Art Space Report

IBE Osamu

Yurinkan, Kiryu City,Gumma Prefecture

Though originally employed at an architectural firm, IBE Osamu's other interests eventually led him to leave the salaried life. In January, Ibe began helping out at the Omega Point 2/Sound Gallery, a newly opened space that specializes in experimental music, noise, and sound art, in Isesaki City, Gumma Prefecture.

In the past, he has had the opportunity to organize live performances at the mountain cottage (Akagi Dreamhouse) he built, and after sending some performance information for this facility to the newly opened Yurinkan, he also became involved in opening events at the Yurinkan. Scheduled to be refurbished and reorganized in April, Ibe reports here on the fresh start the Yurinkan art space will be making.

There is a free space in Kiryu City, Gumma Prefecture called the Yurinkan, which began when Yano Store, with a history that dates back to the Edo Period, donated a group of warehouses to the city. After being recognized as a historical cultural property, the structures were repaired and renovated through government subsidies provided by the National Land Agency and the Agency for Cultural Affairs to allow them to be used in a variety of ways.
Yano Store
Brick storehouse (left) & Yano Store

At present, the final preparations, primarily repairs of exterior and restrooms, are underway and are scheduled to be completed by the end of March in time for the reopening of the space on April 1. In the past, there have been a wide variety of events that have brought this attractive space to life, including "SoundCulture Japan '93," which was also introduced in these pages. In this article, I would like to present the history of the Yurinkan and some of the events that are scheduled to be held there in the future.

.Kiryu City is located in the eastern part of Gumma Prefecture on the northern edge of the Kanto Plain bordering on Tochigi Prefecture. Since the Edo Period, the city has been known by the phrase "West Nishijin/East Kiryu," and as this suggests, the town originally prospered as a center for the textile industry (Nishijin, a section of Kyoto, is famous for its brocade). As a result, particularly on the eastern edge of the city in the Honmachi area that lies in front of the Tenmangu shrine, many textile factories with sawtooth roofs and storehouses that were owned by wealthy merchants can still be seen today. Of these, some are being used as dyeing ateliers or galleries, but the life that once filled many of them has been permanently extinguished.

Yano Store, which began when its founder YANO Kyuemon moved to Kiryu from the Omi area in the mid-Edo Period, has been in business for 270 years. With the fourth generation of the family, miso (fermented soy bean paste), soy sauce, and sake production began, and among these old buildings on the site, the structures that have been renovated for the Yurinkan date back to the Meiji and Taisho Periods. The original use of and concept behind each of the many spaces in the complex is as follows:

Soy Sauce Warehouse

Soy Sauce Warehouse

Salt Storehouse

Salt Storehouse

1. Brick storehouse:

Designed to preserve unrefined soy sauce in the Taisho Period, the structure has been equipped with air conditioning, lights (spotlights, etc.) as well as emergency equipment (guide lights, etc.). With acoustics that allow a rather long reverberation time, this space is the best suited to the widest variety of uses in the complex. 11.7m x 39m.

2. Soy sauce storehouse:

Besides acting as a storage area for soy sauce, this structure, built in 1914, was designed for the production of malted rice. With an area of 10m x 24m, when combined with the miso storehouse the overall space is quite expansive, and having no inner pillars, this wooden structure with earthen walls and a rough concrete floor has a unique atmosphere that will certainly work to inspire enthusiasm in its users. Although no air-conditioning has been installed, the building has been prepared with the lights and electrical wiring needed for performance events.

3. Miso storehouse:

This structure, from the mid-Meiji Period, adjoins the soy sauce storehouse, allowing the two buildings to be used as a single space. 6.4m x 23.5m.

4. Preparation storehouse:

This structure, built in the Taisho Period between the brick storehouse and the soy sauce storehouse, is connected to the latter. For the present, it has been converted into a small conference room-type of space, and will also be used as a waiting room for events that are held in the soy sauce storehouse. In addition, an area that has been added on to the preparation storehouse is being used as an office to handle reception and provide information. 3.7m x 10.3m.

5. Salt storehouse:

This storehouse was built in the late Meiji Period. It is a wooden structure that is exposed to the elements with a skylight that was part of the original structure. Lighting equipment has been installed, and the space is designed for installations. 7.2m x 12m.

6. Sake storehouse:

A two-story, earthen building, the first floor of which will be used as a performance space. Since there are pillars in the room, it isn't perfectly suited to the performance medium, but of all the buildings in the complex this one has the most splendid interior, and like the salt storehouse is designed for installations. 12.7m x 15m.

7. Beer storehouse

Besides these structures, there is a beer storehouse that is being used as a storage space for tools, and although it is quite small, a number of different uses have been thought up for the Western liquor storehouse.

The administration and management of the Yurinkan has been entrusted directly to an administrative committee with decision-making authority by the municipal board of education. When the facility first started to be used, a clear management policy had not yet been established. This meant that many repairs were carried out without a clear understanding of the official applications and special characteristics of the site. But thanks to the skills of NARA Shoichi, who was appointed vice-chairman of the committee a year ago, there is much anticipation about the new "interactive" planning and management system. As the proprietor of a used book shop specializing in modern art and history books, Nara invested much time and energy in the 1960s assembling a collection of materials related to the most avant-garde art groups. Among many other artists, he maintains a personal relationship with NAKANISHI Natsuyuki of the High Red Center. As for his hopes for the facility, he says, "This facility should be dealt with independently of the large municipal cultural hall that is now under construction. I want to continue doing projects that, although they may be small in scale, deal with important issues, and couldn't be done anywhere else.

Here are a few of the events that were held at the facility in 1996:

  • April 9-10 "Beneath a Forest of Cherry Trees in Full Bloom": An Oratorical Drama by SAKAGUCHI Ango
  • June 7 UMEZU Kazutoki Tour '96: A jazz concert by the saxophonist and his band
  • July 31-August 4 "Framed Pictures/Stalls/Sculptures":
  • An exhibition of sculptures, painted fusuma, and pictures used as decorations for stalls at the Kiryu Gion Festival
  • July 31 Yurinkan Scramble Union:
  • A jazz concert featuring the pianist A. SCHLIPPENBACH and others
  • September 3-16: "Kuraboration: The First Yurinkan Festival of the Arts": A festival designed to explain the concept behind the Yurinkan that was based on the theme of "storehouses and art, storehouses and music"
  • September 28: "Perfect Rooms":
  • An event combining music, films, and a fashion show
  • A large number of events have also been held involving the work of local citizens in fields such as painting, industrial arts, rakugo (comic story telling), and music.

Following the completion of renovation work, the opening event scheduled for the first week of April 1997 will be an exhibition concerned with music and sound. In brief, the exhibition will consist of art that is related to sounds of the past as a form of documentation, sounds of the present, and the forthcoming sounds of the near future. The exhibition will include:

1) An exhibition of local collector KAWARAI Genji's 78 records and record players (during the exhibition period). This will include rarities specially selected by Kawarai from his tens of thousands of records, and his collection of gramophones to play sounds of the past.

2) An exhibition of record jackets and packages that could be thought of as works of art (during the exhibition period)

Record jackets designed by well-known artists, works produced in a series that have some consistency as artworks, records as art objects, and works that treat sound itself as an artistic creation will be exhibited. In particular, this will feature a collection of the latest works by Kyoto-resident NAKAJIMA Akifumi, who has been widely acclaimed abroad for his package design for the recorded work of Aube (the name he uses as a noise performer).

3) A workshop and performance by TAKANO Masaaki on playing with sound (on April 6)

In his work, Takano allows us to encounter wondrous sounds with his self-created sound devices and objects. For this project, he will create a curtain of sound devices to fit the renovated brick storehouse, and give a performance with it. The artist will also hold a sound play workshop for parents and children.

In order to highlight the organic relationship between the unique spaces of the Yurinkan and sound, efforts are being made to present a sound installation by one of Japan's premier improvisational musicians and sound artists, KOSUGI Takehisa. Of the other major events planned at the Yurinkan, vice-chairman Nara has put special energy into organizing a drama festival for the fall of 1997 to focus on the attractive nature of the Yurinkan as a performance space.

As is often the case, the city has only set aside a small budget for cultural activities, and the limited pieces of pie that are available must then be distributed among a number of organizations. Thus, even for city-sponsored events, it is necessary to go through the difficult process of looking for additional sponsors and enlisting volunteers. So rather than creating large events that resemble fireworks streaking across the sky, we are simply hoping to keep the valuable heritage of the Yurinkan alive by continuing to present quality projects.

Back to this issue's Table of Contents

Back to Xebec SoundArts Issue Directory

Back to Carl Stone Home