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The House of Light

Away from the beaten paths of tourism, in the rural Echigo-Tsumari region, and more precisely on the heights of the city of Tokamachi, there is a surprising contemporary work of art: the House of Light.

by Giacomo Donati

Away from the beaten paths of tourism, in the rural Echigo-Tsumari region, and more precisely on the heights of the city of Tokamachi, in the heart of the Echigo Mountains, an hour's journey from Tokyo on board of the Hokuhoku Line and after a short ride by car, there is a surprising contemporary work of art: the House of Light.

The location in which it is located is certainly particular, but not at all random.
At the beginning of this century, an unconventional gallery owner, Fram Kitagawa, started one of the most interesting artistic initiatives in all of Japan and, in some ways, the world: the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field.

The principle on which it is based is related to the Japanese saying "seikô udoku; kakô tôdoku", which can be translated as “in summer, cultivate the fields; in winter, cultivate the mind".
Based on this concept, during the last two decades dozens of works of art have been placed outdoors in an area of ​​760 square kilometers, involving about 200 villages.

The works can be visited all year round and different events invite to the visit: the Summer Festival in summer and in winter the Snow Art Project, as well as, every three years, the Triennale of Echigo-Tsumari, which promotes the creation of new works.

This year, from July 29th to September 17th, for fifty-one days it will be possible to visit the new works of the nine selected artists (among them Christian Boltanski, Santiago Sierra and Shilpa Gupta), as well as venturing to the surrounding territories to visit what has already been achieved.

And among what has already been done, a place of honor belongs to the House of Light.

Built in 2000, on the occasion of the first Echigo-Tsumari Triennial, the structure is a hymn both to Japanese culture and to the creations of James Turrell, the American artist universally known for his work related to the use of light and of the colors of the spectrum.

His words condense more than anything else the significance and the meaning of this work, which invites its users to live an extraordinary experience:

“When I first met Fram Kitagawa, he asked me to make a "meditation house" for the Echigo-Tsumari region. He gave me a book written by Junichiro Tanizaki 'In Praise of Shadows.' [..] After reading 'In Praise of Shadows', I decided to create a house in the traditional architectural manner of this region. I wished to realize the 'world of shadows we are losing', as Tanizaki wrote, as a space where one can experience living in light, by relating light inside to light outside. [..]
I attempted to create the 'beauty of shadows' by using familiar Japanese idioms such as shojii (paper sliding door) and tokonoma (alcove). [..]
For me [..] the House of Light was an attempt to contrast as well as to incorporate day and night, the Eastern and the Western, tradition and modern”.

Two rooms only, with a sunroof, where to abandon oneself looking up from a tatami to the contemplation of a unique work in perennial evolution.

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