Riding bicycles around the seaside curves and over the hills of temperate Naoshima Island begins the journey of transformation that is Tadao Ando’s Chichu Art Museum. After parking at a modest structure alongside the road, buying tickets and dropping bags, one is instructed to follow a meandering trail skirting a lush pond brimming with lotus blooms, dragonflies and flowers of every hue of violet and yellow. As colors and smells intensify, impressions of the verdant semi-tropical island mingle – one is already dissolving into this labyrinth of the senses.
The way opens to a diagonal paving-stone causeway up a slight incline. There is no entrance barricade or distracting signage to disconcert the transition. One is greeted with a bow, given simple instructions, and sent further along the journey.
Following the path one next encounters the essence of ‘wall’. We confront the edge of a great plane transecting the hillside, running parallel to our passage. We entertain this object as pure form, corresponding along it's massive presence until we discover ‘punctuation’, a cleft in the surface: ‘opening’. Curious about this novelty and variation, we are drawn into ‘cavity’, a portal of threshold, light and shadow. We are exposed again after the passage, and then plunged into a tunnel of pure void: darkness, the slight tang of moisture and metal, an acoustic instrument with sharp resonance – we hear our footfalls, however soft, heightened and multiplied.
We are travelling a horizontal path. Our imagination entertains no other axis. Until, after a sharp change of orientation, oddly more than a right angle, the side of wall opens and our gaze plummets into void; we experience depth, height, and the thrill of vertigo. A pure quadratic volume falls open below our feet and rises into the sky above. This day we’re treated to gusts of mist drifting overhead, heard and felt as much as seen, this moisture enticing the rigid grid of grassy green fronds reaching upwards from the basin below.
We’re led into and along, not ‘corridors’, but passages of luminosity and shading; changes in grade, pitch and level; intensities of reflection and vibration. The Chichu does not ‘house’ it’s selection of precious few works of art: it ‘stages’ them. James Turrell’s Open Sky cannot be imagined without the journey that leads us into this experiential work, the detailing that embraces it – as the mise-en-scène supports the context and sustains the network of connections for a work of dance theater.
It may be argued that this object, while certainly architecture, is not a building. It is, rather, a choreography of sensory experiences aimed at taking us to a heightened state of perception and realization.
The ‘works’ the ‘museum’ holds are simply a further means of activating our imagination. These collaborative junctures of place and actuality exist to further draw us into a reflection about value and being – our ultimate need to make an action of consciousness in order to create our reality.