An Archipelago of Precariousness at the Yokohama Trienniale

The work installed in the Yokohama Triennial demonstrate that issues of crisis regarding nationalism, poverty, the fallout of war, and natural disasters should evoke our concern.

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Unlike the recent trend in biennales and triennales to bombard the audience with works by numerous artists, the sixth edition of the Yokohama TriennaleIslands, Constellations, and Galapagos, comprises merely 38 artists and one makeshift collective. Meant to work as a “constellation or an archipelago of small solo exhibitions,” as stated in the press release, this scaled-down presentation explores two key themes of “connectivity,” and “isolation,” that first came into play when in 1859 the small port city of Yokohama began trading with the West and connected the isolated constellation of Japan’s islands with rest of the world.

With a focus on art driven by crisis, the Yokohama Museum of Art, and the two well chosen historical venues — the Red Brick Warehouse No. 1, and the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall — displays most of the works in which artists mine current and historical events to level indictments as well as reappraise the precariousness of contemporary conditions. Housed in the Red Brick Warehouse No. 1, Berlin-based Christian Jankowski’s performative video and photographs in “Heavy Weight History,” (2013), showcases professional wrestlers in Warsaw who were invited to remove behemoth, bronze statues of Communist era historical figures such as Ludwik Warynski. Accompanied by the humorous banter of a reality TV host who questions the participants about the relevance of the statues, the wrestlers’ immense physical struggle also seems weighed down by the burden of history. This piece echoes current discussions taking place in the US about the importance of public sculptures, and reflects both Jankowski’s and the Triennale’s intention to initiate socially collaborative endeavors to reexamine history.

The emergence of repressed narratives converted the warehouse from a repository of stored information to a space for nurturing catharsis. Seo Natsumi’s collected typed responses from survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings displayed within vitrines placed in a dimly lit corridor reveal how victims never discussed the outcome of the war or what they had experienced. Adjacent to Jankowski’s work, Muneteru Ujino recreates his brilliant musical sculpture, “Plywood Shinichi,” (2017), first made in 2008 for an exhibition in Berlin. Made up of household goods and hybrid, self-made musical instruments laid out on crates, Ujino appears to explore an equally sensitive subject. In an accompanying video, the artist discusses the influence of American machinery manufactured in Japan on his work as he drives around US military bases on the outskirts of Tokyo. One suspects that the cacophonic sounds emitted from the installation that are as compelling as they are dissonant, reflect the artist’s complex emotions vis-à-vis the role of America in Japan.

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