The Song of the Children All Gone
Mounir Fatmi

After the Setouchi Triennale in 2016, during which Mounir Fatmi was asked to develop a project connected to the remote Japanese island, he returns this year to Awashima to present the second part of the Project “The Song of the Children All Gone”. He found inspiration in the elementary school, long since abandoned, and created several site specific installations inside and outside the building. Titled , the installation gives a voice to all the children who have left the island, as well as to the small, aging community of roughly 200 people, who still remain.

Exhibition The Song of the Children All Gone
Artists Mounir Fatmi
Curator Toshio Kondo, Art Front Gallery
Venue Setouchi Triennale, Awashima, Japan
All images Courtesy by the artist

What first struck the artist about this former elementary school was the eerie sense of time stopped; the classrooms left in the same configuration, posters on the wall, some books still on the shelves, desks and chairs in place, and particularly surprising, the clocks in every room all stopped at the same time, 10h45.
Fatmi intervened in almost all of the vacant rooms, re-arranging books, maps, signage, and other remaining teaching tools. In one classroom, Fatmi placed the clocks onto some of the desks, but not all, a reference to those who have stayed and those who have gone. In another room he placed all of the remaining trophies on the ground and projected a light from behind, creating an unexpected animated effect. But the installation also served as an act stopping the competition, as if the idea of competition is done, it no longer serves a purpose here. In the music room, the piano was dusted off and placed in the center of the room. At one time all Japanese students were taught to play the piano and here it is made available for anyone to play. The composition of the school’s anthem has been placed on the music rack. Fatmi also created a sound piece for this room that mixes together three elements: sounds of the sea, sounds of children playing, and sounds of voices singing the song. Combined with the piano, the sound piece resonated through the building.
Outside, an installation of black and white horse jumping bars, or Obstacles as Fatmi refers to them, have been placed around an old bronze sculpture that had been left in the back of the school yard. The sculpture moved to the front and placed in a sort of black cage, shows two boys and one girl looking upwards, the boys with fingers pointing to the sky, the girl with a finger pointing to the earth. In an interview with Toshio Kondo, the director of the Triennale, Mounir talks about his impressions of the island, its beauty and its isolation. For him, the bronze sculpture felt like a premonition of sorts with “the girl pointing to the ground, her feet to the earth, to the homeland, while the boys point upwards, towards new frontiers, to their eventual departure.” The Obstacles act as a metaphor for water, a kind of obstacle for islanders to get to the mainland, to connect to the world.
The Setouchi Triennale was developed as a way to revitalize this unique island archipelago off the coast of Japan. It brings together artwork, performances and food projects across twelve islands in the Seto Inland Sea.

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