Japan Pavilion at the 52nd International Art Exhibition, the Venice Biennale in 2007: Japanese Pavilion

National Participation: Japanese Pavilion

Photo of Chihiro Minato and Masao Okabe

Commissioner: Chihiro Minato
Participating Artist: Masao Okabe
Theme: Is There a Future for Our Past?: The Dark Face of the Light
Commissioner Message: Ours is an age caught in a paradox about time. On the one hand, advances in science and technology have enabled us to know history in greater detail, replicate it more accurately, and restore and preserve it better than ever before. On the other, that same history is under unprecedented threat of annihilation from pollution, regional conflicts, and the increasingly high-paced and urbanized society that rapid globalization and population growth are engendering. Our civilization is simultaneously discovering and erasing the past. As the proliferation of information technologies in late capitalism brings profound changes both materially and in our memories and records of the past, humanity now faces important questions about how to pass on its common heritage to future generations.
Centering around key examples of the lifework series of frottages by artist Masao Okabe, this exhibition will consider, from the viewpoint of art, the possibilities and conditions for preserving humanity’s past into the future. The subject of the frottages is Hiroshima’s Ujina district, which was once a major military port. From the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 until World War II, the port train station was a gathering point for masses of cargo and people bound for other parts of Asia, and also became one of the sites affected by the atomic bombing of the city. Okabe spent nine years making some 4,000 frottages of the curbstones of the station platform. The station has since been demolished to allow construction of an expressway, but with the elemental tools of pencil and paper Okabe has recorded a piece of what once was.
Ujina’s past makes it an evocative focal point for rethinking Japan’s place in Asia today. In addition to holding exhibitions and conducting numerous workshops involving local residents in different parts of Japan, Okabe has sent frottage impressions of historical remains as aerograms to and from different parts of the world. Through these imprints of the surfaces of things, he guilelessly demonstrates the joy of discovering the unexpected aspects they can reveal. But beyond the level of fun, this work points to clues that can aid contemporary humanity in its search for ways to come to terms with the past. In today’s world, where the threat of new conflicts looms even sixty years since the last global war, this humble form of artistic expression could constitute a kind of social activism aimed at sharing the past and promoting positive dialogue on the future.
Venice has a long been a point of convergence and interaction of diverse cultures, and in that context, too, this exhibition promises to contribute significantly to constructive dialogue within the broader discourse on civilization.
(Chihiro Minato)
Organizer: The Japan Foundation

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