Exhibiting art in Japan: An interview with James Tapscott


Artist James Tapscott stands beneath Arc ZERO at Japan Alps Art Festival


Australian artist, James Tapscott, founder and creative director of Globelight Inc., was invited to exhibit his work at this year’s Japan Arts Alp Festival in Shinano Omachi. James’ work, Arc ZERO, a ring of mist by day and an illuminated halo by night, framed the bridge to a temple so his experiences even included getting approval from a monk!

Asia Options’ Japan Correspondent, Kirrily Zoon, reached out to James to hear more about his work and what the process is like for an Australian artist exhibiting in Japan.


How did you hear about the Japan Alps Arts Festival? Did they contact you or did you apply of your own volition?

They actually contacted me – funnily enough, the day after I was planning a holiday to Japan for the first time, I wound up going there for a site visit a few weeks before the holiday. Art Front Gallery, who run the festival (along with a few other large triennials) found my work online and invited me to take part.

Had you shown any of your works in Japan before?

No, but hopefully through the success of the festival, I will have further opportunities to exhibit in Japan. Many of the other artists involved in the festival have exhibited many times through the Gallery’s network.

What made you want to showcase your work here?

It wasn’t really a planned thing from my end, but the festival itself is actually something I’d always wanted to do as an artist. I’ve often worked in a natural setting with installations that are temporary and site-specific, so to be able to create a work in this context, and with much more resources than I usually get to work with was a great experience, and something I’d been working towards for nearly a decade. It’s hopefully the first of many opportunities to work in this way.

Can you tell us a bit about the process of finalising your place in the festival? (i.e. was there a lot of paperwork involved? Much networking? Logistical hurdles?)

It was quite streamlined, and similar to other festivals, with a site visit around 10 months prior to the event, followed by a concept proposal, which, once given the green light, was developed over time with a specialist engineering company based just outside Tokyo. It took a lot of plans, design tweaks, prototype testing videos and skype meetings to figure everything out but the communication channels worked really well, even with the language barrier. We also had to gain permission to use the space, both from the city and the temple where my work was located, the monk was very receptive to the idea and the city also came on board once we figured out some of the logistical problems. I think many artists in the festival went through the same process, eventually the locals and councillors were won over by the ambition and quality of proposals.

 Did you need to do much promotion for the event or did the festival committee take care of that?

The committee promoted the event on a local level, and really transformed the town into an exciting hub. It seemed most of the promotional activity took place while the event was up and running, and not much prior to its launch, so the momentum grew throughout the two month period it was running. I also took it upon myself to promote the festival as much as I could, sending submissions to international art and design blogs, with many of them running posts about the festival and my work. I always try to document my work as thoroughly as possible with high-quality photography and video so I had a lot of material to work with. The festival also had their own great photographer, but with over 30 works to cover it was good to have my own material to work with.

A tour interview – Japan Alps Art Festival


I actually heard about your work through the Australian Embassy, Tokyo’s website. Has the Australian government assisted you in any way while you were here or before you arrived?

I applied for assistance through Asialink but was unsuccessful (my hit rate for grants is pretty low!) but the gallery has a direct connection to the Embassy and has organized support for a few projects involving Australian artists in the past so they were able to obtain some extra funding for my work that way. My work required quite a lot of tricky engineering so the budget was stretched beyond what I originally proposed – it was great to get the help of the Embassy, it might not have happened otherwise, at least not in its original form.

You mentioned that you were here for a month in the lead up to the festival, did you receive much assistance from the festival then or did you arrange everything yourself?

The festival really arranged everything. The staff were a great help, with all the artists, meeting first-time visitors in Tokyo and helping them navigate their way through to Omachi. They were also a great help in producing the work itself. By the time I left I’d spent enough time in Japan to make my own way back and feel quite confident about it! They organised accommodation in a very convenient location, a car, and arranged a few social occasions once most of the artists had finished installing their work. We also had a couple of days touring around the festival in coaches with a guide so we could see all the works, and were honoured with a large official opening ceremony. The festival committee were great in taking responsibility for the event on every level and ensured all the artworks came together on time – quite an achievement considering the level of problem solving that was required!

Were you offered any other grants or funding for bringing your work here?

The festival had funding available to produce the works, cover travel expenses and offer an artist fee, but other than that, no. My Asialink application was unsuccessful and since the turnaround was less than a year I’d missed the window for other funding sources. I’m glad the gallery had their own connections and were able to secure some extra funding their own way – In my opinion it’s a much more reliable way to make things happen than relying on the lottery of grants.

Arc ZERO by day
Arc ZERO by night


Do you think there are any significant differences between the art scene in Australia versus Japan?

It’s hard to say, since I really only got to know the larger, festival side of things. I’d imagine the commercial gallery scene is quite similar albeit in a much larger market. The differences are on par with everywhere else I’ve travelled (being much larger markets). The scale of things and number of opportunities is just much greater – though much more competitive. I think to confine oneself to the domestic market in Australia is really limiting, and making an almost impossible career choice even more difficult. I think Australia, in particular, should be more involved in the Asia community to expand opportunities for our artists. It’s becoming the biggest market in the world and it’s right on our doorstep. Japan seems to work closely with neighbouring countries, with artists working back and forth on projects in the region – we should do the same.

If you could offer one piece of advice for Australians wanting to display their art in Japan what would it be?

I could write a whole list here but to offer just one thing; Network. Put your best foot forward, meet and impress as many people as possible to open up doorways you couldn’t otherwise. There’s so much activity in Japan, it’s worth trying to forge a long-lasting relationship with your contacts to ensure you can continue to be involved. They’re great people to make friends with too!

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Kirrily Zoon

Kirrily spent her extended gap year collecting Japanese entry stamps in her passport for her work designing itineraries for Australians visiting Japan. In 2016 however, she left the travel industry to study a BA majoring in Japanese at La Trobe University. After representing Victoria at the Japanese Speech Contest, she is now preparing to return to Japan to undertake an internship in Tokyo before embarking on a year of study in Kyoto.

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