An artist’s big journey: Miami man sets site on bicycling through Japan

When Gabriel Delponte was a child in Argentina, every year he accompanied his uncle, a truck driver, on his journeys across the country, from Tierra del Fuego to the Brazilian border.

Now Delponte is a 38-year-old artist based in Miami. His childhood road trips have made him something of a nomad, and next year he plans to merge his wandering ways with his art practice: He will ride a bicycle across the entire length of Japan, from the southernmost point to the northernmost and back again.

As he installed a sculpture for the opening of the project, which took place Thursday in the Design District, Delponte said the principal focus of the piece would be communication, explored through his encounters with people along the route.

There is a kind of connection, Delponte says, that is increasingly rare in a world running on instant information.

“What I want to do is revive this kind of one-on-one communication, and to really listen again,” Delponte said.

Yet the project, called Bridge Me Japan, is by no means a disavowal of digital media. Along the way, Delponte will document everything with photos, video, writing and artworks, much of it disseminated on his website and social media.

Delponte hopes to ride up and down the coastline of Japan over the course of about a year.

Regarding his choice of venue, Delponte said he had always been drawn to Japan’s culture, beginning with a friendship with childhood neighbors of Japanese descent in Buenos Aires. He has been to the island four times and has a rudimentary grasp of the language. But this time plans to truly immerse, counting only on his social graces to navigate a culture that remains foreign.

“I want to explore what it takes for an immigrant to readapt to a new culture, and I want to share that with people in real time,” Delponte said.

The artist secured sponsorship from a bicycle company, Muller Japan, who gave him a high-end bike and promised to help with gear and repairs along the way.

Yoshiko Tezuka, president of Muller Japan, said she had never sponsored an art project before.

“If he were just riding a bicycle, I probably wouldn’t have supported him,” she said. “But this is a work of conceptual art and it is very, very beautiful.”

During the journey, Delponte will also be soliciting and exchanging letters, creating a chain of handwritten messages between people he encounters of different generations — young to old and back again.

At the end of the trip he wants to gather the letters in a book.

This portion of Bridge Me Japan was inspired by the Hikyaku, couriers who delivered letters on foot for much of Japan’s long history.

But it also grew from his wayfaring days with his uncle in Argentina, when he would contemplate the informal networks of communication developed between truck drivers and the various people they met on their routes: farmers, gauchos, gas station attendants. Sometimes friends of Delponte’s uncle would communicate with him on the road by means of call-in radio shows.

“These systems of communication developed naturally, as a result of not having much around. But they’re completely functional,” Delponte said. “The only difference is that you had to be patient.”

During the project’s opening reception on Thursday, some of Delponte’s friends noted that the piece was in many ways a natural extension of the artist’s nomadic and restless personality, and his openness to forging meaningful friendships out of chance encounters.

Some of those present were themselves reflections of these tendencies. Among the expected audience of peers (artists and cyclists, for instance) there were lawyers and financial analysts of many ages who said they had become friends with Delponte after he struck up conversations with them in public.

This is the type of connection Delponte wants to practice and convey during his yearlong trek.

“I know I’m not trying to discover anything new. This is a very old thing,” Delponte said. “It’s just a question of reviving it, if only for the fun of it.”

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