Ever since I was a small child, I’ve been fascinated with animals.
As an elementary school student growing up in the South-west of England, where I lived from the ages of 2 to 7, one of the highlights of my school year was the annual outing to the nearby Paignton Zoo, one of the largest zoos in Europe at the time.
Of course living in Torbay, known affectionately by locals as The English Riviera, there were also several aquariums and exhibits covering local marine life and the fishing trade. But in all honesty, the thing I remember most when I think about marine life in Torquay is the delicious lobster tails that we used to buy fresh from the harbor-front fishmonger every weekend.
So, given my love of all things nautical, I was, unsurprisingly, quite curious when my friend informed me about a new marine exhibit that had opened up in Osaka’s trendy Nakanoshima riverside district.
Photo: yayayamamamama on Flickr
Art Aquarium, according to the flyer my friend gave me, promised to deliver a unique mix of tropical fish, colours, geometric shapes, lights and music to create a full sensory experience like no other.
I’ll be honest, I’ve read similarly pretentious pre-ambles before going on to give decidedly mediocre reviews of the disappointingly underwhelming venues and exhibits in question.
But hopefully this was going to be different. Hopefully this exhibit would prove to be as new, refreshing and innovative as its marketing materials promised it to be.
So, on a hot and humid Saturday morning earlier this month, I met up with my friend and we headed over to Nakanoshima.
On a side note, if you are going to local exhibitions or shows like this, I really recommend buying tickets from the automated ticketing machines in 7-Eleven and other convenience stores.
If you are lucky you can get entry coupons, too.
Photo: Tatsuya Fukata on Flickr
It’s that thing that you’ll usually find sitting next to the printer/photocopier in the shop that looks a bit like an ATM.
Search for the event you want, print off the ticket voucher and take it to the check out where you can pay for and then receive your tickets.
The whole process takes less than 5 minutes and will save you significant queuing time once you get to the event.
However, despite our buying tickets ahead of time, so popular was this event, that we still had to wait about 30 minutes before we got into the venue. If you don’t mind dressing up, during the summer months the venue offers a 10% discount on the ticket price to anyone who attends while wearing a yukata, as my friend indeed did.
So, with that out of the way, we finally got on to the exhibit itself.
Photo: daita saru on Flickr
Immediately upon entering it become clear why we had waited outside for so long. This exhibit was so delicately laid out and presented that, in order for one to appreciate it fully, one would need sufficient space and time to move around each area at a slow, steady pace. It was a far cry from some art shows and museum exhibits I have been to in the past where the organizers clearly just wanted to ram as many people through the doors and collect as much revenue per day as they could.
Whatever you may thing about the show itself, the creators of Art Aquarium clearly care a great deal about their art and are passionate about ensuring that this installation can be fully experienced and appreciated to its maximum potential.
Upon entering we were greeted with an ornamental organization of four round fish bowls, each containing the same breed of tropical fish. The bowls had a self-refillinf overflow mechanism which fed into another bowl beneath with more, differently coloured tropical fish.
Photo: yayayamamamama on Flickr
Photo: Kanon Serizawa on Flickr
Both above and below the four structures were various lights of differing intensities and ever changing colours, creating a beautiful, almost rainbow like cascading effect as they passed through the different prisms of glass in the tanks.
As the centerpiece to this first room of the exhibit there was a huge dodecahedron, probably about five or six times the size of the 4 surrounding fountains. Again, its housed a variety of tropical fish.
What made this centerpiece different from its surroundings however was the way in which the glass panels of the geometric structure were of varying thicknesses. This meant that, to the outside observer the fish appeared to change in size as they passed by each panel. It was almost like observing the fish through some kind of high art variant of the classic circus “hall of mirrors” sideshow.
The second room of the exhibit was, in all honesty, somewhat less interesting than the first.
Again we had various species of fish, with my personal favourite, the orange and white “koi” carp, being heavily showcased. However, this time they were grouped into more conventional, box-like, fish tanks, which seemed to me to be a little lacking in originality. Of course the colourful fish and the ambient lights, as well as the soothing, if slightly trippy, background audio went a long way to continuing the relaxing ambience established in the first room of the display.
Photo: sakaki0214 on Flickr
It was also nice to see a few of those orange white stripy fish made famous in a certain kids movie being on display for the younger generations to enjoy too.
It may have taken me about 15 years, but I guess I finally did indeed succeed in “Finding Nemo.”
Any nagging disappointments I may have had with the rather ordinary second phase of the exhibition were quickly washed away (no pun intended) as we entered the final room of the show.
Here, were presented with a large stair case, of about 5 or 6 levels.
What I saw at the top was possibly one of the most creative and imaginative uses of marine life as art I have ever witnessed.
Photo: daita saru on Flickr
For on opposite sides of this “staircase” there stood round fish bowls, illuminated in a mix of orange and red light, and shaped in the same design aesthetic as the lanterns which illuminate the path towards many temples in Japan during the night time.
And there, at the top, was what can only be described as a shrine to marine life.
A variety of shapes and sizes of fish tanks, again backed up by multi-coloured illuminations, took on the shape and structure of a shrine or temple.
It was a beautiful blend of hi-tech design, marine biology and a touch of Japanese history and culture.
It was the perfect end to a wonderfully relaxing and enlightening afternoon out.