Okayama Art Summit 2022, “Do we dream under the same sky”

Jason Waite

December 13, 2022
Okayama Art Summit, Okayama
September 30–November 27, 2022

The main venue for this year’s Okayama Art Summit, directed by Rirkrit Tiravanija, is a 1930s elementary school that has been vacant for the past twenty years. It is therefore surprising to encounter swarms of uniformed middle-school students circulating around the grounds as part of a school trip; then again, an uncanny sense of historical repetition is a hallmark of this edition of the triennial.

Take Cambodian artist Vandy Rattana’s “MONOLOGUE Trilogy” (2015–19). This three-screen installation opens an oneiric portal to the lush forests of Kâmpŭchéa, still haunted by the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities. Rattana’s poetic grappling with the loss under that regime of his own sister, whom he never met, unfurls with images of the artist wading through the overgrown landscape, punctuated by slow shots of fantastical rituals invented to establish a connection to the land and its textures. The durational melancholy that results contrasts with the abundance of nonhuman life that fills the frame. An intricately woven cinematic tapestry, “MONOLOGUE Trilogy” decelerates time. Its slow, haunted temporality permeates the rest of the summit.

Upstairs, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s installation The Word Silence Is Not Silence (2022) invites viewers into a small room that features two chairs in front of a blackboard on which appears a paragraph of mirror-writing. Opposite the board is a wall inset with a window through which the rest of classroom is visible—it’s empty, except for a single askew chair and a full-size swan pedal boat, seemingly teleported from the nearby river and marooned on the floor. It fills a large portion of the space with its hulking frame, seeming both playful and worn. The text on the blackboard is legible in the window’s reflection, hovering mid-air like the faint remembrance of a fading dream. A highly accomplished example of Weerasethakul’s ability to extend his film practice into installation, the work seamlessly follows the same logic of spiritual sensitivity and magical realism that infuses his feature-length works.

Elsewhere, Daniel Boyd produces another subtle environmental shift. His work covers a classroom’s windows with perforated vinyl, reminiscent of aboriginal Papunya Tula dot paintings. Individual beams of sunlight stream through myriad small openings, which bring viewer’s attention to the rays of light themselves and cast a mosaic-like pattern onto the floor. Boyd’s own dot paintings, also hung on the walls, form multilayered portraits of people including his maternal great-grandmother, who survived a massacre but was then moved by the Australian government’s “Native Police” to an Anglican mission in Yarrabah. The early twentieth–century classroom setting evokes the disciplinary violence of forced relocation and assimilation.

The tensions between colonization and autonomy also undergird Jua – Sound in the Soundscape (2022). This delicate installation of flags, string, and bamboo shoots activated by the wind was made by the Ho Chi Minh–based collective Art Labor (Thao Nguyen Phan, Truong Cong Tung, and Arlette Quynh-Anh Tran), which collaborates with artists from the Indigenous Jrai community in Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Instead of always waiting for a breeze, a mechanical pulley moving at a slow rhythm triggers the many interdependent instruments, expressing new sonic subtleties each time.

Tiravanija’s focus on poiesis as praxis makes space for different worlds to emerge and for more diverse perspectives than in previous iterations of the summit. Yet despite several brilliant flashes, the approaches can feel similar in tone and the exhibition lacks for connection to the local context. The appointment of Tiravanija continues a line of artistic directors represented by summit co-founder Taro Nasu’s gallery, while Yasuharu Ishikawa remains executive producer despite local opposition over the allegations of sexual misconduct that led him to step down as CEO of the Okayama-based fashion company Stripe International.1 All of which raises the question of who this exhibition serves.

The gaggle of students offers one more hopeful answer, and the outreach to schools indicates the summit is trying to find and address a local audience. Furthermore, the organization is now funded by the city and prefecture, which might encourage future editions to become more embedded in the city and to engage more proactively with the local context. A robust educational and mediation program would help to bring works such as those presented by Tiravanija to new audiences and foster an engaged and self-sustaining public. Here is the potential for Okayama to develop into an institution combining international significance with meaningful impact in the community: one that can both hold itself accountable to its location and broaden its scope of collaborators.


See Mari Fujisaki, “Fashion CEO Admits to Sexual Misconduct, but is Not Punished,” The Asahi Shimbun (March 5, 2020), https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/13188841; and Natsuko Fukushima, “Controversy Brews Over Rirkrit Tiravanija’s ‘Okayama Art Summit’: Who Does the ‘Communication’ Exclude?,” Tokyo Art Beat (Oct 19, 2022), https://www.tokyoartbeat.com/en/articles/-/controversy-brews-over-rirkrit-tiravanijas-okayama-art-summit.

Jason Waite is a curator, writer, and part of the collective Don’t Follow the Wind.

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