A collaborative effort undertaken between a temple and the arts, making it possible to perceive the essence of art in a manner that transcends narrow interpretations that equate “art,” as a state of being, to mere physical “works of art”
An exterior view of Outenin Temple
Outenin Temple was originally consecrated in the early 17th century as a branch of Dairenji Temple, which is also located in Tennoji. Historically, Outenin served as a locus for the local community, it also being used as a terakoya (school house) during the Edo Period. The original temple buildings, however, were destroyed in the Great Osaka Air Raids of 1945. More recently, a plan for reconstructing Outenin first surfaced when surrounding communities began planning celebrations marking both the 450th anniversary of Dairenji Temple’s founding, and the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of World War 2.
In reconstructing Outenin Temple, however, those involved had to take into consideration a serious contemporary issue that confronts many temples in major urban areas. Specifically, over time, many temples have become isolated from the communities that surround them, with them suffering from a lack of strong temple-parishioner relationships. Aiming to recreate Outenin as a temple that offered a new locus for the local community in much the same way as the old terakoya tradition, a private group commenced development of the new facilities in 1997.
Today, Outenin Temple is used for a wide range of purposes. These include the holding of theatrical plays and artistic productions. The temple has also hosted local development projects and community welfare promotions. Many local governments and non-profit organizations (NPO) have also worked with the temple on various projects.
So what is the goal of a “temple” in terms of it collaborating with “art”?
In collaborating with the arts, Outenin feels that a connection exists between its own existence and the arts in terms of those questions and feelings both touch-on with regard to humanism and the daily lives that people lead. These are issues that many artists aim to incorporate in their work, such being manifested in the underlying concepts considered, the creative processes involved, and completed works of art themselves. Art is not merely a fictional creation derived within another celestial plane; rather it is an expression of the artist's inner self, something derived from their experiencing the human condition. Possessing a certain commonality in terms of how both the temple and artists observe life, Outenin continues to actively involve itself with contemporary artists in order to commonly create a space in which such shared concepts may be expressed.
Started in 2000, the “Commons Festa” has been the core event for Outenin in terms of it defining its art-oriented activities. Based on the annual theme of “Reducing Disaster Damage” (a kanji composite written using the two characters for reduction and disaster), this year's “Commons Festa” featured artwork that attempted not only to attract visitors’ attention, but rather it tried to induce visitors to think about disaster prevention.
For example, one presentation entitled, "Pretending to be Prepared for Emergencies," displayed a variety of common items such as umbrellas, buckets, and tarpaulins that were hung from the ceiling. The exhibit was designed to ask viewers how they would use these daily items in a practical manner in the event of an actual disaster. Ideas and the opinions of viewers were also incorporated in the work.
Another presentation was of a short movie showing scenes from a community impacted by the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake. The movie asked viewers how events related to this disaster could be preserved and passed on, in order that the events did not fade from society’s collective consciousness. With no audio or storyline, this silent movie was powerful enough to capture of the attention of viewers, they being mesmerized by its imagery.
center: Installation by Toru Oyamada
left: A scene from the exhibition, graveyards outside the temple can be seen from windows on the left of the picture
right: A video presentation by remo
Hironori Yamaguchi, Chief of Outenin Temple, explained to us the temple's approach toward artistic events and programs.
Q: How did the “Commons Festa” first start?
Yamaguchi: Someone was interested in using Outenin as an event space, and they wanted to have a photo exhibition on public welfare hosted by the temple. As we were making plans for guest speakers and other related events that would be held in concert with the aforementioned photo exhibition, we came up with the concept of using the temple as sort of "commonly-owned space," where people would be able to share their opinions and ideas. We also believed that a quality space would not realize its true potential unless it was able to be used by as many people as possible. We also felt that any narrow usage of this facility would not result in culture being generated here, and disseminated to surrounding communities.
Anyway, we started with a theatrical art festival back in 1997. This provided a place in which people related to the theater, and other performing arts, were able to express themselves.
Since 2000, the characteristics of the event have become more artistic as a result of having a contemporary artist join the “Commons Festa,” in the role of a producer. Our expectations were that through artistic means, an unknown space that was fun would be created from something that was familiar to people (the temple).
Q: How did you choose the theme of “Reducing Disaster Damage” ("gensai"), which seems a bit unusual as a theme for an artistic event?
Yamaguchi: In 2006, we moved the date of the “Commons Festa” from November to January of each year. January is an anniversary month for many people living in the Kansai Region, especially those who experienced the hardships associated with the Great Hanshin Earthquake. This temple, itself, is located on top of an active geological fault called Uemachi Daichi. Moreover, it has been estimated that about 42,000 residents of the area could die should an earthquake of a similar magnitude hit us again. Disaster prevention is a theme that previously we had not actively tried to confront; nevertheless, it is something closely related to our daily lives. In our own way, we wanted to create an opportunity to encourage people to think about disaster prevention, using both art and artistic endeavor as a medium by which to get this message across.
Although the theme itself may be somewhat unusual, the form it took in our exhibitions was a result of what was felt by the participating artists who spent their time and used this space to produce works they felt were interesting.
Q: What feedback have you received from artists who have used the temple to show their work?
Yamaguchi: They often comment that the place itself has a sense of power. The building, which was completed in 1997, has a lobby with glass walls through which visitors can view both nearby shrines and graveyards. Artists may be inspired to travel back in time and imagine a story when they, themselves, experience such views. The inorganic space that the concrete building creates may also encourage artists to think about the ebb of time and what it really means to be alive. Such experiences seem to have been naturally reflected in the artwork we have been privileged to show over the years.
Q: Please tell us about your own views regarding art.
Yamaguchi: For me, art is a form that combines both technique and creativity. As viewers of art, we should be able to experience some form of reaction to artwork as a stimulus. What is most important, however, is not to understand the artists' intention correctly. Rather it is to discover our own way of interpreting the work presented. Our role as viewers of art is to catch and grasp any messages that artists may have embedded within their work. Such messages are to be translated and received by viewers in their own language, and this factor in itself represents the transformation of art from being a mere stimulus into becoming something of greater importance.
Outenin Temple continues to provide a sense of time and space that may inspire us to appreciate the meaning of our lives and further discover ourselves as human beings. When art is presented in such a setting, it makes more sense for the viewer to find underlying messages rather than simply appreciating the artwork itself. In this respect, art and temples may have something in common in terms of the roles they play.
A lecture held in the temple's main hall