Alternate Futures: Japanese Contemporary Art & Architecture in Global Context
I have just published online the full text of my Weatherhead East Asian Institute lecture at Columbia University (23 April 2014): Islands for Life. Click on the title here or below for access to the pdf file with images (best viewed in something other than Chrome apparently). You can also still download the talk and following Q&A here (about 1 hr 20 mins long). . Here is an abstract of the talk: . Islands for Life: Artistic Responses to Remote Social Polarization and Social Decline in Japan . Contemporary Japan, nearly 25 years into its long, slow post-Bubble decline, is emerging as the world’s leading laboratory of the “post-growth” society: in at once its economic, demographic, political and cultural dimensions. While any growth and dynamism is located in Tokyo and a short list of other cities, its peripheral regions are suffering extraordinary shrinkage through ageing populations and disappearing industrial production. Among the most dramatic versions of this story can be found in the symbolic heartland of Japan’s inland sea, where numerous industrially despoiled volcanic islands, house extremely old and isolated populations in genkai shuuraku type settlements with little or no hope of sustainability by conventional political or social intervention. It is here that a number of ambitious, ostensibly utopian, artistic projects are engaging in interventions based on a creative economy logic to revitalise, sustain or at least soothe places which seem doomed to die out. Focusing on the long term work of the artist Yukinori Yanagi in Seto — both his residency and copper factory conversion (Seirensho, 2008) on Inujima and his new “Art Base” on the former orange producing island of Momoshima — my presentation will reflect upon how such art projects are way of imagining the future of post-growth societies, with comparative relevance far beyond Japan: offering welfare and community to isolated ageing residents; practical engagement for the “lost generation” young artists who join these projects; and proposing radical ideas for low energy lifestyles, which recycle abandoned public and private building, and reconnect locals with outsiders. These projects provide a quiet space for both backward looking memory of the boom years and reflection about alternative futures: a “small good thing” emerging from the avant garde, in a country still ruled by mainstream politics and business oblivious to the disaster it is leading the country towards. . I will present a new, shorter analytical presentation on the subject to the upcoming PoNJa GenKon conference in New York on 13 September 2014.