Today the Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions (aka Yebizo) opens in Ebisu, the sixth occasion this packed film and video art event has been held. As festival director Hiromi Kitazawa says in the festival catalogue, “the festival focuses on the capacity of images and film expression to reveal the true situation of our time”.
2014′s festival is looking at “true colors”, specifically the myth of a world community and the growing need for humanity to have a way to live that is both global but still rooted in some sort of local identity. Last year PingMag also featured a documentary about mountain communities in Japan, “Ubusuna”, which highlighted a similar trend among certain kinds of people; they are deliberately seeking out ways of life that are local.
With this theme, it comes as no surprise that the programming, handled by a director and several guest programmers and festival curators, features a wealth of screenings about navigating, migrating, technology and cities. While accessible, this is an unashamedly academic festival and includes work by visual anthropology researchers and documentarians, such as Daisuke Bundo and Itsushi Kawase. There is also an artist like Motoyuki Shitamichi, who creates art via fieldwork, actively going out in search of places and objects, and then building on those local identities. He has done this with bunkers and other now disused remnants from the war in Japan. Here his series of photographs is exhibited where he records torii shrine gates around Asia, simultaneously traces of past Japanese colonialism.
And for such an inter-cultural feast of programming, the format is naturally multi-disciplinary. There are screenings as well as free exhibitions of video and photography, plus installations such as one by the Japanese-Korean-Chinese Xijing Men collective creating an immigration checkpoint for a fictional Asian land.
The previous approach to festivals in Japan typically involved a giant “multipurpose cultural hall” (basically, a black box), in which money and effort would be spent to program as much as possible. In recent years things have, belatedly, become more mature, where the organizers attempt to take the festival out into the area around the main venues — turn the festival into something to re-define and facilitate the re-discovery of a locale. Detractors might well question why areas like Ebisu or Roppongi (where the annual art “bonanza” that is the Roppongi Art Night is held) need reinvigorating in the first place, but that is a topic for another article on another day.
Either way, Yebizo has increased its efforts to guide audiences out of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, and explore Ebisu’s many galleries and art venues. There are several off-site projects and satellite events. Coupled with the symposia, lectures, and even a Bon Odori dance-themed shadow theatre event, Yebizo is very much more than just a program of film screenings.
One of the highlights of the festival is the documentary, “Google and the World Brain”, which starts with HG Wells’ vision of a global compendium of knowledge, before then chronicling Google and the Internet Archive’s quest to digitalize the collections of some of the world’s greatest libraries… including books still in copyright. Cue deception, outrage, and law suits. The film tells the story across several continents, taking in America, England, Spain, Germany, France, China and even Japan.
There is a heart-stopping moment in one of the interviews. The clerical custodian of a library at a monastery in Spain is asked about the ethical dilemma whereby the books the Church had allowed Google to scan for free might one day be used for commercial purposes by the Mount View giant. The priest is literally dumbstruck for several seconds, as if, in his naive hope to aid in the dissemination of knowledge, this had never occurred to him.
The documentary itself has some rather annoying quirks in the way it is edited and put together, but many of the interviews are lively and provocative, and the whole themes of digitalization, privacy and information as property (and thus, power) could not be more timely. Text versus screen — this is something we at PingMag have been thinking an awful lot about recently, as we hope you will see the results later this year. As one of the interviewees in “Google and the World Brain” says, “a book is not just an extra long tweet”.
Right now we are living in a mess. The world is in flux. The digitalization of books has engendered both an artistic and legal vortex. Social media and digital platforms offer ways for individuals to be freer than ever before — and also be controlled by corporations and governments more than ever before.
The hope is that if we can weather these storms, then the new equilibrium that presumably emerges, where we balance differences in culture, language and location with these digital trinkets we now have, might just be beautiful. The curators of the Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions believe this surfacing diversity allows us to witness the “true colors” of the contemporary world.
Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2014: True Colors
February 7th – 23rd
Venue: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, et al