With at least one tremor every day and a torch in each hotel room, speculations about the solidity of buildings are never completely absent from a visit to Japan. The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake on 11 March, 2011, also known as '3/11', utterly destroyed an area of 500km north and south of Sendai, triggering a tsunami and a triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant. Although the clear-up of the physical wreckage is under way, the emotional wreckage will take decades to address. The relationship between land and sea has changed significantly--the fact that 40% of the Japanese coastline is surrounded by a 10m high concrete barrier which did not stop the catastrophe has shaken people's faith in the country's ability to defend itself against future natural disasters. Environmental issues are now much more urgent.
Artists and architects responded to the misfortune better than many other people. As local authorities reached an impasse with central government over reconstruction plans, artists and architects could go and make things happen. Many of these projects are still under way. 'March 11 gave creative people an amazing role,' says Yusaku Imamura, director of the Tokyo Wonder Site art centre which supports emerging artists. 'Is hope provided by leadership or imagination? Art stimulates hope and so the role of artists has become more important. The power of the individual, rather than the corporation or the group, is more apparent now.'
It is fitting that the director of the Aichi Triennale, 2013, Japan's largest international arts festival, is also a professor of architecture. Taro Igarashi was one of 50 architects who helped in the reconstruction of the area and began to see the disaster as a chance for Japanese architecture to reinvent itself and return to older building and design traditions. The festival's title, 'Awakening--Where Are We Standing?--Earth, Memory and Resurrection', reflects the environmental and social challenges facing not only Japan but the rest of the planet too (Features AM362). While some Japanese artists have felt a duty to respond to the disaster, others see the influence on their work in ways they could not have predicted. Katsuhiro Miyamoto, whose home was destroyed in the Hanshin Earthquake of 1995, aimed to make the Fukushima meltdown act as a warning to future generations by superimposing a 1:1 map of the reactor onto the Aichi Arts Centre in Nagoya and presenting it as a shrine, with gabled roofs in the traditional Irimoya style. As Fukushima cannot be safely decommissioned for 10,000 years, this act became a form of prayer, reminding him of the devotional copying of Buddhist sutras. The outline of the ghost reactor, painted in bright yellow lines along the walls and floors of the site, kept the reclamation very present and hinted at the theme's spiritual connotation.
Fumiaki Aono, an artist living in Sendai, reassembled debris collected from his relatives' homes to form hybrid sculptures, fusing a fishing boat with domestic furniture, or impressing the remains of a clock into a painting of Mount Fuji. The challenge to title his 'restoration' pieces is evident in Repair/Substitute/Combine/Penetration/Juxtaposition/Restored Car Picked up on Higashi-Matsushima, 2013, which shows the violent incongruity of belongings left as mashed-up trash. …