Australian Duo Create Surreal Mirrored Boat for 2013 Setouchi Triennale

Australian Duo Create Surreal Mirrored Boat for 2013 Setouchi Triennale
Simulation image of "Traces - Blue"
(Craig Walsh and Hiromi Tango)

Sydney artist Craig Walsh and Japanese born, Sydney based artist Hiromi Tango have worked together to create a surreal and poetic installation in collaboration with the people with the people of Teshima Island, Japan for the 2013 Setouchi Triennale, a contemporary art festival first held in 2010 that takes place on multiple islands of the Seto Inland Sea.

Famous for being the site of a major toxic waste dumping scandal in the 1980s, the tiny 14.5 km2 island of Teshima, once known as the “island of wastes,” is one of the many islands situated within the largest of Japan’s inland seas known as the “Setouchi.” Walsh and Tango’s site-specific artwork “Traces – Blue” is a response to the changes and developments taking place in the Teshima village of Kou, the location of the incredible installation.


The tiny sea-side village of Kou is home to 85 mostly elderly residents who can only watch as the younger generation leave the village in search of employment and education, taking with them the future of the local industries. This state of flux that has forced the village of Kou to face a future of uncertainty is the focus of “Traces – Blue,” the centre of which is an old fishing boat that has been transformed into a multifaceted mirrored surface.  

At once reflecting the onus of the island’s future back onto its residents while at the same time absorbing the contemporary world that continues to develop within its sights, the boat signifies reflection and introspection but is also a symbol of hope and strength, a remnant revived and reinvigorated. The mirrored vessel draws inspiration and expectation from the fishing industry that helped shape the island and its culture but also acts as a focal point for discussion regarding the future.

For the residents of Kou the traditional way of life that they know and cherish is at risk of being lost forever. Mimicking the enduring rituals and routines of the locals, the boat itself moves in and out of view, camouflaged by its reflection, as it responds to the rhythmic ebb and flow of the interminable tidal currents. Although the tidal currents will continue indefinitely, the future of the traditions and routines of the island remain uncertain. Mirrors get dirty, reflections fade – time is of the essence for the boat and the people of Kou.

Looking out over one of Japan’s busiest seaways, Kou has seen many ships pass in the night but is now faced with the possibility that the vessel holding the future of Kou has already sailed. But there is still hope. Tethered to the land by a series “ropes” made of community-sourced materials including second hand clothes, textiles, ropes, fishing nets and octopus traps, the mirrored boat remains connected to the community. As long as the cultural and social narratives of the local residents – the community “ropes” – remain intact and the objects with which they were made remain connected to the island, the story will continue.

The final element of the installation is a 3-channel video and sculptural installation situated in a disused house near the harbour that incorporates “traces” from all the components of the project.  An extension of the main installation that incorporates the entire work into the fabric of local society, the video works will be responsive to the sculptural and collective artworks created throughout the village, distilling and representing a community response to these sculptural interventions.

The Setouchi Triennale is a contemporary art festival that takes place on multiple islands of the Seto Inland Sea. It was first held in 2010 and it attracted a huge response from hundreds of thousands of visitors. Featuring 175 artists from 20 countries working across 12 islands, the 2013 event will take place across three seasons – from March 20 to April 21 for Spring, July 20 to Sept. 1 for Summer, and Oct. 5 to Nov. 4 for Autumn. For more information visit the Triennale website here.