work their way in nature and the rich soundscape they bring to me every single time. I am away from the city that always has endless drilling and construction noises. I experience great peace with the lovely environment I am in everyday.
As a Koebi Tai, we spend at least 7 hours with an artwork. Nature is shifting all the time as the sun, plants and flowers go through their day’s processes. We get to observe the sun’s movement in relation to the artwork and if we are attentive enough, we might catch the unique perspectives that the sun has to offer with at different times of the day.
On the islands, sometimes there is distance to travel from artwork to artwork. As I put this in context, it occurred to me that accessibility and comfort is limited when we are working with Nature. We do not have comfortable, straight roads to travel on; they offer us steep slopes, winding paths and raw elements of nature. The summer heat, insect bites and dirt is what we have to deal with. There is a lot for me to learn how to live in peace with nature, especially since I am living in a city where convenience is at my fingertips. How can I engage nature in a deeper way in my home city Singapore?
It is beautiful to be part of the landscape on the islands without the aggression of skyscrapers and moving crowds. We marvel everyday at the natural beauty that the islands have to offer. In a space where nature has so much to offer, I can only humble myself to experience and enjoy the rhythms, tempo, sounds, smells, temperature, shadows, trees, flowers, water, air. Nature comes first and the artwork comes second.
Winding down for the day
At the end of the day back in the Koebi-Tai dormitory, I meet people from all walks of life who have come to volunteer for the love of fun, art and nature. I have met a merger and acquisition consultant, a skin products researcher, a physiologist, an illustrator, an art festival researcher and many more. In the hours leading to lights-off, it is relaxation time where there are always will be round table gatherings to share stories about the day’s happenings.
Children with their parents who have decided to do Koebi-Tai never fail to make my day. Their enthusiasm and energy is something I look forward to everyday.
We received great hospitality from Yoko-san and Michi-san in the Koebi dormitory and they have been great hosts to ensure everything in the dormitory is functioning properly. Yoko-san thoughtfully cooks rice and dishes and offer them for free in the dormitory. Their friendliness has helped everyone from different countries to get together and interact.
Whenever there were past/present Koebi Tai passing through the exhibition, they will never fail to give you warm smiles and thank you for doing the work. The act of appreciation goes a long way and I am glad as Koebi Tai, we get recognition from fellow volunteers.
The experience as a Koebi Tai has been a tiring but fulfilling one. The language barrier was challenging and there was a limit to how much I could share my thoughts with visitors. I am reduced to essential Japanese words and body language to communicate but it was sufficient for the reception service we had to offer to the patrons. It also helped that sometimes we are paired with a Japanese Koebi-Tai to answer questions from Japanese speaking and non-Japanese speaking patrons.
It is important to keep an open mind and heart and to go forth to find adventure as a Koebi-Tai. I have collected moving memories, philosophies of nature and artists, space, sounds, light, smells and my list continue.
“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”-Forrest Gump