Today I finally had the opportunity to work at an artist’s installation. The first few days here at Shodoshima I was assigned to other jobs such as the cooking team and cleaning at the primary school in Hitoyama. Our team today was only given a vague description of the location before we set out in the morning and we had to spend some time finding the site. We eventually spotted the white triangle-shaped tents far off in the rice fields.

One of the workers came forward to greet us when our party approached the river separating the rice fields and the tents. At that point, I suddenly realised only thing we knew was that we were here to help prepare Christanto Dadang’s, an Indonesia artist, art project. We weren’t told anything about what kind of work we would be required to do or who we would be working with. It was only after we were introduced to all the other project workers that I realised Dadang himself would not be here to monitor or guide the initial stages of the project. Furthermore all the workers present on the site were retired village locals that didn’t speak a word or English. At that moment I felt concerned regarding the general communication between the HK team and the locals, for no-one other than I could speak Japanese, and I wasn’t too confident in my Japanese skills either.

After helping set up two more tents for shade from the sun, the lead worker gave us an explanation about the project and a demonstration of what we needed to do. The project revolves around a soon-to-be-built bamboo structure. Each individual bamboo has four holes in the shape of circles, triangles, squares and other variations, carved in alternating segments, facing north, south, east and west. One thousand of these carved bamboo poles would eventually be assembled and essentially act as gigantic flute or ocarina whenever wind passes through, creating low, eerie sounds, hence the name of the work “The Voices of the Lost People”. Our work would be divided into two roles: pairs of worker would carve the holes into the bamboo using saws, hammers, chisels and drills while others were supplied with a small knife to clear up and refine the off-cuts and residue of the cut shapes.

Joshua Wong and I formed a team. Considering the working conditions of other projects that Sense Art Studio was involved in, I thought the work was relatively relaxing and less physically demanding. Although our jobs were repetitive, we were kept cool and protected from the sun under the tents, and could work while leisurely appreciating the beautiful green mountains and rice fields around Hitoyama. It was sometimes difficult to understand what the locals were trying to say to us, but we managed to get through our limited Japanese as well as physical gestures. All five of the local volunteers were retired villagers and not only were very familiar with this form of work, they were very patient and pleasant towards us, often teaching us small tips and tricks and even treated us to ice cream after lunch. We worked at our own pace, chatting with the locals and amongst ourselves, occasionally taking breaks whenever “休憩” (kyuukei) was called.

As an architecture student, I have yet to really learn anything new or find inspiration from this project that would compliment my studies as had originally hoped to when I decided to participate in preparing the Setouchi Arts Festival. However what shouldn’t be overlooked are the many things I can take away from this experience. Having the opportunity to communicate and getting to know some of the locals is one of the highlights of this trip. It shows that despite a language barrier, people can bond and share experiences over common interests or motives, such as the preparation of this art project.

Alfred Au
Design in Architecture (1st Year)
University of Technology Sydney
Setouchi 2010 - Participant

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