On 11 March 2011, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history struck the Tohoku region, a northern part of the island of Honshu. Known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, it caused a devastating tsunami and left over 450,000 people homeless. Now, 12 years on, Japanese photographer Shiga Lieko (b. 1980) – a winner of the third Tokyo Contemporary Art Award (TCAA) – revisits what happened in the disaster’s wake.
In Waiting for the Wind: Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021-2023, now on view at Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), Shiga sheds new light on the array of reconstruction and restoration projects that followed. The artist looks at this process with a critical – yet optimistic – lens, noting how the period has been “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.” Hyperreal colour palettes – glowing reds, blues and purples – imbue crashing waves and piles of rubble with a strange aura. “My photographs render everything into reality: they are a way of bringing something back to life.”
Shiga is one of two winners; Waiting for the Wind: Tokyo Contemporary Art Award 2021-2023 also showcases work by Takeuchi Kota (b. 1982), who lives and works in Fukushima. Like Shiga, Takeuchi draws on historical events to examine the human condition. “Last year, using Google Maps and American military archives, I was able to identify one of the landing sites of the ‘balloon bombs’ that Japan released to target the US during World War II,” the artist recounts. But this project is not only about what happened in the past. “Daily news reports show that, while humanity has developed means of instantaneous communication across oceans, we have not stopped sending soldiers and bombs across borders.” Aerial images track the whereabouts of these weapons, whilst an ominous large-scale installation recreates them in the gallery space. Takeuchi is dedicated to engaging with people’s memories through archival materials and interviews with local historians and eyewitnesses, bringing their stories to life through map-making, live streamed video and UAV (drone) footage.
Tokyo Arts and Space (TOKAS) and The Tokyo Metropolitan Government established the Tokyo Contemporary Art Award (TCAA) in 2018 as a contemporary art prize to encourage mid-career artists to make new breakthroughs in their work by providing them with several year of continuous support. Shiga Lieko and Takeuchi Kota are the winners of the third edition of TCAA for 2021-2023.
1. SHIGA Lieko, Still from Bipolar, 2022.
2-3. SHIGA Lieko, Where that Night Leads, 2022. 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.
4-5. 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.
6. TAKEUCHI Kota, Shooting (Cold Creek), 2022, photo.