“The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky.” This is the first line from Nobel Prize winning author Yasunari Kawabata’s novel Snow Country (Yukiguni). I was thinking about this line on the train from Tokyo to Echigo Yuzawa, even though it was in the middle of summer. In Japan the Echigo Tsumari area is known as a region of major rice production and heavy snowfall. As the Director, Fram Kitagawa, says the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial was started in 2000 to encourage growth in the area with the use of contemporary art, addressing the serious depopulation issue in the area. This year they launched the fourth edition.
Artists who were experienced in exhibiting in spaces more complicated than the simple white cube, helped to create works that were specifically tailored to the venue. In addition, the venues of the Echigo Tsumari Triennial were not compacted onto one another, allowing the audience’s eyes time to refresh before arriving at the next venue. Unlike many other biennales and triennials, this triennial could be described as a collection of solo exhibitions rather than a single group exhibition. The Echigo Tsumari Triennial is also unique in that the local residents were more heavily involved and many volunteers from within Japan around the world, called Kohebi-tai (literary meaning 'Small snakes party') collaborated with artists. The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennial had drawn the attention of various people and provided a space to open dialogue about art, not only in the context of art, but also with the rest of society.