REVIEW | Symbiosis: Living Island – Japan House London

Opening today at Japan House London is Symbiosis: Living Island, a fascinating look into the Inujima ‘Art House Project’ which, for the past 13 years, has used art and architecture to rejuvenate the small Japanese island of Inujima, just south of Okayama in the Seto Inland Sea.

It is the brainchild of Hasegawa Yuko, artistic director at the 21 Century Museum of Contemporary Art, and the architect Sejima Kazuyo.

London, England, Uk, 16 May 2022 – Symbiosis exhibition at Japan House London

Evoking an island tour, the exhibition features international artworks which were once shown in Inujima’s five pavilions (exhibition galleries), as well as architectural models for buildings on the island. In the centre of the room is a large diorama of the island, complemented on one wall by Homma Takashi’s photographs from the Inujima Landscapes series (2009).

The whole thing is a bit like a mini Venice Biennale. Primarily consisting of video works, each offers some insight into the holistic and sustainable lifestyle of Inujima’s residents, who also voluntarily provide tours and workshops to visitors. On the more creative side, I was captivated by the narrative tale in Jun Nyuyen-Hatsushiba’s video The Master and the Slave: Inujima Monogatari (2013), which incidentally features the island’s now-abandoned quarries.

London, England, Uk, 16 May 2022 – Symbiosis exhibition at Japan House London

As for the architectural models, the integration of man-made structures with the natural environment and materials is clear. Situated in the Inujima Life Garden is a stainless steel café which reflects the botanical garden landscape around it. Within the island’s central hub, two empty buildings were renovated to better integrate their gardens, sometimes removing sections of wall. Meanwhile, upstairs is a partial replica of Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes’ Yellow Flower Dream (2018), where vibrant floral motifs act like stained-glass windows, enlivening anyone and anything near it.

London, England, Uk, 16 May 2022 – Symbiosis exhibition at Japan House London

This exhibition has the rare effect of being able to convey Japanese rural society seamlessly and ordinarily. Through interviews and visual imagery, one can really feel the residents’ love of living life in the present, whether they be cultivating crops, reading newspapers, or conversing with strangers. It’s a really humbling experience.

Symbiosis: Living Island runs until 4 September 2022, free entry, https://www.japanhouselondon.uk/.

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