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Nation sets out to change village landscape
Last Updated: 2018-10-26 09:46 | China Daily
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The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, the world's largest art festival that spans 200 villages in northwestern Japan's Niigata prefecture, closed at the end of last month, but its influence is still being felt in China.

Fram Kitagawa, the festival's founder, received more than 10 invitations from China recently to give lectures on the festival, which is held every three years and has attracted more than 2.3 million visitors to the remote mountainous area since 2000.

Labeled "the art festival of earth", it invites celebrated artists worldwide to create works in sprawling rural areas, including rice paddies, schools that have been closed and empty houses.

Hundreds of works by well-known artists scattered among villages attract not only visitors, but have also sparked a revival in rural areas that are populated mainly by the elderly and children.

The festival's influence has extended its reach to Chinese art circles. Dozens of art events and festivals have been held or planned in villages since the start of this year.

Most are initiated by curators and artists asking the same question--can China stage a similar event in rural areas to revitalize its "empty villages"?

Sui Jianguo, dean of the sculpture department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, said: "The Echigo-Tsumari art festival is a very successful way to solve the problem of empty villages in Japan. China faces the same problem now."

A leading sculptor, Sui's large-scale works can be seen in many cities. But this year, he has received many invitations to create works for art events in remote villages.

This month, Sui completed his art residency project in Shijiezi, a poor village in Northwest China's Gansu province, which some people never leave due to poverty and poor transportation.

The village was transformed into an art space, with each of its 13 houses functioning as small galleries through collaboration between artists and villagers.

Sui is a judge for a competition aimed at supporting artists to produce tailored works to be installed in the vast mountainous village district of Lishui, near Nanjing, capital of East China's Jiangsu province.

Bamboo forests, rice terraces, mountains covered by tea plants, and vacant factories in Lishui, where dozens of villages are located, have been recommended as exhibition spaces for artists. The project aims to use the power of art to attract tourists, as the Japanese art festival did when it was launched in 2000.

Sui said the popularity of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial among Chinese artists and the rise in the number of art events being held in rural villages in China can largely be attributed to the emphasis on rural revitalization.

For the past decade, rural construction and revitalization have been at the top of the central government's agenda as it aims to inject new energy into "empty villages". President Xi Jinping made rural revitalization a priority for governments at all levels at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China last year.

"Many artists are joining the trend to find creative ways to become involved in rural construction. We can find more interesting ways than the Japanese art festival," Sui said.

Villagers migrate

Tian Ye, an artist who works in Beijing and Paris, became involved in rural revival this year in his home village of Tianjiatang, a remote location about 200 kilometers from Yinchuan, capital of Northwest China's Ningxia Hui autonomous region.

"You can't imagine how poor it is if you have never seen it in person," Tian said.

The village, which is home to 24 families, including the artist's brothers, uncles and some other relatives, was without electricity until 2005.

Villagers mainly plant rice and corn. The infertile soil has forced many of them to move to cities to make a living, and according to one local joke, farming a vast field for one year can only produce a hatful of rice.

Tian decided to save the village through art, as he has become influential in the artistic community.

He helped to renovate houses in the village that were in poor condition. Next, he intends to build an art space, a library, a theater, a health clinic and an art school as part of a highly ambitious plan that will take several years to complete.

In March, construction of the art space began. The work attracted about 500 people, most of them from nearby villages. Tian said Tianjiatang had not seen so many people gather together for many years.

"Everyone is excited and expects to learn about the outside world through art, although they have little idea of what art is," he added.

Tian has lived in France for 10 years and his work includes oil paintings, sculptures and installations.

He plans to invite friends, writers, musicians and performers to visit his home village for artistic activities that can help locals to improve their global knowledge, and also to attract tourists.

Tian, curator of the Western China International Art Biennial, which was launched in 2010, said he will bring the biennial to the village, which has a history of more than 1,000 years.

Tianjiatang, which lacks beautiful scenery and cultural relics, has its work cut out to attract tourists. But Tian said its history makes it stand apart from newly built cities in China.

Clay walls, which can be seen throughout the village, are hundreds of years old, making it "a history museum" he said of Tianjiatang's appeal to artists.

Since the start of this year, Tian has travelled to the village frequently. He decided to set up his art studio there, a space that can also be used by other artists to create works in the future.

"I return to my village for two simple reasons: to let my people earn money by offering services for future visitors and to let them learn about the outside world," he said at his studio in Beijing.

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Nation sets out to change village landscape
Source:China Daily | 2018-10-26 09:46
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