From a Western perspective, Japan lies on the furthest cusp of the Far East, and Europeans were fascinated by this exotic and mysterious Eastern nation. In the Book of the Marvels of the World, Marco Polo describes Japan as “a land of gold,” yet it seems the Western attraction to Japan was less motivated by material considerations, and more by its unique culture. Just what is “culture”? It could be defined as the energy that empowers life. The strength of culture lies in its ability to produce new values, thus adding richness and depth to life. In global society, financial power tends to be more tangible, but in the future, culture and tradition will likely prove to be far more powerful . The Japanese have always been exposed to a natural environment full of beauty, with a visible change in seasons that fostered a delicate sensibility. Art forms such as Kabuki, Bunraku, and ukiyo-e soon emerged, all of which were inexorably intertwined with the lives of the common people, eventually developing into a mass culture that is rarely found anywhere else in the world.
This unique Japanese aesthetic has had a profound effect on many artists in the West, including Monet and other Impressionists. Japan has also pioneered forms of written literature that are entirely unique. Haiku, represented by the master Matsuo Basho, is an example of the unique Japanese sensibility contained within three lines of five, seven, and five syllables, and expresses the beauty of the natural landscape and a profound depth of human sensibility. In France, these Japanese art forms roused much public interest, attracting the name japonisme. France, the mecca of art, also had great influence on Japanese artists. The cultural relationship between Japan and France has had a profound influence on the cultural development in both nations and endures to this day.
This year, in commemoration of the 160th anniversary of Japanese and French diplomatic relations, Japonismes 2018 will be held in Paris. The program includes an exhibition that begins in October at the Centre Pompidou, with displays about Naoshima Art Island and the Church of the Light in Ibaraki. The goal of the Naoshima project was not simply to create an art museum, but rather to install art that interacted with the natural surroundings, as well as to stimulate the region’s economy. To reach Naoshima, a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, one must take a ferry from one of the main islands of the Japanese archipelago. When the project was first conceptualized in 1988, I was concerned that nobody would ever come to visit the island due to its inaccessibility. Now, the location is widely acclaimed as an “art island” and attracts over 400,000 visitors annually. For thirty years now, we have been developing the island and creating new pieces of architecture while remaining faithful to the original concept of maintaining the natural Setouchi scenery by building the architectural pieces to fit into their natural surroundings. As a result, all the projects on the island could only be created in their current locations. Naoshima Island allows people to step away from everyday life and really think about the meaning of life. With many lessons drawn from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which have developed in tandem with nature, the project is the fruition of the desire to create a place where architecture, artwork, and nature all come together. For the Church of the Light, I thought hard about light and shadow —a constant theme in traditional Japanese architecture. Light and shadow is the source of all life, and it occurred to me that I could draw on those concepts to create a place for the spirit to rest. Taking a simple box-shaped room of bare concrete and creating a cross-shaped opening for the light to enter, I was able to make the space transform as time progressed, changing its expression from moment to moment. The deep darkness adds brilliance to the cross of light when it shines. In the darkness, the light becomes a guide, drawing people to gather to pray. People come together seeking the light and use it to communicate with one another. It is a space with unshakeable power and a profound ephemeral quality. The exhibition will explore how the different pieces of architecture were developed and customized to their specific location, with reference to these particular examples.
My first exhibition in Paris was in 1982, at the IFA (Institut Français d’Architecture), and I am extremely honored to have the opportunity to exhibit again in the city, in this most commemorative year.
October 10 – December 31, 2018
Tadao Ando was born in Osaka in 1941. He is a self-taught architect and, in 1969, set up his own design studio, Tadao Ando Architects and Associates. His best-known buildings include the Church of the Light, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, and the Punta della Dogana. His numerous awards include the Architectural Institute of Japan Award in 1979 for his Row House in Sumiyoshi, the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1995, the Union Internationale des Architectes (UIA) Gold Medal in 2005, and the Japanese Order of Culture in 2010. Since 1997, he has worked as a Professor at the University of Tokyo, where he is currently Professor Emeritus. In 2000, he established the Setouchi Olive Fund to help restore damaged natural resources in the Seto Inland Sea region, and in 2011, became the chair of the Momo-Kaki Orphans Fund to aid those orphaned by the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.