Issue 1/2012 - Bon Travail

The role of art and art institutions in a time of disaster

Views from the art community in the Tohoku region (a compilation of essays)

Keiko Sei, Satoshi Koganezawa, Hiroyasu Yamauchi, Noboru Takayama

The March 11, 2011 disaster has caused much impact on artist communities in East Japan. Museums have been damaged, exhibitions canceled, and artists have lost their studios. More than the physical damage, however, the impact on the minds of artists and art curators has been even more profound. Here, I pick three essays – two by curators and one by an artist – that have been published in »Aida« (Between) magazine in Japan from April to May 2011. A young curator, in the first essay, works in Tokyo but encountered the earthquake in Miyagi prefecture by accident when he was working on an exhibition of a local artist. The second essay is by a curator based in Miyagi, who has worked tirelessly to make his museum part of a regional culture renaissance, only to be disheartened by all his efforts disrupted by the natural and man–made disaster. The third essay is by an artist who has a studio in Miyagi prefecture and considers the region as his home. He was preparing for his show in Gunma prefecture when he received news of the tsunami. All three reflect on the event with deep thoughts on nature and humans, the role of art when facing great destruction like this, while working out how to protect art works and local culture at a more practical level. I believe they are relevant for art professionals who live and work in equally quake–prone regions now that »Pandora’s box is open«: seismic activities have been activated according to geologists who predict a series of deadly quakes and tsunamis to come along the Pacific Ring of Fire and beyond.

3 Days in March - Art Curators and The Great Tohoku–Pacific Coast Earthquake

by Satoshi Koganezawa (curator, The Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo)

The world has been divided before and after 14:46, March 11. This feeling continues to mantle our world.
At 14:46 on Friday, March 11, 2011, I encountered the disaster later named The Great Tohoku–Pacific coast earthquake*, at The Miyagi Museum of Art (Aoba–ward, Sendai–city). It was during my business trip related to returning and examining works of Churyo Sato, which we had borrowed from the museum for our exhibition »Churyo Sato: Intimate Aspects of a Creative Life ~ A Glimpse into the Day–to–Day Creative Work of an Unpretentious Master« (
It is mandatory practice of museum curators to examine the condition of loaned art works piece by piece, upon receiving and returning them by curators of both lending and borrowing museums to see if there is no change in the condition of works. The quake occurred just after we finished 2 days’ of examination of 200 pieces of sculptures, oil paintings, drawings, book illustrations and some works of other genres.
The Miyagi Museum of Art, opened in 1981, has Churyo Sato Gallery (opened in 1990) and the two are linked by a corridor. I was walking with the museum’s curator, Mituyoshi Mikami after finishing the work at the gallery’s storage area when the earthquake alarm of the museum rang. Shortly after that, the museum was hit by a giant sway moving all from side to side. The quake was long, and I had to lean on the wall without moving until it stopped. The museum, which was hosting »Art Miyagi 2011«, an exhibition that introduced Miyagi–related contemporary artists, had visitors and the museum staff swiftly led them to the courtyard. I followed them and waited there. Fortunately there seemed to have been no casualties, neither of the visitors nor the museum staff. Aftershocks continued and soon we could not use mobile phones anymore; we had to rely on the radio to get information. After a while visitors were told that the museum would be closed due to the emergency.
There was a quake of intensity that was 5 lower [in Japanese scale] on March 9 in Sanrikuoki, so I had anticipated a possibility of another quake. Yet I would have never imagined a quake that caused so much damage ––– it was an earthquake of Magnitude 9.
I could not follow up with the movements of the staff thereafter. I only heard that curators were going around exhibition rooms and doing what they were supposed to do to treat art works in this kind of a situation.
Only once, however, I asked them to accompany the second inspection in the early morning of March 12. As a curator coming from another museum I might have become a hindrance for their work, I thought, but Ikuo Arikawa, AD of the museum, allowed me to do so saying it could be a useful experience for me. As a young curator working for a museum for only less than a year ––– and I hope such a disaster will never occur again––– I would like to write from a curator’s point of view, my precious experience of being at a quake–hit museum.
When I went into the exhibition rooms, art works had already been given necessary emergency treatment according to the type of work, in case of a second disaster. Paintings, for example, are to be taken out of the wall, set against the wall and fixed. Similarly for three dimensional pieces that might move, large ones are to be taken off their pedestals and placed on the floor. Smaller ones are to be put into cardboard boxes with fillers for protection. Position and condition of roofs and lights must also be taken into consideration when placing the works. Anything that might fall down – such as pedestals – by an earthquake needs to be laid down on the floor. Projectors and monitors that are installed near ceilings need to be moved to safer places. As protection material, rolled cardboards and cotton futons are usually used. If these materials are not in stock, however, the proper protection measure may not be possible; hence I paused to realize that enough supplies needed to be prepared on a routine basis.
The staff let me enter the storage area, where I helped move and give protection to art works that could be at risk in case of a second disaster. It was, after all, such basic things as giving protection to art works and making order that I realized afresh the importance of the storage space. I had entered this area many times before and I had always been impressed by the neatness inside. This is a quake–prone area where locals have been told to expect a big one anytime in their daily life – the fact that contributes to the provision of supplies and the level–headed action of the staff after the quake, I thought, even though one might say it is normal procedure of any museum. Not only how they gave protection to art works but in their overall performance of care to visitors after the evacuation, accurate guidance and judgment, all of the staff looked strongly assuring.
Speaking of the supplies, apart from the rolled cardboard and cotton futon, I was reminded once again on this occasion that such consumable supplies as batteries need to be provided in sufficient quantities at all times. After the quake the museum got back its electricity only at midnight of March 12 (March 13). Before that it had to rely on in–house power generation. Flashlights are vital to make rounds in a situation like this. Every museum naturally has flashlights for inspecting works but without batteries they are useless. A windup light proved handy as well.
The fact that the museum is built on the solid rock base of the former Sendai castle seems to have saved it from large scale damage. For informations sake, the main museum was designed by Kunio Maekawa architecture office whereas the Chura Sato gallery was designed by Ooune architectural design office. This is the time of »revitalizing cities and towns« and many such projects are establishing a local museum as a landmark. In it, accessibility and scenery look like being the most important point of consideration for a location when a city decides to build a museum. We must rethink this point once again after this quake and tsunami: when we expect this kind of natural disaster we need to think of other factors when we decide where to build a museum, such as if the ground is solid enough or not, if the surrounding environment is safe or not [...] these factors must become key points in making decisions
Filled with these thoughts I stayed at the museum for 2 nights and then decided to take an express bus, which resumed operation on March 13, heading for Yamagata station; since the route from Sendai to Tokyo was cut off the most effective means to get back to Tokyo was to go through Yamagata and Niigata, a big detour along the Sea of Japan.
When the museum staff brought me to the bus station there were already hundreds of people lined up in a long queue. Moreover, the bus company announced that there was no guarantee that everybody would get on buses because of the shortage of fuel and cars.
It was after waiting for 2 hours, at 4pm, that I could finally manage to get on a bus. The way to Yamagata station was relatively smooth, only some parts were closed. I arrived at 6pm. I stayed at a friend’s house in Yamagata that night. For this friend who works for Tohoku University of Art and Technology, the prime concern and work then was to locate and ensure the safety of all the students (I heard from him some days later that all of them turned out to be safe).
The next day, on the 14th, I got a ride from an acquaintance who was going to Niigata. It took 3 hours to get there. I did not see any major chaos at Niigata station; it was only that light was darker than usual and batteries had been all sold out. Fortunately Joetsu shinkansen was operating with a limited number of trains, and so I could buy a ticket and headed to Tokyo. The most difficult part, however, was after I arrived in Tokyo: the traffic was absolutely jammed partly because of the blackout. I had to use both train and taxi and it was only at night that I finally arrived home in Yokohama. It had been a 3 and a half day journey to get back home since the earthquake.
The number of victims, first reported to be less than a hundred, swelled to 20,000 including the dead and missing at this time of writing (March 22). Experiencing an unprecedented disaster like this, I could not help but think of how an institution of a museum as well as our work for the institution is based on the normality of life – also what has come to my mind is what a museum can do in this kind of a situation.
After the quake many museums in various situations have had to cancel exhibitions, temporarily close, or shorten their opening hours. The damage to some museums, we hear, is such that they have no prospect even on when they can open again. With much disappointment I had to think about how museums are useless in this kind of situation, and how it has no effect whatsoever on people’s lives in a disaster.
But then, is a museum really, utterly useless? I don’t want to take that position even as an ordinary citizen. A museum may not be able to respond with a strong force against a disaster. A museum, however, collects, preserves, and exhibits human activities with a historical perspective through art works and cultural documents of all ages and cultures. Haven’t we human beings woven threads of history from whatever we have encountered, whether it was a natural disaster, war or terrorist attack?
An end of the thread certainly is reflected in art, and those art works are present at a museum. A museum itself has no power to save human beings; moreover, its foundation may even be connected with wars and politics. Nevertheless, its existence has been a spiritual salvation for people one way or another and it exists as a place to pass down to following generations as a firm testament of human agency. In an urgent situation like this, more so than ever, I have been strongly encouraged when I hear a voice that says »What I can do now is to create art« or hear, directly or through the internet (particularly twitter), about people from the art community who promptly started charitable activities. Given the different situation and position we are in, all of these people demonstrate their will for the future of wanting to improve the present condition through their immediate actions. And, that includes myself in wanting to act for saving art works in the case of emergency ––– in order to pass thousands and thousands of years of our history onto future generations after we achieve successful rebuilding.
*This name was later officially renamed to Great East Japan Earthquake.
(appeared in »Aida« no.181, March 20, 2011)

»We will not let even a giant tsunami destroy culture, until we humans abandon it on our own« - an experience of the crisis at Rias Ark Museum

by Hiroyasu Yamauchi, chief curator of the Rias Ark Museum, Miyagi

March 9, 2011. I remember it was just after dinner. I was at home. I felt a middle–sized quake that shook differently from a recent series of earthquakes. I did not like the way that shook. TV news reported its origin in the coast of Miyagi prefecture. Since the tsunami caused by the earthquake in Chile on February 28 last year, Miyagi and Iwate prefecture have suffered damages that cost them billions of yen, especially in the fish farming industry. A year later, this series of small tsunamis have been causing other damages to coastal areas of both prefectures. Fishermen and fish farmers have had enough, hoping to see the end of them.
March 10. I had a chat about the previous day’s quake and tsunami with workshop users and my staff at the museum where I work. »This one is different from others. It will come, for sure within half a year. We must strengthen our reserve and structure in a serious manner«, I told them.
March 11, morning. I left my home thinking of buying bottles of water, batteries, butane gas cartridges, food etc. that I should have bought yesterday but could not on my way home.
There are usually three of us working as curators at our museum. On this day two of us apart from me, requested to work outside as they needed to return works of students that had been submitted to an exhibition. I insisted, however, that we had to sort out works of an artist that passed away last year, telling them that I would finish the work even all by myself today. The other two decided to stay at the museum and work in the storage room. If they would have worked outside I may not have seen them back.
At 14:46, we were about to finish our work at the storage room. We felt an unusual earth rumbling and felt that an extraordinary earthquake was coming. Just after that an extraordinary scale of quake started to shake the earth. We looked at each other and said »It has finally come [...]« But 5 minutes after that, we simply lost our words worrying for our lives. »When will this stop? How long does it shake? Will it shake the earth until the end of the world? [...]« It was so powerful, beyond all our imagination.
Perhaps after about 10 minutes had passed, I started to check the safety of documents in the storage room. They were intact since we had fixed things in there. But the exhibition room [...] as we expected, one of the staff reported, was »crumbled«. »No surprise [...]«, thinking this, we escaped to the outside of the blacked out museum. After the initial giant quake, the shaking seemed to never stop. In any case the rumbling continued and the museum was shaking all the time. To tell the truth we even braced ourselves for its total collapse.
As we went outside we saw several cars evacuating in the museum parking area that is located uphill. Out of thin air I heard a voice saying »6 meters of tsunami is on the way.«»See, I’ve said that, I’ve been saying all these years that it would come.« This sentence, which spontaneously came out of my mouth was not out of response to my prophetic statement on the previous day. It had a deeper meaning to me. »I see tsunami!« somebody shouted. I dashed to the rooftop and overlooked the town of Kesennuma. White smoke clouds were already coming up and we saw tuna fishing boats being floated away. As I thought »Is it fire?« I heard the deputy director of the museum, who was watching the scene together muttering »Oh [...] that one is water smoke [...] it’s tsunami [...] this is the end«, in truncated sentences.
The white smoke quickly turned to black smoke and the Kensennuma bay was all aflame. Snow started to fall and the temperature went down and down. At the time of sunset there were 6 people remaining in the museum. Most of us had homes in the tsunami affected area, included myself. In order to protect ourselves from cold we went back inside the museum with anxiety of the building’s collapse. We waited at the workshop that was built as an annex. A woman staff–member would not move from the entrance hall of the workshop, saying she was afraid to go inside. As the temperature dropped I convinced her to go inside, promising to protect her.
The town of Kesennuma went into complete darkness in which red flames lay like a belt and the sky was covered by red smoke reflecting the flames. I will never forget that scene for the rest of my life.
March 12, around 2am. Members of the Kesennuma city board of education, a chief of the department of lifetime study and a couple of others visited the museum. »Can we use the museum as the second–stage evacuation center?« »The ceiling of the exhibition room is about to fall, some parts have already fallen down. As a matter of fact we won’t be able to let anybody in [...]« so we discussed along these lines. We did not have to explain much to this chief as he used to be my boss who took command of building and starting up of the museum. The museum did not turn into an evacuation center in the end.
Surrounding an instant candle that we made from a cake of paraffin wax and a piece of kite yarn, I asked the chief about the situation of the town. »How does the area of my home look like?« »There is nothing, better to prepare for the worst. I’ve lost mine and have no idea if my family is still alive or not. Kesennuma has been devastated.« As expected, I thought, but my house is on the third and the fourth floor of a steel framed building that had been designated even as the first stage evacuation center. At that moment my thought was, »it cannot be completely gone [...]«
March 12, afternoon. I left the museum and decided to check on my house. My wife was safe at her work place, but we had left our pet at home. Hoping that it was still alive, we started the trip in our car. We could not drive further however, as we went into the lower part of town. Debris had created mounds and the area over the mounds had been completely submerged, bursting into flames. Our house is located even further down, on a reclaimed bay area. I could not help but to think »With this scene [...] there is no chance«.
March 13. My wife insisted on going to see our house so we decided to explore despite the considerable risk. We had a pet rabbit called Momo left in the house. We doted on her. Her hope was to save Momo just in case she was still alive.
We proceeded into the town that had become piles of debris. On our way some residents left in houses asked us for help to evacuate them. We promised to help them on the way back. The town that was submerged and destroyed by fire was filled with the smell of heavy oil and fire still continued burning here and there. »We shouldn’t have come here yet« I felt, but anyway we hurried to our home.
From a place from where there was no way to have seen our house normally, before the tsunami, because of houses and buildings surrounding it, we could see the place where our house used to be. The town, simply, was no more and neither was our house. What remained was only one step of the staircase. We made a piece of debris a grave post, filling water into a bowl, and put our hands together, thinking of Momo, the rabbit. We wept bitterly.
It would be risky to stay there longer, we thought, and we went back the way we came, went to help the residents with members of S.D.F. and left them with four rescuers. The scene immediately after the tsunami, before the arrival of any rescue parties or the debris removal teams, was beyond any word, there is no way I can describe it. The only word that came out was »terrible«.
March 22. 10 days have passed since the earthquake but the situation has not improved at all. It has become even more worse in some way. After the 3 days of the disaster security has worsened, thefts and lootings were rampant. We even heard of a rumor of kidnap and assault on a young woman. We shielded vulnerable places of the museum, such as the glassed entrance hall, with barricades from inside and patrolled it every 2 hours. The museum had become a storage for aid packages and if somebody found out about it, the building may be attacked. The only order to the staff then was to protect the museum.
We, curators, already started documenting the disaster area by ourselves since the beginning of the crisis, made a decision to do it officially and discussed it with the education official of the city. The next day, the 23rd, we received a special mission of the disaster research and record appointed directly by the city mayor and the education official. The appointment was for the next 2 years and we would work on it in parallel to our normal museum work.
2 months have passed since the quake. Administrative function of the city has come to be stabilized. Still maintaining the function as an evacuation center, each school has started the new school term. People have started to be busy working on whatever they have to do except for the people who lost their houses.
As to the affect of the disaster on the museum staff, two of us – the deputy director and I – have lost our houses. For three others it was declared that their houses were destroyed by submersion. Among them, one has lost his [or her] mother. One could keep the house but lost grandparents. One lost grandfather. Five have lost jobs. All of the staff have been severely affected one way or another. As to the restoration of the facility, the trial run of the air–conditioning system was done on April 6 and the testing engineers assured us that it would run in full anytime. Since then, however, we have not received permission to turn it on even now after the golden week holiday [the first week of May]. We have been sending requests to switch it on for a month now but we have received no reply as yet. And the request is only for the storage room and an exhibition room of about 250 square meters, not for the whole museum. We have not been given an explaination as to why the permission has not been granted yet. I feel like the museum is being neglected.
The union that consists of the city of Kesennuma and the town of Minamisanriku, which runs the museum, has been trying very hard to manage it with tight finances, that is true. It was, however, because of our pride in the belief that it is worth sustaining, even with the hard work involved that the museum has been around. Everybody has become forthright facing the tough reality, perhaps? The nobler cause that we have persisted all these years seems to have disappeared from town. There is no one now who states that the virtue of a museum should not be taken away by a disaster. There is no one now who talks of the need to sustain and pass on our history and culture that is kept in museums as it always has been. The memory of the devastated town is alive in the museum, but there is no one who insists on keeping it alive.
In the unprecedented catastrophe like this, I am not questioning the fact that re–opening of a museum is at the bottom of the priority list. Given this, the fact that we have not received any concrete policy for maintaining the storage, restoration of the damaged parts, etc., even after 2 months, is not right. If they cannot formulate any policy, they should give us an order to develop one by ourselves. In any case, to leave it like this is not acceptable.
I have devoted myself to the development and sustaining of the Rias Ark Museum as well as the cultural development of the town of Kesennuma for over 16 years of my life, and I am proud of it. I have done a lot for town–building efforts. Even affected by this disaster, my determination has not changed. I have never thought of leaving here until I see the town rebuilt and the museum reopened. One of the disaster victims myself, I do wish to go back to normal life, of course. But I was even ready to sacrifice it one way or another despite feeling sorry for my wife. That thought, however, may end in a one–sided love story. That’s what it looks like. At the moment, I am on the borderline of despair.
All the friends that I made through my work at the museum, artists and curators that I humbly want to call »my friends«, have been giving us tremendous support, the kind of which I had never imagined. »What you have been doing till now, what you have been planning to do – we will never let it be destroyed by the disaster« they tell me. I would like to respond to them, but am not able to.
Earlier I wrote that there was a deeper meaning to my words »See, I’ve said that, I’ve been saying all these years that it would come.« I have actually been giving myself a task to work on a project entitled »Dissemination of the record of the Meiji Sanriku Tsunami«, for 5 years. In June 1896, centered under the bay of Kamaishi of Iwate prefecture, a strong earthquake occurred and the subsequent large tsunami killed about 22,000 people mainly around the area of the Sanriku coast. 3 volumes of a special edition of magazine »Fuuzokugaho« entitled »Daikaisho Higairoku (Record of the Affect of the Great Tsunami)« (Toyodo publishing house), which was published in the same year, shows 75 drawings and other forms of records of the affect of the tsunami. I initiated and opened the exhibition introducing the contents to the public at the museum in 2006. In 2008, I wrote and published a novel »Suna no Shiro (Sand Castle)« based on these documents (Kindai Bungei publishing house). I have tried to disseminate the information as much as possible through lecturing at universities, writing for newspapers, talking on TV and so on, believing that it would be useful for people who may be affected by the same disaster in the future, to know how the tsunami is horrifying.
People’s interest, however, was not so great for some reason. And then the disaster this time [...] »I never expected something like this could happen« many victims say. But it was obvious to me. I knew something like this could happen, I have also known how the society would be affected facing the reconstruction, recoveries, and rebuilding like we are now. In the novel I made one of the characters speak a line, »We will not let even a giant tsunami destroy culture, until we humans abandon it on our own.« At the moment, is anybody that is responsible for the reconstruction working with an idea like this in his/her mind?
The gears of the society, which had stopped working because of sea water and mud, started to move while still rusty, chewing–up dried mud. We are rolling in it as there is no choice but to roll in it in this circumstance, forced to roll like this, the gears will perhaps get broken because of the rust and the mud.
Under such social conditions, things like art tend to be neglected. Perhaps because it had never been incorporated in the society as one of the gears to begin with. No small numbers of victims need music, but art? It was not in their list of choices to start with. The society, however, cannot exist without art. Art is not a gear, but it is the lubricant oil. It is essential in taking off rust and mud and for the gears to move smoothly.
When the reconstruction from this disaster is achieved and by the time someone asks, »By the way, we’ve forgot about things like art and culture [...] What has happened to them?«, the gears of the society would have been totally worn out. Gears are not to be forced to run. A priority list is alright but classification not. That is how I feel.
When we think of the future, there are plenty of things that we must learn from this disaster. We must examine them one by one and give an answer to each one of them. This is not time to be negligent.
From here readers are free to think that I am writing to myself or writing a pipe dream. I still would like to take this opportunity to say this.
First of all, the tsunami. We humans will never ever be able to conquer it. Even to think for a second to try to conquer nature, in this 21st century, is utter nonsense. Even this time, we were completely defeated. Beaten hollow. Hence if we plan disaster prevention, we only need to think of how we can limit the extent of damage to the minimum rather than trying to prevent a tsunami. As a victim myself I can state this clearly that this destruction by the tsunami is a result of mischief that we humans have cumulated for many, many years. My house, belongings, beloved rabbit, works, memories and everything else has perished, and I wish a heavy oil tank had not been hit. It’s anybody’s guess to see that a giant tsunami like this would easily wash away a building like this that was placed at the mouth of the bay. Why nobody thought of that? Giant warehouses are only made of steel and panels. The tsunami dismantled them, and their debris crashed into the whole town together with the tsunami. Why have people built something like that in the bay? Moreover, somebody built a straight road from the bay leading further deep down in to the town. It is anybody’s guess that such a thing will easily become a water path. Didn’t anybody think of that? When we see an actual site we can learn many things from the debris. If we build a town again without learning from an actual disaster site, the same disaster will be repeated. That is why I have been documenting disasters.
When we opened the exhibition »Depicted Devastation«, the total number of visitors was 1,200. The population of the city of Kesennuma and the town of Minamisanriku combined is 100,000. The people that live in the place destroyed by the 1896 tsunami, the people that live in the place where experts expect large earthquakes and tsunamis with 99% of certainty, why have they not been interested in the tsunami matter? 25,000 people have died when we combine the number of victims of 1896, 1933 and 1960 tsunami together. Why has nobody tried to learn from the deaths? Why haven’t they made more effort to pass down the story properly to the next generation? Why, even after the disaster, haven’t they been able to find a value in a museum that can deliver the important documents and culture? If we go on like this we won’t be able to protect our future.
Don’t call it debris. It was a house I lived in. Don’t call it debris. It was a town I loved. The scene that turned into debris, to me was the last memory of the town I loved. This affection towards the debris is a common sense of worth of people who live in the affected towns. When the debris is cleaned up and the town is restored, the memory of it before the disaster will be lost. After that we will experience a huge sense of loss once again. Since being evacuated, many have not been able to go back even to see how their homes and hometowns are affected. Even for these people, we must document the disaster area. The document must be released to the public, for the victims not to lose their life and memory, and not to let their children and grandchildren suffer the same tragedy. In order to achieve that, we must restart the Rias Ark Museum and pass down to posterity the new culture heritage called »Earthquake Damage«, together with the shared regional heritage and other cultural heritages. That is what I think.
At the time of writing on May 11, there is still no talk on the museum’s future: no proposal on time and a scale of restoration, a method and a policy of operation, a direction of the museum, or even whether the museum will be reopened or not. There has been no discussion at all.
(appeared in Aida no. 183, May 20, 2011)

My Thoughts on a Disappeared Town

by Noboru Takayama (artist)

On March 11, I was in Shibukawa city of Gunma prefecture, to bring in my works for a one–man show at »Concept Space«, which is run by Mr. Atsuo Fukuda. Under the image title »Yuusatsu ( play+kill )«, I installed vibration sound on rail sleepers as well as metal panels that make up the wall of the gallery; with this device I intended to make each material and the space itself resonate. The title »Yuusatsu« implies the relationship between nature, material, society, nation and humans; it means humans are to be played with and killed by those elements in the world. It is a word that I coined thinking of these things that are played and killed in the world of nature.
I installed the rail sleepers after trials and errors. As I was discussing with the staff about the need for installing them carefully so that they don’t harm visitors in case of an earthquake, the very earthquake started to shake us. We felt it for quite a long time. Sensing a danger we went out of the building. Muted we were, our faces showed tension with a feeling of something extraordinary that was happening. In the main building next to the gallery, TV news was telling that the quake occurred in Tohoku district. Aftershocks continued. The scale of the quake, tsunami warnings, etc., appeared on TV one after another.
I called my home in Tokyo but no response. I tried to contact friends in Sendai and Kesennuma without success. I started to be anxious. As time passed we started to grasp the scale of the quake. Without knowing what to do with the show, which was due to open the next day, we resumed installing the vibration sound, with anxiety, just in case. A worry went through my mind – that this vibration sound, which in some way evokes an eerie feeling, might trigger trauma in the audience, or that it would not be considered proper due to the association with the earthquake. In any case, we decided that a collaboration with Min Tanaka that was planned for the opening the next day would not be feasible. The installation, however, had to be completed. I was completely shocked by the image on TV news I watched at the hotel that showed so many places in Miyagi prefecture, which I consider as my hometown, were not only devastated by the quake but also being washed away by a giant tsunami. The places I am familiar with were being destroyed – I could not believe in the merciless scene that I was watching.
A couple of days later, I went back to Tokyo to be taken aback by the condition of my home where a computer, a TV, among other things, had been destroyed. What about friends in Miyagi? My house and atelier over there? Without succeeding to contact anyone, my anxiety grew larger and larger. Worse still, there was no sufficient transportation to Miyagi even if I wanted to go.
Only after a month, on April 16, for the first time I could go to my house in Sendai. The outbound lane of the Tohoku highway was packed with police cars, SDF vehicles, and cars of volunteers. They hinted at a major national crisis.
My house had no space even to step in as furniture, books, dishes and everything else were scattered around. There were cracks on the foundation as well as on walls, a water heater destroyed and water was leaking. I had no choice but to visit again some time later.
I was worried about the atelier in Kesennuma. I headed up there the next day.
I did not see much destruction in the inland area but as soon as I got on Route no.45, I was shocked at what I saw. There was absolutely no landscape left that I was used to seeing. I had only tears that started to flow down.
How could we think of this gruesome landscape? What should we do? My thoughts simply stopped there. I had never imagined that an extraordinary world like this would appear in front of us humans, in front of me, myself. And not even by war. We are now facing the world of nature, movement of the earth. The earth is living. When I see traces of the dynamics of nature I feel how small we humans are, and how silly we are – so much so that I am even moved. On the other hand, is our confrontation with nature and efforts to overcome it a reaction to this feeling? This time, on top of the earthquake and tsunami, the nuclear catastrophe created a new horror. The conflict between the conceit of humans, their greed and the world of nature was exposed.
A friend of mine in Miyagi lost his house in the tsunami, he is in a state where there is nothing more he can lose. He was particularly disheartened with a sense of regret of not having been able to save his beloved pet rabbit. His home, works [...] everything was washed away.
The coast side of a town of Honyoshi in the city of Kesennuma, where I have an atelier, had been devastated. The railway of Kesennuma line along the coast had no trace even of existing. The curved rails were flying around in the sky and dragging the sleepers, which were now standing vertically in completely unexpected places. What an awful power.
My atelier is in an old school building located on a mountain side. Perhaps thanks to its old and flaccid structure, it was still standing. A part of corridor, however, had caved in. Rail sleepers that were piled up at the corridor had fallen down. I must come back again.
I used to think of creating an image of humans raped by humans, humans raping humans, as well as humans raped by nature or humans raping nature, and to express a requiem for the merciless world that would rise up there. Facing the collage and assemblage created by nature and the extraordinary scene in front of me, however, what can I possibly do?
I, who grew up in a devastated Tokyo, ask myself ––– is this the same as the devastated landscape? No it is not. I can identify with people who had lived in the world of nature of Japanese islands in the past, with people who reached here by boats, their concept of nature that they cultivated, such as »Mononoaware« [appreciation of the fleeting nature of beauty]. Also, hadn’t »Mujyokan« [concept of life as transient and ephemeral] been heightened to aesthetics and an imagined scenery? Da Vinci studied water all his life and left us with drawings of the end of the world caused by a water storm. What was his idea of water?
Today, again I tried to contact people in the town of Honyoshi where my atelier is located but could not get any news of location of any acquaintances. I only hear news of funerals.
A friend who lives near the nuclear plant has not been able to decide how he would continue his life in the immediate future, only peering over his PC without being able to go out after letting his family be evacuated. And, he is painting.
I saw a metal bookshelf that had been soaked in water and sludge in a house of a friend of mine. Books were swollen by the water and so was the bookshelf. Books could not be taken out of the bookshelf, and mould had covered them with a cover of sludge. I saw a grotesque object d’art.
(appeared in »Aida« no. 183, May 20, 2011)

+ The Rias Ark museum where Mr. Hiroyasu Yamauchi works opened in 1994 as a core facility of »The local cultural development project« of the Kesennuma Honyoshi area, which had been a part of »The regional vitalization project«. The museum was facilitated by the local government on the hill side of Kesennuma city. It had been run by the administrative union of Kesennuma and Honyoshi before the local government donated it to the union for free in 2004. As a result of merging of cities, towns and villages, Kesennuma city and Minamisanriku town are the administrative body of the museum.
The air conditioning system of the museum started to operate on May 18 according to Mr. Yamauchi. As of October 17, 2011, according to the museum site , the museum is still closed but the staff is working hard hoping to re–open it in 2012 (date not specified).