madeleine flynn and tim humphrey


Setouchi Triennale Japan April 2019

Very excited to be part of this engagement with the sea.

Thoughts on Pivot Spring Season, Setouchi Triennale, 2019

3 semi intelligent poetic seesaws, who are unreliable, provocative experts about Setouchi

Sited in the old elementary school of Shami-jima, looking out to the Seto Inland Sea.

Japanese, English, Mandarin.

The real heart of our experience, begins in an intense burst of visits to community representatives on the so-called “foot islands”, those islands forever and variously impacted by the Seto Ohashi; Hitsuishi, Iwaguro, Yoshima, and the now-linked island communities of Shamijima, and Seijima. In a whirlwind of stops at Community Centres we were privileged to learn a crash course of specificities, in ritual, language, and most especially in the microcosms in these tiny communities of the experience of post-WWII Japan economic and cultural development. From the former pirates of these islands, who worked for the Shogun to steer fleets through the treacherous currents of the area, to the stone cutters and shippers who built the reclaimed industrial lands of Sakaide city, to the ship builders who worked forty-five years creating gas transport ships; through to the reflections on the wisdom of community decisions to limit visitation to the islands from bridge traffic. All this was a unique and special privilege. The respect and dignity afforded us, as artists was humbling. This experience was brokered through the dedication from the Australian Embassy, Japan,coupled with an extraordinary local producer Ayana Watanabe,of ArtFront Gallery, Japan.

We could then integrate much of this local intelligence into Pivot. Our awesome translator, Natsuki Tanji, became part-scriptwriter for a day, framing the responses of the villagers into something that a talking seesaw with something of an absurdist personality might want to say to art lovers/seesaw riders. We were installing the seesaws the following day, three days after arriving in Japan.

The site at the former school on Shamijima had been beautifully prepared, and we met an extraordinary team of installers, as well as the other artists installing on the site. The usual technical hurdles associated with an install were quickly solved, including the purchase of a step-up transformer unit to cater to our 240 volt battery chargers. We arrived to a site that was very nearly complete, and within a day our work was also in place ready for testing and responding to the large army of press that were scheduled over the following two days.

The artistic cohort at our site included a local Sakaide, an Iranian-German, and a Russian artist, as well as a Japanese artistic collective. Getting to know these artists, and their work was a hugely valuable part of our experience.

Our brief “ten days on the island”, were composed of tight segments of intense experience. Following the days of press, we then took one of the organised tours, part of the formal program for the opening of the Triennale. The first day’s tour held one of the few disappointments for our time. Many hours on a boat, visiting incomplete or even yet-to-exist artworks, with a redeeming lunch on Teshima. Further redemption followed the next day (after the grand and grandious excitement of the opening ceremony) when we visiting some amazing works on Megijima and Ogijima, as well as seriously contemplating moving there….

Pivot is speaking in three languages: Japanese, Mandarin ( Taiwanese dialect) and English, reflecting the languages of the audiences who visit. She is being cared for by local producers from ArtFront and Sakaide City: Natsuki Tnaji,, Junghee Hong and Yuji Tanimoto.

If this report reads as perhaps too cutely glowing, it is because our experience genuinely was overwhelmingly positive. From the gracious acknowledgement of our work and practice in the Ambassador’s speech, the equally gracious respect from the villagers, the professional respect and collegiality from all layers of staff and groups of artists, through to the enthusiastic welcome from our regular Sanuki Udon lunch stop, made for a wonderfully intense period. We would love further opportunities to be involved in this amazing phenomenon that is the Triennale; as happens with many rich experiences, ideas for further work have bubbled up.

We had a defining moment of realising the difference in our experience of Japanese versus Australian reception of art practice while seated on the stage at the opening of the Triennale. We (the company of exhibiting artists) were the main attraction. Each of the Heads of Government, Ambassadors, industrialists, philanthropists (pretty well uniformly men) bowed to all of us in respect. What say you Australia?

Our sincere thanks to the Australian embassy team of Ambassador and Mrs Court, Michael and Hitomi.Your gracious and committed engagement and humour was deeply appreciated by us.

We have shared a lunch with a Samurai.

Our thanks also to ArtFront Gallery who were gracious in all their dealings with us. Deeply grateful for the support from the Australia Council for the Arts Strategic Team, Creative Victoria International team and the Australian Embassy in Tokyo. This opportunity arose through our connections at TPAM and our absolute thanks to Erin Milne of Bureau of Works who made the difficult smooth, and loved every minute of it.