Catastrophe and the Power of Art (Yet Still, We Rise)

Hello All! I took a little hiatus from writing last week — I was a bit down about my knee, I think, or maybe it was just the turning inward that a change of seasons often brings for me; especially the turn to fall. Thank you to those of you who wrote asking for another installment. 🙂 I am happy to hear that you are enjoying following our adventures.

So, last night we went to the Mori Art Museum to see their 15th anniversary exhibition, which we have been eagerly awaiting since we first arrived two months ago: “Catastrophe and the Power of Art.” The exhibit explores “What art can do in chaotic times where the future is uncertain,” in the political, social, personal, and environmental realms.

43773437_486458675096849_8549398703545253888_n.jpgPhoto by Tomo Tsurumi

I am still processing the power of what we experienced, but I will try to share a bit of it with you here.

First off, the museum is situated on the 53rd floor of the high-end “integrated property development complex” called Roppongi Hills, less than an hour by public transport (one bus+two trains stops) from our apartment. (On a side note, I thought originally that Roppongi Hills was just a shopping mall, but last night I started noticing areas that were only accessible to certain people, and just now learned that, according to Wikipedia, it includes “office space, apartments, shops, restaurants, cafés, movie theatres, a museum, a hotel, a major TV studio, an outdoor amphitheatre, and a few parks” — who knew?? — oh, and a subway station, too.) So the first part of the experience is to take in the incredible view that the walls of windows afford you as you step off the elevators:

43951857_1054995491326508_712514054836453376_n.jpgPhoto by Tomo Tsurumi

The exhibition itself includes works — photographs, paintings, drawing, sculptures, interactive community projects, mixed media and digital installations — from over 40 international artists, as well as organizations in communities affected by disasters. Here is some of what we saw…

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This piece was one of my favorites. I hope that you can zoom in and explore the intricate scenes and allusions captured inside Ikeda Manabu’s 6-foot-by-11-foot pen-and-ink drawing “Foretoken,” which evokes, at first glance, Hokusai’s iconic Great Wave.


Finished in 2008 (after 2 years of 8-hour days, usually at around 4 square inches per day, according to this 2013 interview with the artist: ), three years before the disastrous Tohoku earthquake+tsunami+nuclear meltdown known in Japan simply as “3-11,” this work has come to be considered prophetic in its foreseeing of the widespread disaster created by those Great Waves.

Another powerful piece was this one by Ai Wei Wei — a commentary on the situation of refugees today, inspired by his recent tour of refugee camps and conduits in 23 countries (as seen in his 2017 documentary Human Flow, which I highly recommend).

44073616_300240900579358_9082207237908201472_n.jpgPhoto by Tomo Tsurumi

Seen from afar, this massive work resembles Greek pottery, with its repeating motifs, geometric patterns, and depictions of scenes of battles and daily life. Upon looking more closely, though, we can see that it actually shows the world as it is today, in 2018, as experienced by refugees:




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There were many that responded to the experiences of the Japanese citizenry during and in the aftermath of the 1995 Kobe and 2011 Tohoku earthquakes. Here are a few we found especially compelling:

20181012_194216.jpgThese pastels were created by the artist to convey his lived experience — rather than the concrete “facts” — of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. I especially enjoyed the way that he uses color to suggest (in my interpretation) the emotions surrounding the event.

43851730_1577425759070578_4350832524029591552_n.jpgThis wall of what appears at first to be black buttons are in fact meant to resemble timers (of the type that count down minutes), and are inscribed with the faces of the workers who worked at and/or returned to Fukushima plant during and after the meltdown in 2011, knowing that their time was limited by this act.


Note the workers’ faces, clothed in hazmat gear.

There was also a small library of art books and artists interviews/statements, as well as documentary footage of panels/interviews with artists in response to disasters. Here are just two pieces that spoke to me amongst the many interviews I read:


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In addition, there were digital installations, such as this one, that showed artists in hazmat suits visiting Fukushima in the months following the meltdown, and making their statement (notice that they being with the red sun-on-white-rectangle that is the Japanese flag):

This depiction of hope and resistance amidst environmental and political meltdown, seen in the second part of the exhibition — which spoke to the healing and transformative power of art — moved me:


Here is another hopeful example, this recreating an evacuated cafe, and painting fresh life and dreams (symbolized by the star) into the space:

Film by Tomo Tsurumi

And finally, the last piece: an installation by Yoko Ono meant to represent a refugee boat in the open sea, which visitors are invited to contribute to:

44023092_259135441610999_5448843266894069760_n.jpgMy sister-in-love and I make our contributions. (Photo by Tomo Tsurumi)


A sampling of messages.

…That’s all for now, folks! There were so many more pieces and projects I could have shared, but I hope that this at least gives you a small sense of the vast variety of powerful and creative art at the exhibit (and here in Tokyo). As I mentioned in an earlier post, environmental disasters are an integral part of life here in Japan, and to see them faced this way was deeply moving. I may have more to say on this later, but wanted to at least give you a taste today.

Sealed with a kiss, L


Photo by Yuka Tsurumi


p.s. Every day is full of so much discovery here, both internal and external, that to truly do it justice, I would have to make this a daily diary (which I just may do!), but I am also trying to balance how much is the right amount to write so that it is accessible to my loved ones. Thank you for your patience. ❤


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