The concept for Australia House was born in 2009 as part of the fourth Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale, and is located in the mountainous Echigo-Tsumari region. It has been a base for cultural exchange between Australia and Japan since then.
The original Australia House collapsed in a powerful aftershock after the 2011 earthquake. It was decided, with Japanese and Australian support, that the House would be rebuilt. The Australia House Reconstruction Project was launched soon after the disaster. It was the result of many people's determination to continue the close relationship between Australia and the Echigo-Tsumari region.
A scenic site in Urada, Tokamachi City, Niigata prefecture, was chosen as the site for the new Australia House. Based on the concept of 'reasonable, robust and small' hazard-resistant construction, an international competition for the building's design chaired by internationally renowned Japanese architect Tadao Ando was launched in September 2011.
From a total of 154 entries from Australian and Japanese architects, a design proposal by Sydney architect Andrew Burns was chosen as the winner. The design takes into consideration environmental sustainability and natural disaster-prevention and reflects a merging of Japanese and Australian culture.
The current Australia House - a symbol of recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami - was rebuilt with the support of the Tokamachi City Government, the Australia-Japan Foundation, International Culture Appreciation and Interchange Society, Inc., the Australian Embassy Tokyo, and local residents. The building is a structure that creates potentialities for art installation, both internally and within the immediate surroundings. The internal spaces are calibrated to amplify the experience of landscape. Perception of the building alternates between the dynamic appearance of an art object and the familiar presence of a rural dwelling. The roof rises steeply to the daikokubashira, which becomes a charged element within the gallery space. The triangular form creates a long dimension and widening perspective within compact space. Australia House opened in July 2012 for the 5th Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale.
It served as one of the main attractions of the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale 2012, and received the 2013 Jørn Utzon Award for International Architecture. Australian Indigenous artist and the Artistic Director of the 2020 Biennale of Sydney, Brook Andrew’s “dhirrayn ngurang—Mountain Home” has been permanently installed.
Australia House aims to be a focus of cultural exchange between Australia and Japan and a place where Japanese people can learn about multicultural Australia. It is a centre for artistic and cultural residency, as well the production and exhibition by Australian artists and students. At particular times of the season, it is available for visitors as an accommodation.
The Echigo-Tsumari and Australia
The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale is one of the largest art festivals in the world and has been held once every three years in the Echigo-Tsumari region since 2000. Australia has participated in the festival since the beginning and has thus established a close relationship with the Echigo-Tsumari region.
The theme of the ETAT is ‘human beings are a part of nature’, which is a concept that many Australians can relate to. The scenery of the mountainous Echigo-Tsumari region is vastly different to that of Australia, experiencing some of the heaviest snowfalls in winter and transforming into a rich green landscape in summer. However, the Echigo-Tsumari way of living, where people learned to coexist with the harsh natural environment by passing on customs and traditions from generation to generation, is similar to that of Australia where Indigenous people have been living for more than 60,000 years.
Our Artists-in-Residence program sees Australian artists and curators stay at Australia House while being inspired by the local nature, culture and customs. The artists create artworks, conduct presentations and workshops and contribute to building stronger links and networks between the arts and culture communities of Australia and Japan.
Elena Knox, Artist-in-Residency
2018 (The Seventh ETAT)
Hossein Valamanesh and Angela Valamanesh, Artist-in-Residency and permanent installation works, Guardian and You are here, Tokamachi Samue
Yidaki: Didjeridu and the Sound of Australia exhibition at Nobutai
The National Museum of Australia and South Australian Museum toured this exhibition, built around the rhythm and song of yidaki (the instrument also known as ‘didjeridu’), to Echigo-Tsumari as part of DFAT’s Australia now 2018 celebrations. Developed in close collaboration with the traditional owners of the Yidaki, the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in northern Australia, this groundbreaking project has become the first major exploration of this musical emblem of Australia.
Didjeridu is the iconic sound of Australia, an instrument played by many Aboriginal people and others around the world. It is both a symbol of Aboriginal culture, and the most famous instrument in the expanding traditions of global ‘world music’.
YIDAKI in concert feat. Djalu Gurruwiwi & GOMA event
Liam Mugavin, Artist-in-Residency
Jia-Wei Zhu, Artist-in-Residency
Wendy Teakel, Artist-in-Residency
Curtis Taylor, Mervyn Street and John Nargoodah participated in an event at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field with Dr Michael Pickering of the National Museum of Australia
2015 (The Sixth ETAT)
SNUFF PUPPETS (Andy Freer, Nik Wilson, Stephane Hisler and Rosalind Hall), Artists-in-Residency and performance Giant Puppets of Echigo-Tsumari
Working with the local residents, a regional farming community, Snuff Puppets, Australia’s leading giant puppet experimental theatre company, created a giant puppet show based on local traditions and Obon festival customs.
Yiwarra Kuju: Canning Stock Route collection at Australia House
Heidi is an artist specialising in community engagement and interactive public installations. She trained in sculpture at the National Art School in Sydney and in arts management at Macquarie University. She has worked on a number of site specific public artworks across Sydney, including laneway activations, artworks in public parks & in art centres. She also has a background in community cultural development projects in culturally diverse communities in Western Sydney. Together with her long-time collaborator and husband, Hugo Moline, they have explored engaging communities through projects of site-specific art in Sydney, Bangkok, Manilla and New York.
Hugo trained as an architect at Sydney University and since then has worked with a range of communities across Australia, in Fiji, Thailand, and The Philippines, working with people to design and construct the spaces that people need to live out their lives. To name a few, projects have included numerous public art projects across Sydney, a people-made plan for city-wide upgrading in Lautoka, Fiji and the collaborative design of Kapitbahayan’s new Housing Cooperative in Canley Vale, Australia.
Nathan maintains a studio practice that incorporates painting, drawing and sculpture. His work seeks to understand the ways in which different mediums can uniquely engage with ideas of temporality and spatiality. Nathan is the current recipient of the 2013/2014 Marten Bequest Travelling scholarship, which will involve a separate Japanese visit to meet with professor Michael Lazarin at Kyoto University as well as extended visits to Vienna, Iceland and New York. He also received the 2007 Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship for painting.
To learn more about their experiences and projects, please visit their blog.
Mountain Home – Dhirrayn Ngurang
Brook completed a dazzling installation of neon, mirror and glass that can be hidden inside the walls of Australia House. The concept of this hidden panel was developed in conversation with Australia House architect, Andrew Burns, and signals the extremities of the Echigo seasons. The work reflects the world outside, with visitors included within its reflective environment. The neon based text is inspired by interviews with members of the Urada community: See the snow and jade river / see the mountain ancestors / see me with clarity / see my children / see my struggle / drink tea with me
Dhirrayn Ngurang appeals to visitors to sit and drink tea with locals, see their interests, unique lives and histories. The pattern of dhirrayn ngurang is inspired by the artist’s Wiradjuri (Indigenous Australian) heritage and tradition. Dhirrayn ngurang is a contemporary interpretation of their cultural marker (radial diamond patterns carved into shields and marked trees for warfare and ceremony) and is likewise a space for reflection, mediation, ceremony and performance.
The Feeling of Homeland
Andrew completed an art project for the 2012 Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale that considered the significance of both change and tradition through local rituals of gathering food, cooking and communal eating. Andrew worked in collaboration with people from Urada and the greater Matsunoyama area to develop a performance event for Obon festival (Japanese ancestor festival) that activates food as a medium for the enduring act of remembering. Based on the understanding that food habits represent a time, a place and its people, Andrew worked with recipes that refer to tradition while acknowledging current social concerns.
Jeremy Bakker, Ross Coulter and Angela Pye
The Space Between Our Hands
Jeremy, Ross and curator Angela participated in the Artist-in-Residence program in 2012, displaying their work The Space Between Our Hands at the Snow Art Project in Echigo-Tsumari. The work aimed to represent the community, through snow impressions formed by clasping the hands together. Like the face, the hands tell a story and form a portrait of an individual.
The elderly people of the community shared their memories of snow; that of wonder, lightness, beauty and fun as children, and something heavier and burdensome as adults. The snow impressions came to speak of the community’s connection with nature, and became a means to reignite the initial sense of wonder and joy that was once associated with snow.
The impressions were displayed in a room that was dug 3m deep into the snow, and was entered through a snow enclosed tunnel. The installation plan was inspired by a Japanese ima (living room) and featured cavities dug into each wall to display the impressions collected over the period of the residency.
Kim Andersen: Skin
Kim Andersen was the resident for 2011 and she worked on creating an exhibition entitled Skin. Her exhibition displayed great pieces of washi (Japanese paper) with drawings of the hands and feet prints of locals living in the village and the frottage of the local land and trees.
Kim repeatedly emphasised her idea that the surface of an object was directly connected to its essential quality and she wished to present it through the image of the surface. Printing the surfaces of village objects that are fading away on the translucent thin and beautiful washi, which was handmade in the village, told the village's history. The hand and footprints of the village elders and visitors told the individual history of the people.
Kim's completed artworks were exhibited at Matsudai Noubutai Gallery. Her works hung from the ceiling through the glass walls with the greenery outside reflecting in the background. The washi swung freely as people moved around the exhibition, and the sunlight and greenery reflecting through the glass, created a beautiful space.
During her residency Kim also held workshops with locals that inspired much of the work displayed in her exhibition.
Japan Australia Art Musings
The JAAM (Japan Australia Art Musings) project was an Artists-in-Residence program between Australia and Japan, which took place at Australia House from 9-31 August, as part of the Echigo-Tsumari Festival of the Earth 2010.
Six art students from the University of Newcastle (Fiona Less, Mandy Francis and Nerida Ackland) and Tama Art University (Hitomi Fukui, Keichi Chigasaki and Saeko Shimojo) lived together as they created exceptional artworks around the themes of the Urada Area and Australia House. The six artists provided unique exhibitions reflecting different interpretations, concepts and use of materials. The artists also interacted proactively with the local Urada community through workshops and presentations.
The artworks were exhibited at the Gallery of the University of Newcastle in Australia.
Double Image: A Fiction of Two Culture
In 2010, Maude Bath, accompanied by Chris Tugwell, took up the position as Artist-in-Residence to produce the exhibit Double Image: a Fiction of Two Cultures. The exhibition displayed artworks made from felt during the residency. The felt was made from welding Japanese silk with Australian Merino Wool. During the residency program Maude shared this contemporary art form with the Japanese community by holding eight felting workshops with locals.
The exhibition was held at Urada Kokusetsu Kanri Centre. They were also later displayed at the T’Arts Collective in Adelaide and the International Felt-making Convergence in Western Australia. One of the works was then returned to Urada as a gift to the community.