Chicago Obihiro Exchange Project 2018

The inaugural exchange participants were Sapporo-based calligrapher Natsuki Kubo and AIRMW's own Kioto AokiIn May, Kubo flew to Chicago as guest artist for the Beyond the Box performance series produced by AIRMW at Links Hall. Kubo presented a collaborative performance with Fujima Yoshinojo accompanied by live music from the Reduction Trio: with Tatsu Aoki on shamisen, Kioto Aoki on taiko, and Jamie Kempkers on cello. 

A native of Hokkaido, Kubo began her studies at age 7 under master calligrapher Zuiho Sato. Since moving her studio to Sapporo in 2012, Kubo has expanded her practice to reinterpret the traditions of calligraphy within a contemporary performative setting. She is now known for her calligraphic performances that incorporate different theatrical elements of dance and music, often in collaboration with other contemporary artists. Her works emphasize new stylized iteration of the traditional calligraphic art form, which combine the writing of characters and illustrations.

In July, Kioto traveled to Obihiro City for a week-long residency for the second half of the exchange, working within the confines of the central strip mall, 帯広広小路 / Obihiro Hirokoji. This outdoor mall with a built-in overhang was where Obihiro native and founder of the Tokachi International Cultural Exchange Center, Tsutomu Hanaki, used to hang out with his childhood classmates on weekends and after school. Although the Tokachi region is known for its successful and self-sufficient agricultural industry, it is not immune to the trend of younger generations leaving for metropolitan areas in search of new opportunities. As a result, even larger rural cities like Obihiro are left with a slew of empty storefronts and neighborhoods like Hirokoji. 

During her residency, Kioto presented solo photography shows at 日曜喫茶館 (Nichiyou kissakan) and ギャラリー光影 (Gallery Kouei). Nichiyou Kissa was a cafe specializing in Japanese tea, and Gallery Kouei is a community coworking space. Both businesses were just recently opened (though Nichiyou Kissa has since closed), reusing or renovating vacated storefronts along Hirokoji avenue. Kouei -whose name serendipitously uses the characters for light and shadow- was an old kimono store with a living space on the second floor. Working with local photographer Souda Seijiro, Kioto also created a community created a community darkroom in the kitchen area. She hosted a darkroom demonstration and additional pinhole workshops were held by Mr. Souda through the end of 2018. 

The residency culminated in a public reception, featuring Kioto’s solo shows; a darkroom tour where visitors could see the images created and developed on-site; and a live performance by Kioto, her sister Miyumi, Tatsu and Natsuki Kubo who flew in for the event. 

This first iteration of the Chicago Obihiro Exchange Project was a way to realize Mr. Hanaki’s vision to help revitalize his hometown through art, as well as serve the goals of AIRMW to facilitate the multigenerational, international and cross-cultural collaboration artistic exchange between Chicago and Japan.