Unreal Nature

August 10, 2016

This Violent Light

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… He remembered the final day of the war, the cloudless blue sky …

This is from Beyond Japan: A Photo Theatre by Mark Holborn (1991):

… An objective strategy was the inevitable course for a Japanese photographer in the aftermath of 1945. The nation had been moving towards mass sacrifice as if in a trance. After two flashes of destruction the trance was over and the Emperor had uttered the unthinkable. General MacArthur had arrived on Japanese soil wearing sunglasses and black men driving jeeps were cruising what was left of the Ginza.

[line break added] To record this boundless loss and the extent of the rubble was impossible. Ken Domon of the Shudan Group who practised an objective documentary style, began his heroic record of Hiroshima. Thirteen years after the war, his book was published. It addressed the world with a jacket designed from a painting by Joan Miró. Domon’s photographs were reproduced in gravure, as if they were illustrations of precious artefacts.

[line break added] He moved his camera close into surgery and scar tissue. He photographed the subject of pain as if the flesh was as inanimate as classical sculpture — an accumulation of gestures, or wrists, hands and masks. The language was monumental.

[ … ]

… This archaeology, this digging for artefacts or shards of history with which to chart identity, was defined by Kikuji Kawada in his work Chizu (The Map, 1965).

KikujiKawada_veteranTheMap
Kikuji Kawada, 90-Year-Old Japanese, A Memorial Decoration from the Showa Emperor, from the series The Map, 1960-1965

… In an introduction to Chizu, the writer Kenzaburo Oë referred to the violent light of the work. Yukio Mishima later referred to the same light in his essay Sun and Steel (1970), when he described his encounter with the Sun:

My first — unconscious — encounter was in the summer of the defeat, in the year 1945. A relentless sun blazed down on the lush grass of that summer that lay on a borderline between the war and the post-war period — a borderline, in fact, that was nothing more than a line of barbed wire entanglements, half broken down, half buried in summer weeds, tilting in all directions …

That same sun, as the days turned to months and the months to years, had become associated with a pervasive corruption and destruction. In part, it was the way it gleamed so encouragingly on the wings of planes leaving on missions, on forests of bayonets, on the badges of military caps, on the embroidery of military banners.

Kawada was making a similar set of poetic equations in the midst of the relics: the iris of an eye in a shattered dome, the crumpled sun in the flag, the insignia, the memory of the chrysanthemum, the Imperial crest, dead kamikaze pilots, an ancient map, the concrete of abandoned defences and black walls bleached by this violent light.

KikujiKawada_strongholdTheM
Kikuji Kawada, The Ruin of a Stronghold, from the series The Map, 1960-1965

[ … ]

… In 1962 [the architect] Isozaki created a photomontage he called Future City in which new architecture was integrated with historical ruins. He added the caption, ‘The Incubator Process. Ruins lie in the future of our city, and the future city itself will lie in ruins.’ He was attacking a flawless idealism of the future, prevalent in the architectural aspiration of Japan in the early Sixties, where no vestige of the past or rubble of history remained. It was impossible for Isozaki to conceive of a city that did not accommodate ruins.

[line break added] He remembered the final day of the war, the cloudless blue sky, the shadows and the brilliant sunlight. ‘As my gaze returned to earth, my widened eyed beheld as they could see an almost uniform plane of broken, jagged, charred and burnt-out ruins.’ An unblemished, shadowless Utopian future did not correspond to what he or his generation had witnessed.

To be continued.

-Julie

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