Produced for Setouchi Triennale 2016, Needle Factory is Ohtake’s most recent architectural artwork. Ohtake transported a colossal wooden form of a ship’s hull from his hometown of Uwajima to the site of a former needle factory on Teshima island in the Seto Inland Sea. Over 17 meters long, the form was made for the production of FRP fishing-boat hulls, but was never used, and sat abandoned for more than 30 years in a shipyard. On the other hand, the needle factory was in operation from 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics, to 1989, the year of Emperor Hirohito’s death, but has remained empty since its closure. Both the wooden hull form and the empty factory speak to the history of industry in postwar Japan, and the people, labor, and narratives involved in that history. In bringing them together in the same location, Ohtake gives them new life, and charges the site with historical resonance. Where the Scrapbooks employ a dense, layered approach to collage and assemblage, Needle Factory is characteristic of a minimal side to Ohtake’s practice in which he attempts to tease out the inframince-like kehai, or aura/atmosphere, behind found objects and abandoned environments.
A reflection on urban migration and the depopulation of rural communities, MECON is an immersive environment that was made on the grounds of an former elementary school in the island of Megishima in the Seto Inland Sea. The ME in the work title is taken from the first syllable of Megishima, while the CON comes from the Japanese word for “root” (kon 根). In “pasting” plants and trees in the school courtyard along with incongruous objects such as a towering buoy painted a vivid shade of red, Ohtake suggests how our roots are shaped by complex processes of migration, exchange, and return. Also featured in the installation are photographic ceramic plates Ohtake produced in collaboration with Lixil corporation, one of Japan’s biggest ceramic manufactures, with images taken from previous works including the Scrapbooks. A permanent installation, MECON is conceived as an artwork that evolves over time.
One of Ohtake’s best known architecture scale projects, the Naoshima Bath is a functioning bathhouse commissioned by Fukutake Foundation for the island of Naoshima. It applies collage techniques to architectural composition—from collages of ukiyo-e prints and vintage album covers lining the floors of the baths to collages of tiles lining the front exterior and other ad hoc constructions inspired by vernacular architecture, as well as a greenhouse with an assemblage of exotic plant life, which bathers can view from the water. Overlooking both male and female baths is a found, life-size elephant figure, while monitors in the changing rooms feature
excerpts from old films. As with later works such as YAKIOKU and MON CHERI: A Self-Portrait as a Scrapped Shed, the Naoshima Bath presents itself as an unreliable archive where obliteration and preservation are in constant tension. Here, the potential of the space as a memory factory must be reactivated each day by the chance communities who use the baths.
One of Ohtake’s earliest commissions for Naoshima, Haisha was produced for the Art House Project, which asks artists to make installations in empty houses and buildings. As its name implies in Japanese, the site was originally the home and office of a dentist. Adding neon signs, shipyard materials, and a two-story tall replica of the Statue of Liberty to the space, Ohtake turned the entire house into an environmental artwork. Affixed with assemblages of scrap materials found on Naoshima, the exterior walls are designed to communicate the memory of the site, as well as evoke the ad hoc constructions of postwar vernacular architecture.