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The Reborn Art Festival was originally held in Ishonomaki, a seaside town on the Northern Eastern shore of Japan in 2016. Greatly affected by the 3/11 tsunami, Ishinomaki was chosen by an executive committee and curators as a site for rebirth. Reborn was born, taking the shape of an art festival – a common format for large artist-led exhibitions in Japan. The festival included a residency program for selected Japanese and foreign artists to stay in Ishonomaki and create on site. ‘Reborn Art Festival’ stems from the need for artists and curators to directly engage with Ishinomaki, the most ravaged city of the 3/11 tsunami; and also to help reconstruct a nation which, as resilient as it is, needs artists to retell and rebuild grounded optimism away from political agendas and anti-nuclear activism. This fall, Tokyo’s acclaimed Watari Museum of Contemporary Art decided to restage Reborn in Tokyo. Exhibited over four floors, the artworks encompass the traces left by the tsunami on urban and psychological landscape.

Tokyo-based art collective SIDE CORE showed a strong reaction and outburst of self-expression with a video and sculpture installation entitled rode work. Rooted in street art and intervention-based activities, the collective headed to Ishinomaki to create a monumental sculpture made of reconstruction road signs. rode work is exhibited as a chandelier, illuminating the exhibition room with yellow, red and orange blinking neon lights. Although silent, repeating sirens for help can be heard. Some signs might seem ironic for visitors unaccustomed to Japanese roads: viewers might notice a whimsical green clover sign in the middle of the more common caution cones and red lights. SIDE CORE created a highly decorative sculpture from found objects which usually suggest anxious apprehension. By decontextualizing and muting them, I personally began to see the beauty of such man-made objects and appreciate construction as a product open for debate rather than simply the means to an end.

SIDE CORE also created an accompanying video of a skateboard ring in the middle of Ishinomaki, staging an appropriating coup outside of tsunami-ravaged fishing warehouses. They built a skate ring. Not any skate ring. One made of found objects of Ishinomaki with a simulated constructor worker waiving his warning side from left to right, as the skaters gracefully made their way from right to left. Amidst destruction comes creation, and it's on the street that the meaning of Reborn takes full shape, reinjecting life at the austere construction landscape of post-3/11 Japan.


Sophie Mayuko Arni, 10 December 2017, Tokyo.
Unless specified otherwise, all images are taken by Sophie Arni at the exhibition venue. Copyright Global Art Daily, 2017.