Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry. HISSS by Saeborg.
Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry. Repeated happiness by Mariko Kobayashi.
Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry. 21 specific requirements by Tetsuro Kano.
The Reborn-Art Festival is a biennial art, music, and food festival that takes place over vast acreage in the scenic Sanriku coastal area of Miyagi. It celebrates and promotes the revival of the area in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and in the face of the nationwide trend of rural depopulation. Imaginative art installations dot the downtown areas of Ishinomaki and Onagawa, and pierce the wilderness of the Oshika Peninsula with a shot of creativity and color.
This year’s Reborn-Art Festival consists of twenty-seven large-scale installations new for 2021, plus installations reopened from past festivals. In the same vein as world-class contemporary art festivals like the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale and the Art Setouchi Triennale, installations at the Reborn-Art Festival are site specific—the location of an artwork is as important as the piece itself. Exposed to the elements on a cape overlooking the sea or hidden inside an abandoned building, art and environment create a synergy—the surroundings contribute meaning and depth to the artwork; the art adds a creative lilt to its surroundings. Swoon’s video installation Cicada, for example, invites us to reflect on the essence of motherhood in the belly of an abandoned elementary school; Rintaro Fuse’s You could (be) hugged. lies inside a natural grotto, embraced by the surrounding rock.
Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry. Cicada by Swoon.
The offbeat venues create a sense of adventure—an invitation into spaces normally forbidden, an excuse to slow down and explore a place one might otherwise rush past. In downtown Ishinomaki, descend into an abandoned bathhouse to discover La source, an artwork of water and light by HouxoQue. Off a two-lane road on the rural Oshika Peninsula, visitors climb an unassuming path into the forest to reach Repeated happiness, an installation on the grounds of a forgotten shrine.
Being spread out over such a large area, the festival allows for large-scale artworks that are interactive and immersive, both figuratively and literally. In forgive by Chie Morimoto x WOW x Takeshi Kobayashi, viewers fill voids in the piece to become part of the fabric of the art. Even pieces designed for passive viewing inspire interaction thanks to their scale. They make enticing subjects for imaginative photography, and are also just fun backdrops to strike a pose in front of for eye-catching photos that are sure to reel in the likes on social media.
Photo by Wesley Keppel-Henry. Forgive by Chie Morimoto x WOW x Takeshi Kobayashi.
If the beeline many visitors make to the Reborn-Art food venues are anything to go by, cuisine figures prominently as an attraction of the festival. The emphasis is on local slow food, particularly the renowned seafood of the Sanriku Coast and the wild game of the Oshika Peninsula, though local agricultural products figure into the cuisine as well. The main food venue is Reborn-Art Dining, a pop-up open-air restaurant serving upscale cuisine in a casual atmosphere on the shore of Ishinomaki Bay. Visitors can drop in for a chef-driven locavore course menu, no reservations or formal dress required.
The Reborn-Art Festival is geared towards free-spirited exploration of the art and surroundings at your own pace, but bus tours are available for those looking for something more structured. The festival also features a number of special events, such as concerts and Food Adventure workshops. For more information on the bus tours and special events, see the official festival website.
Photo by Wesley Keppel Henry. You could (be) hugged. by Rintaro Fuse.
How to Visit
To attend the festival, purchase a Reborn-Art Passport at any of the festival information centers. The most convenient one for those arriving by public transportation is the booth set up just outside Ishinomaki Station. The art passport is good for the entire length of the festival session; you can come as many times as you like during the session. The Reborn-Art Festival 2021–22 is split into two sessions: summer and spring. A summer passport is good for the summer session (August 11 to September 26, 2021); purchase a new passport in spring to attend the spring session (April 23 to June 6, 2022).
In order to keep coronavirus risk to a minimum, this year there are a couple of extra steps involved in attending the festival. Each day you come, your first stop will be one of the festival information centers, where you’ll write down your name, address, and contact information. They’ll check your temperature and, assuming you’re not running a fever, give you a numbered wristband. The temperature screening keeps those showing signs of illness out; in the event someone you may have had contact with at the festival ends up testing positive for coronavirus later, festival organizers will use the contact information provided to inform you.
September 8, 2021
Once you’ve got your numbered wristband, you’re free to head to any of the festival venues. Most years, staff at the entrance to each venue will stamp your art passport. This year however, they write down your wristband number instead. Though no one checked my art passport during my entire time at the festival this session, I suggest keeping yours with you just in case. Plus, it’s fun to check off the artworks in your art passport as you visit them.