Celebrating 150 years of Japan-Denmark diplomatic relations
Benesse Art Site Naoshima's activities presented at symposium in Denmark on the theme of "Regional Development through Architecture, Nature and Art"

The experiences and learnings from 30 years of developing Benesse Art Site Naoshima on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea were at the core of a series of high-profile symposiums held on June 6 and 7 in Denmark on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Denmark, which is being celebrated throughout 2017 in both countries under the patronage of the Danish and Japanese Crown Princes. Hosted jointly by the Danish Agency for Culture, the Danish Arts Foundation and the two leading architecture schools of Denmark (The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Schools of Architecture, Design and Conservation and Aarhus School of Architecture) the symposiums aimed to reflect on the overall theme of "Regional Development through Architecture, Nature and Art", learning from the specific model developed at Benesse Art Site Naoshima and discussing possible scenarios for the future.

Welcome address by Mr. Kim Herforth Nielsen (Chairman of the Danish Arts Foundation's Committee for Architecture) at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts symposium on June 6

The symposium at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen on June 6 was opened by a keynote lecture by Mr. Soichiro Fukutake, founder and president of Benesse Art Site Naoshima, in front of an audience of 150 high-ranking guests invited to participate in the event and including some of Denmark's most prominent architects, artists and city planners as well as politicians and representatives from major Danish foundations. Mr. Fukutake explained the context, stepping stones and core philosophy leading to the gradual development of the art site, insisting on the importance to nurture happy and vibrant local communities and on the instrumental role that art and architecture play to realize this vision on the islands of the Seto Inland Sea.

Mr. Soichiro Fukutake (President, Benesse Art Site Naoshima) answering a question from symposium moderator Mr. Kent Martinussen (CEO, Danish Architecture Center)
Symposium participant capturing a slide explaining the "Naoshima Method"

Three further speakers from Japan then presented their practice-based insights and personal contributions to Benesse Art Site Naoshima. Artist Shinro Ohtake offered in a vivid speech his recollections about the works he produced on the islands of Naoshima, Megijima and Teshima for the past 25 years, and spoke of his relation to the place, his interactions with the islands' inhabitants, how the local context stimulated his imagination and describing the notion of how making the most of "what's already there" permeated his thoughts and creative process throughout the years.

Mr. Shinro Ohtake speaking about the process leading to the creation of his work Naoshima Bath "I♥湯"

Architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, then presented his own contribution to the art site focusing on his core concept of "moving materials" (water, sun and wind) and how his multi-year surveys leading to the construction of the Inujima Seirensho Art Museum and the realization of The Naoshima Plan taught him about wisdom inherited from past centuries which he strives to convey to future generations in a contemporary architectural language through his self-sustaining structures.

Mr. Hiroshi Sambuichi presenting the results of his multi-year survey conducted in the framework of the Naoshima Plan

Architect Kazuyo Sejima concluded the morning lectures by presenting the structures built by herself and SANAA co-founder Ryue Nishizawa on the islands of Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima. She explained how her long-term commitment to the island of Inujima - including the Inujima "Art House Project", but also recent developments such as the Inujima Life Garden as well as future plans for the island - brought her to perceive the island in its entirety as an architectural whole and realize that everyone can and should contribute to the building of society no matter what the scale of their engagement.

Ms. Kazuyo Sejima explaining the architectural projects developed to date in the Seto Inland Sea region

During the afternoon the spotlight then shifted on examples from Denmark, including presentations by architect Bjarke Ingels, artist Olafur Eliasson (who is showing his work Self-loop at the Inujima "Art House Project" I Art House since last autumn) and case studies from leading Danish foundations.

Mr. Olafur Eliasson speaking about the possibilities opened up by art in the development of inclusive communities

A thematic round table discussion ensued inviting participants from Denmark to reflect on effective ways of implementing regional development initiatives in the Danish context.

Discussions among round table participants in Copenhagen

Ms. Mette Bock, Minister for Culture of Denmark, who visited Naoshima earlier this year, concluded the discussions by stressing that the example realized at Benesse Art Site Naoshima of revitalizing local communities by the means of art, architecture and nature represents valuable inspiration also for her country.

Denmark's Minister for Culture, Ms. Mette Bock, presenting her conclusive remarks after the round table discussions in Copenhagen.

A second iteration of the presentations by the Japanese speakers then took place the following morning in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city and one of two European Capitals of Culture in 2017, in front of a broader audience including also the general public, who was invited to participate in the afternoon debates following presentations by Danish artist Søren Taaning, architects Poul Høilund and Kristine Jensen as well as Danish foundations.

Full-house also at the Aarhus School of Architecture symposium on June 7

Synchronously to the symposiums, Aarhus also witnessed the first edition of the ARoS Triennial. In Copenhagen, two exhibitions currently present the work of Hiroshi Sambuichi, including a retrospective of his architectural practice in the Seto Inland Sea region held at the Danish Architecture Center which surveys also his realizations on Inujima and Naoshima. The second exhibition is an installation inside the Cisternerne Museum in Frederiksberg, a former underground water reservoir, which was visited by the Crown Prince of Japan on June 18.

Exhibition view of Hiroshi Sambuichi's "The Water" exhibition at Cisternerne
(photo:Jens Markus Lindhe)

The two days symposium program was an excellent occasion to deepen the ties between a keen community of Danish thinkers and doers and Benesse Art Site Naoshima. In return for the warm welcome received, we will also host a delegation from Denmark to the Benesse Art Site Naoshima islands later this October, a report thereof will follow on this blog.

(Unless indicated otherwise, all photographs by Zevegraf - Oscar Haumann)

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