Etsuko Matsuda, an Artist Providing Support
A Mentor to the Island’s Young Artists
Etsuko Matsuda is a resident of Awashima Island. She’s also the creator of Buoy-Buoy Garden and has been assisting and mentoring young artists participating in the Awashima Artist in Residence program for many years.
Together with Tetsushi Sato, she has been helping both Maki Ohkojima and Mayur Vayeda create their pieces for the 2019 Setouchi Triennale as the second-in-command of the Whale Unit.
The Awashima Artist in Residence program has run every year since 2010, but what is its significance to her? And why has she chosen to continue making art? We went to the source for our answers.
Awashima Artists’ Village usually holds an exhibition in August, but every 3 years the exhibition is pushed back to coincide with the Setouchi Triennale’s Autumn session.
The following interview was conducted in July of 2019.
Bonds Created by Bringing up New Artists.
― Each year, 2-3 young artists come to Mitoyo as part of the Awashima Artists’ Village program. What is the importance of this program?
Matsuda: Originally, the program was partially funded by the prefecture, but even after that funding ended, the program has been continued by the city alone.
There are other places in Japan that have artist in residence programs as well, but I think many of them are programs where artists just make a piece while they’re in residence.
Conversely, Awashima’s program aims to help the artists grow during their tenure.
Awashima Artists’ Village is also called Hibino Elementary* Founder and artist Katsuhiko Hibino chose the name because he wanted to create a place where artists and locals could laugh and spend time together.
*Translator’s note: Hibino Elementary is a double pun. “Hibino” is phonetically the same as the founder’s surname, but the characters mean “day after day;” elementary is pronounced like “elementary school,” but written like “school of laughter.”
The majority of the artists who come to Awashima grew up in the city. Many of them arrive with puzzled and stressed expressions on their face.
But, as they stay for a while longer, their expressions and the artworks they create become brighter. It’s like they’ve found some kind of release.
The older men and women who live on the island don’t work with computers and they don’t really worry about the little things.
Being able to forgive others and not worrying overmuch are both important for a happy life.
That’s why Awashima is a good place for artists to break out of their shells. Actually, there are a lot of artists who come back to Awashima Island after they finish their artist in residence tenure- something I’m quite happy about.
―In the city there aren’t many ways for different generations to connect. When young people are only interacting with other young people, forgiveness and not worrying overmuch can be a bit difficult, can’t they?
Matsuda: In the city, there may not be a place for older people to go. You have to spend money to do most fun things, and the activities available there, like going to art museums, are finite.
In a rural area like Awashima, there is a lot of work to be done in the fields, like cutting the grass. It’s work that doesn’t have an end. Maybe that’s why the elderly who live in the countryside are able to stay so energetic.
Creating Stronger Connections with the Islanders
―Nowadays, revitalization through art is taking place all over Japan, but 10 years ago, when the Awashima Artists’ Village was first implemented, did it feel uncomfortable or out of place?
Matsuda: I don’t think there was that much of a pushback. Awashima was originally home to globe-trotting sailors, so I think it’s the kind of place that can take in changes well.
When an artwork is being created, the artists typically have to call each islander individually and ask them for help. It’S a lot of trouble, so I started to do it for them.
Especially these past two years. Maki Ohkojima and Mayur Vayeda both came both years, and made it their goal to create artworks that would help the islanders. It’s thanks to them that their relationships with the islanders became so deep.
Awashima isn’t a large island, but typically people don’t interact as much as you might expect. But with the projects they created, like the embroidery, everyone started to chat and get to know each others’ personalities.
※For information about the relationship between Awashima and sailors, check out the Setouchi Triennale website’s blog on the topic.
Buoy Art Around the Theme of Laughter
―I heard that you were born in Tadotsu, Kagawa. What can you tell me about your relationship with Awashima Island and the artworks you make from buoys?
Matsuda: I was a child in the period shortly after the war when things were very lean. Still, my mother would take me to Oboke in Tokushima Prefecture during summer vacation. There, I saw the beautiful Yoshino River and would watch the steam-powered trains run through the mountains. That’s what gave me my love of nature.
My husband was a sailor, and he’s been living in the Kami Shinden area of Awashima Island for morethan 50 years. Different parts of Awashima have different atmospheres, but Kami Shinden has particularly beautiful nature.
The chestnut tiger, a migratory butterfly comes to the area, the ocean is very clear, and you can often see jellyfish. I’ve been living here for a long time, but I still love this area.
―Why did you start making art out of buoys?
Matsuda: I started making buoy art 25 years ago.
Buoys are originally used for fishing. After they’ve been used for a while, they become garbage, and there were a huge number just lying in the fields. I decided to give them a new life as jizo statues.
The theme of all my buoy are is laughter. At first I made 88, then I carved cat faces into 222 of them and called them “Nyan Nyan Nyan.” I chose that number because the island’s highest mountain, Mt. Jonoyama, is 222 meters tall, and Mitoyo has an area of 222 square kilometers.
In addition to those, I keep making them in response to requests I get from people, so they’re continuing to increase in number.
―Jizo have a very calming effect, don’t they. I just remembered what you said about the stressed faces of the newly-arrived artists becoming more relaxed over time. Maybe they’re feeling more free to be themselves. That’s the essence of art on Awashima. Thank you so much for letting me interview you today.
As an artist supporting other artists, no two days are exactly alike in Etsuko Matsuda’s life. Be sure to keep a lookout for her buoy art when you visit Awashima during the Setouchi Triennale!