Waiting for the Wind is currently showing as part of the Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021 – 2023 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is on until Sunday June 18th. It features two selected artists – Shiga Lieko and Takeuchi Kota and the title itself came out of a dialogue between the two artists, who both live in areas that were affected by the 2011 Great Eastern Earthquake and tsunami. Lieko, based in Miyagi prefecture since 2008, creates works about the tensions inherent in the act of regeneration. Takeuchi, currently living in Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture, focuses on historical stories interweaving the recent past with that of the second world war. Both artists respond to local and International histories and their impact over time on people and place.
SHIGA Lieko,When the Wind Blows, 2022-2023, video installation, endless Photo: TAKAHASHI Kenji, Photo courtesy of Tokyo Arts and Space
On entering, the viewer can sit on what look like industrial sandbags. Three large wall projections show people walking, sometimes alone, sometimes together, one behind with closed eyes or side by side. A main figure speaks into a microphone making it reminiscent of a live news report from a breaking story, and tells their experiences to the camera while the side walls switch between red waves.. This piece is haunting, it has the qualities of both a visual poem and documentary style filmmaking, dreamlike and factual, personal and universal. Lieko interprets the wave of restoration projects launched suddenly after the earthquake and tsunami through the metaphor of walking. The people walking reflect their journey, their movement through the time of the disaster, the sense of the area itself, but also the emotional aftermath of it all, years later.
In contrast, room two is bright, bold and graphic.
志賀理江子《あの夜のつながるところ》2022、インスタレーション 撮影：髙橋健治 画像提供：トーキョーアーツアンドスペース
SHIGA Lieko,Where that Night Leads, 2022, installation Photo: TAKAHASHI Kenji Photo courtesy of Tokyo Arts and Space
The installation work is a giant collage full of images of people, lines, words, testimony, witness and descriptions. Debris and animal carcasses are superimposed over a map of the coastal region that runs from Tokyo to northeast Sanriku and the top of Aomori (Honshu`s northernmost prefecture). Drawings and notes are etched in a variety of materials but the deep blue juxtaposed with the red of the mapped lines is a graphic reminder of the human cost of the disaster both in terms of the physical destruction of the ocean and in the lives of the people living there. Take time to read the small photos at eye level and you begin to see how she is masterfully telling the individual stories – one poignantly reads in Japanese and English “ A person, who despite surviving the tsunami took his own life due to exhaustion”. In the centre of the space, a timer set on a scaffold suddenly drops a sandbag, the short sharp shock of the sound, perhaps mimicking sensations of the earthquake. A central pillar is covered in information and quotes about the reconstruction process.
SHIGA Lieko,Where that Night Leads, 2022, installation 志賀理江子《あの夜のつながるところ》2022、インスタレーション Photo: Rachel Carvosso
She writes, “These experiences have caused me to view in the last 12 years of reconstruction following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, characterised by the overwhelming forces of capital and state planning which are virtually impossible to resist, not only as a modern day form of oppression, but also as a process that suggests possibilities for new ideas, different perspectives, diverse paths and sometimes conflicting forces to emerge along the way, and for these to closely interconnect. (Lieko) “
This suggests that even within the destruction comes the opportunity for possibility, but with a question about the mechanisms of control within these potentials. Her work is a visual layering of time, of memory, of visceral experiences and multiple stories located on the land. They reveal that which is overlooked, or no longer there, like a trace – but one which connects past and future – what kind of future and who decides that is still up for debate.
Takeuchi Kota, working in 2020 as a security guard at an interim storage facility in Fukushima prefecture where soil from the contaminated area was being buried, has experienced first hand the effects of both the contamination and the narrative around the disaster. Most of the work in this exhibition centres on his research into World War Two balloon bombs created by Japan with the aim of attacking America. Both his earlier work around the disaster and his more recent pieces investigate the created narratives and question their motive. His artist statement reads:
Daily news reports show that while humanity has developed means of instantaneous communication across oceans, we have not stopped sending soldiers and bombs. (Kota)
In this show painstakingly researched pieces retrace factual narratives using documents, eye witness accounts, references things that have been hidden, concealed, covered up. In spite of the lack of physical markers the history has left indelible traces in people’s lives.This exhibition draws on previous works such as his 2013 installation Demolition of Mihako Theater which captures the razing of the Mihako Theater in Iwaki city where he is based, and where one of the world war two bombs was released. As the viewer watches the demolition they are placed within the scene simultaneously witnessing the destruction of the place (seemingly in real time) – a loop of time returning over and over to a point of departure.
竹内公太《三凾座の解体》 2013、映像インスタレーション、33分23秒 TAKEUCHI Kota, Demolition of Mihako Theater, 2013, video installation, 33min. 23sec.
竹内公太「さばかれえぬ私へ Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021-2023 受賞記念展」展示風景、東京都現代美術館、2023
The exhibition showcases his blend of documentary style reportage such as in the piece Blind Bombing, Filmed by a bat, a 30 minute video, or with large photographs that make up the large balloon-sized piece occasionally rises and falls like a breath. Titled Sigh of A Ground, 2022 it is a reminder of the traces of history.
See Top Photo
竹内公太「さばかれえぬ私へ Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021-2023 受賞記念展」展示風景、東京都現代美術館、2023 撮影：髙橋健治 画像提供：トーキョーアーツアンドスペース
TAKEUCHI Kota, “Waiting for the Wind: Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021-2023 Exhibition” installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, 2023 Photo: TAKAHASHI Kenji Photo courtesy of Tokyo Arts and Space. Mounted on the wall the photo, Shooting (Cold Creek), 2022, shows a hand pointing into the dusty desert like distance, the second, a photo of feet with an x marking the spot are impersonal yet pointed.
竹内公太《シューティング（コールドクリーク）》 2022、写真 TAKEUCHI Kota, Shooting (Cold Creek), 2022, photo
The images are records of a physical moment , one where the artist , standing in for witnesses, has made a journey to a place to say x marks the spot. Echoing the large x in Lieko`s room which a red cross was used to show that the area had been checked. Perhaps also a reference to the 2011 Representative of Finger Pointing worker, who Takeuchi said he was representing – an anonymous TEPCO worker who had lifted his finger to point into a public live feed camera (Pointing at Fukuichi Live Cam), and subsequently set up websites with suggestions for improving the workers environment as well as a note that his action was referencing Vito Acconci`s 1971 piece Centres. The pointing represents both a “micro-politics of power” (Carpenter p125) – where the pointing becomes both accusatory/ historical and revealing/metaphorical.
This creation of a knowing but seemingly once removed narrator continues in the piece Blind Bombing, Filmed by a bat. The 30 minute video features a drone video of the balloon’s journey. Interspersed with the story of the balloon production, local people, both in Japan and the US, are interviewed about their eyewitness accounts of balloon sightings or local deaths. A robotic voiceover gives darkly comedic commentary of the balloons compared to the (apparent) bat Narrator`s abilities. A dry yet serious reference to the increased capacity of the mechanisms of war. The work extended beyond any gallery showing when in September 2022 he worked with Museums in Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture (where another of the balloons was released) to organise a walk for local residents to explore history. Thus the art work continues its work of creating experiences and spaces of dialogue and connection.
TAKEUCHI Kota, Attu Island, Alaska from Sight Recovery/Balloon Possession, 2022, ink on paper, C-print
Sight Recovery/Ballon Possession is a wall of reports from the American declassified archives explaining the balloon sightings. Typed and mounted the simple presentation creates a physical wall of information, the reports revealing that which has been hidden and concealed. Both the sightings of the balloons are detailed and the sight of the viewer is recovered. At the time this was part of a campaign to keep quiet about any attacks. Demystifying and re-presenting past secrets he opens up questions about the campaign. Takeuchi`s work creates a space to question the media representation of a given event or place and opens up dialogue about the multiplicity of perspectives using means such as maps, live streaming video and UAV (drone) camera. His practice is formed across temporal and spatial divides. Engaging with people’s memories through the physicality of monuments, buildings, sculptures he cross references this with archival material, interviews and local historian and eye witness reports
For many people outside of Japan the news cycle has moved on multiple times since the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake of 2011, and has become part of a body of work related to the genre of political and community art responses to the disaster. For those in Japan, it was not only a fleeting national / international news story but continues to be part of the ongoing discussion about both environmental and social tolls of nuclear and political power. Time moves relentlessly forward, reconstruction happens but what is the cost to the community? And who decides this? These two artists poignantly question the narratives of power in contrast with lived local experience. They present, question and ultimately try to reclaim the physicality of the body, the land, the local people and their experiences of these two different historical moments. Monuments, in their own way of the lives affected.