Shrooms and Typhoons: “The Earth without art is just Eh”

In September, we were lucky enough to visit Naoshima Island, Japan’s infamous ‘Art Island’.

The island is home to an extensive collection of artwork owned by the Benesse Group. The collection includes six of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’, David Hockney pieces, striking architecture from Tadao Ando, and unique mushroom sculptures from Yamoi Kusama.

The long weekend was full of weirdness. There was a large and slow moving typhoon approaching from the south throughout the week leading up to the trip. This cast a certain amount of uncertainty over our journey, as we needed to travel from mainland Kagawa prefecture by ferry to Naoshima. Dan and I travelled halfway to the island on the Friday evening, and enjoyed a great evening in the little known city of Fukuyama, where we ate the best burgers in all of Japan. (It is, of course, impossible to prove this…but they were incredible!)

The morning of the trip dawned in sunshine, so all was looking good. After further travel we arrived on the island around 3pm and visited the incredible Chichu Art Museum straight from the ferry. I am not usually a fan on museums as I feel they can lack a sense of fun as you witness beautiful art through glass, always at a controlled distance (I do understand WHY this needs to be the case…). Well, Chichu was a piece of art itself. It is hard to describe the beauty of the space, but it was truly unique and housed some incredible pieces. The Monet’s took my breath away as they were enclosed in a white space with curved white walls and a white floor, lit only by natural lighting. The sculptures of Walter De Maria in a room shrouded with gold pillars, was breathtaking. (This was made more so by the museum employee who had been standing still for too long and so was gently, but very noticeably, swaying from side to side.) The beautiful space led you on from room to room. Overall, the Chichu Art Museum is an experience I will never forget! And one I hope to repeat in the future.

We finished Saturday off with a trip to Benesse House, which is a very high class hotel, and art musuem further north on this tiny island. Here we enjoyed more unique art installations from the likes of David Hockney, and battled the pre-typhoon winds to get there and back. We crammed a lot in on the Saturday, as it was clear, by the missing famous “Yellow Pumpkin”, that a typhoon was really coming. In fact, the museum had tucked the pumpkin away in a safe place, as a few years ago a big typhoon had caused the pumpkin to come loose and float out to sea. Imagine being the fishermen that found it…Saturday was concluded with a very surreal meal at a local restaurant. Here, confused looking foreign exchange students served us, on an island most tourists had now abandoned for the main land. It was at this point we decided we were living inside a Lewis Carroll novel!

Sunday dawned with initial disappointment that the typhoon had not miraculously passed in the night. We decided to be sensible and seek out a supermarket for supplies, as it was clear we would be forced to cook at ‘home’ on this holiday! On Saturday, the phone alerts started in earnest. Every hour we were reminded we were in mortal danger from floods, landslides and strong winds. Well, all ferries were cancelled, so we were really trapped! We decided to roll with it and explored a few more of the ‘always open even in a typhoon’ art sculptures of the island, including the giant red pumpkin at the main port. We posed for a few album covers and took a drive on the increasingly dangerous roads. By 3pm on Sunday it was clear she was coming, and we locked ourselves in and hoped for the best. As it turned out the typhoon passed right across poor little Naoshima. It was a little scary in parts, but the island stood strong with only a five minute blackout and little in the way of real damage. Monday dawned, a beautiful, fresh and sunny day!

Before our departure on Monday we took in the sites of the ‘Art House Project’ which is a series of houses around the port area that have been turned into unique art installations. We found ourselves bemused at a space with a large water pool full of aggressively flashing numbers. Dan, Brittany and Mitch, then moved onto a rather profound ‘let their be light’ style piece, which slowly introduced light to the surroundings. Lauren and I took a walk to the old dentists, which has been transformed into a boat beneath the sea. It also included a large two floor Statue of Liberty. Well, why not.

It was another great weekend spent with great friends on in a place I will never forget. The typhoon certainly added more drama to an experience I am certain would have already been full of drama. I appreciate art now more than I ever have; “The Earth without art is just Eh”.

Thanks Naoshima.

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