Sapporo city in Hokkaido/Japan, is one of the snowiest cities in the world, with an annual average snowfall of 191 inches. Every winter, Sapporo Tenjinyama Art Studio invites international artists to work on »Winter, Snow, and the Subarctic«. Former Solitude fellow Mica Cabildo from tropical Philippines, spent the last winter working with primary schoolchildren in subarctic Sapporo.
Ice and snow are plentiful in subarctic Hokkaido, and sand is plentiful in tropical Philippine islands. I am intrigued by the practice in urban Sapporo of using sand, or coarsely ground gravel from the city rock quarry, for traction on icy streets. Because Japan and the Philippines are both archipelagic, volcanic, and seismic nations, I am drawn to using dust, or »rubble,« as a material metaphor for the two nations’ resilience and cooperation in the face of natural calamities and climate change. For my Artist-in-School project, I wanted to somehow bring sand and ice together.
With the help of Artist-in-School Planning, I spent the first three weeks of my residency researching about what makes ice slippery and how anti-slip material is used. This goal took us to nearby port town of Otaru, then to Sapporo Snow Management Office, and eventually to the Institute of Low Temperature Science in Hokkaido University. Lastly, we visited the Hokkaido Scallop company in Shikabe, where Otaru’s scallop shell sand is produced.
At Sumikawa-Minami Primary School, I was able to work with students during their 20-minute breaks in a span of seven school days. The activities included drawing crystal growth images and making liquid-like »ice drops« by freezing water with crushed scallop shells in plastic egg containers outdoors.
I was allowed to use the courtyard to make a dry garden model of surface melting based on Professor Gen Sazaki’s microscopic images and research. I became fixated on an experimental water structure – I like to call it »fountain« – in the middle of the courtyard, which was buried under two feet of snow. I began thinking of the fountain as a shared community space and an ornamental version of a well or spring, which are crucial to human settlements.
This allowed me to play more with the idea of a fountain crystallized in winter, and to create a memorable experience for children by »melting« the »crystallized« fountain and making it accessible to the school community in a new way. On the last day of my project, we opened the courtyard to the students so they could put their ice drops onto the fountain.
At Tenjinyama Art Studio, I built a half-size model of the fountain using bags of Sapporo anti-slip gravel. My goal was to create an indoor space where visitors can contemplate the physical and conceptual possibilities a frozen fountain presents.
Interview with Ryotaro Kobayashi, Artist-in-School Coordinator
What is Artist-in-School?
We invite artists to the primary school. The aim of Artist-in-School is encounters between artists and children. Now, primary school kids have no opportunity to meet other adults. We wanted to create some opportunities for them to meet interesting people. Interesting people are difficult to find, but artists are generally interesting and are good for children to meet. Through this project, we can create a place where children but also teachers can meet artists. Then people can understand who you are, and what an artist is. Artists come to the primary school and do their work, children can join the program and can make something with the artist.
The children can also feel the artist is an adult, someone they don’t know. Children usually know only teachers and parents. That’s all. Their worlds are small. There are so many kinds of people in the world, but society wants to protect kids. If you protect kids, you steal opportunity from them. Society made a barrier that other people can’t enter, other people can’t have contact with kids. Artist-in-School breaks this wall, and we can enter the children’s world. And vice-versa. Kids can give us great information; maybe you, too, get some information to take to your world. It’s communication.
How are you able to bring artists into the world of children?
At first we couldn’t find any primary school because nobody understood what we wanted. Now, so many people know our project that it’s not so difficult to find a primary school. We ask the artist, do you have something to do in primary school? If the artist is interested, then we want to introduce how this artist is interesting. The second step is how we, the coordinators, can interest artists in participating. If I’m not interesting, I think, this won’t work.
We have projects in primary schools, but it’s just play. We use break time, which is spent playing with the artist and the artist shows the children something new. The kids just come because it’s so fun. If it’s not fun, nobody will come. If somebody comes to the project and it looks like something happened, then children will expect maybe something new will happen. We are creating a place, an atmosphere. Even some of the kids and teachers don’t know what we’re doing, but so many people come that it’s like a festival.
How does Artist-in-School affect children and artists?
In the gallery everybody likes art, so they say, »It’s so good!« It’s just positive talking. But in the school, some kids say »Ah, it’s interesting,« but some of them say »Whoa, it’s so boring, I don’t want to join.« It’s quite natural, the artist also works naturally. If what the artist is doing isn’t interesting, they change it. We can go at least ten days to a primary school and change what we do every day.
I heard that at first teachers thought that we’d offer clear-cut projects, but actually we are just playing with kids, making lively things every day. One student showed a new part of his personality: When he’s in class, he doesn’t speak much. But one day he came to our project and he was working so well, and his teacher was really surprised.
Interview with Mami Odai, director of Tenjinyama Art Studio
Please tell us about Tenjinyama Art Studio and Artist-in-School.
This year, for the first time, we combined the Artist-in-School Program with the Winter Program. I started Artist-in-School. I was thinking of artists who aren’t in the market, and how they can survive as artists. I wanted to make a place for them where they can be active. When artists see reactions from kids, another idea or step can then open. We literally make an atelier in the school, and the artist works there. This framing is fixed, but what the artist does is very open. I want artists to use the opportunity to help their careers, so I am interested in creating a different kind of AIR.
Sapporo Tenjinyama Art Studio was created in 2014 through Sapporo International Art Festival. It was previously a hotel. We only changed the purpose, not the architecture, and it became an artist residency. I designed this project, changing the hotel to an artist residency, where artists can stay. In four years, more than 500 artists have visited, but there is no scholarship, so we can not offer funding, but rather a place to stay and work freely. Every winter, we invite international artists through an open call. It’s called Winter Program. This year, we invited Mica from Philippines and Shusuke from Japan.
How does the residency benefit the community?
I think an artist residency is like tossing a stone into a very still pond. I feel that the community, as recipient, experiences that. It could change fixed ways of thinking. Sometimes the community doesn’t need change. They don’t like the idea of of artists-in-residence, of strange artists staying for a while. For me, to wish for change is to hope for the future. The structure of an artist residency, where artists are encouraged to move from one place to another, is a network. A network is people connecting and meeting each other. I wish that through managing an artist residency, some positive effect can happen after making new connections.
What are your future plans for Tenjinyama Art Studio?
At the moment, we invite artists only one season in the year. We’d like to invite artists throughout the year, and make a program in which artists have more time to create. But I’m also thinking of making a program that’s more focused on Hokkaido as a place. A residency is an invisible network, so I’d like to make it more visible. There are a lot of invisible things, and there are also things that are better kept invisible. I would like to make more visible the things that are invisible.
How would you describe »Winter, Snow, and the Subarctic?«
It could be »alternative world,« or »parallel world.« Especially in the snowy season, when people need to break from their usual thinking in order to survive. Being in a parallel world in the winter season, we have to do things that we are not used to doing. That’s why we planned the residency program for winter. So, to put it simply, it might be »parallel world.«
Sapporo Tenjinyama Art Studio
Sumikawa-Minami Primary School