Rampaging Junior High Students Trampled and Damaged Artworks During a Field Trip to a Japanese Triennial

One of the works on view at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale has been irreparably damaged.

Ryota Kuwakabo, Lost #6 (2012). Photo: Osamu Nakamura.

Junior high students visiting the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale in Japan vandalized two of the exhibition’s 230 featured artworks, the city government of Tokamachi announced.

On April 21, a teacher leading local students through the show noticed and reported a bent pipe on German artist Carsten Nicolai’s multimedia work Wellenwanne LFO, and the complete trampling of Japanese artist Ryota Kuwakubo’s miniature train and light installation LOST #6.

The students’ school and the Niigata prefecture’s board of education have apologized to the Trienniale, and reported that several students were involved in the vandalism, according to Japanese national newspaper The Mainichi.

“We have been holding the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale for a long time and had never had any trouble. That is why this is such a shocking incident,” Mayor Yoshifumi Sekiguchi remarked at a news conference, according to The Mainichi.

The Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale’s 2022 edition opened to the public on April 29. This year’s event makes up for an apparent postponement of its eighth edition, which was scheduled for 2021. Its website says the Triennale “aims to reveal existing assets of the region using art as a catalyst, rediscover their values, communicate these to the world and find a way to revitalize the region.”

Wellenwanne LFO marks Nicolai’s second contribution to the Triennale since its founding in 2000.

“This work continues with a long interest of mine in frequencies, and the relation of sound and water,” Nicolai said in an interview with director Fram Kitagawa. “It’s a little bit like a model where people can see how sound is expanding on water’s surface.” Encapsulating these interactions in Wellenwanne LFO makes visible the ephemeral nature of sound. The work has been repaired.

LOST #6 was not so lucky. “A model train with a small lamp runs slowly in a dark room,” reads a text from the Triennale. “As it travels, the shadows of Echigo-Tsumari’s textile machinery placed on the floor are projected onto the wall like a movie, creating a fantastical spectacle.”

Kuwakubo told Artnet News that he originally contributed LOST #6 to the Triennale’s 2012 edition, after which it was installed permanently.

The Mainichi noted, “It is impossible to reproduce the work due to the trampling by students, so it will no longer be exhibited.”

Kuwakubo took to Twitter yesterday, sympathizing with the students. “I still don’t understand everything about what happened in the dark exhibition room and how the students came to do this,” he wrote. “The result alone may have crossed the line, but still, no one was hurt. Indeed, the work was destroyed, but a thing is a thing.”

Kuwakubo implored the community to hold space for the offenders to express “their inner frustrations, anger, and desires in different ways.”

The Tokamachi municipal government has since filed a damage report with police to seek reimbursement for the damages. No word on whether they’ve secured those funds yet.

The Tokamachi government plans to install surveillance cameras at the museum. The Triennale remains on view through November 13.

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