The Future of Ruins: Reclaming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island

Lead Research Organisation: Aberystwyth University
Department Name: Theatre Film and Television Studies

Abstract

How to look at the past in the hope of living differently in the future? What new environmental possibilities might an archaeology of ruins give rise to? These are the principal research questions driving 'The Future of Ruins: Reclaming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island', a cross-disciplinary collaboration that seeks to combine the complementary but as yet un-actualised expertises of geography, East Asian cultural studies, and performance, to explore the 'dark ecological' past of one of the world's strangest and most traumatised sites.

Hashima Island is situated in the East China Sea, roughly 15 or so kilometres from Nagasaki City. In Japanese, the island is referred to colloquially as Gunkanjima - the Gunship Island - on account of its resemblance to a battle ship. An intense period of occupation began on the island in 1890 when the Mitsubishi company bought the 15-acre site for undersea coal mining. The tunnels and chambers carved out of the rock were matched by the erection of (then) Japan's largest concrete building in 1916, along with apartments, schools, shops, restaurants and an encircling sea wall. This baroque environ became a site of forced labour using Japan's colonial subjects between 1939-1945, as well as a prime means of production for Japan's industrial and political revolution. In 1959, the island reached a peak population of over 5,000. Mitsubishi closed its mines in 1974 and the site quickly became a ruin, the land poisoned and made toxic by industrial pollution. In 2009 the island became accessible to the public as a tourist destination, and there are plans to transform it into a UNESCO heritage site. The strange, uncanny feel to the island has appealed to photographers, filmmakers and artists, and it features in Ben Rivers' Slow Action (2011) as well as in the forthcoming James Bond movie Skyfall (2012). In these artworks, however, the aestheticisation of ruins has meant, paradoxically, that the terrible history of Hashima, its exploitation of human labour and the earth's natural resources, has been rendered invisible. The more we look at Hashima, the less we see.

This project sets out to offer a counter-history of Hashima; one in which the violence inflicted on human and non-human nature is not exorcised, but made to speak in the present. The intention? To disclose the future of ruins, to rethink the meaning of ecological horizons through a non-sentimental encounter with the natural past. While we do not, in any way, ignore the specificity of Hashima, its dependence upon a particular set of geographical, historical and cultural circumstances, its history of toxicity and abandonment has allegorical value in a global sense, for it symbolises the violence inflicted on the planet by human beings. Hashima is not simply traumatised by industrialised exploitation, it is wounded by the nuclear fall-out of the atom bomb dropped on Nagasaki City in August 1945.

To tell the story of Hashima, an eco-biography is required - that is, a biography that pays attention to history and natural history, human time and 'deep time' (geochronology, the time of the earth). This eco-biography is necessarily pluralist, combining issues that are relevant to geography, history and performance studies, such as environmental degradation and resilience, memory and testimony, ephemerality and permanence, and affect and imagination.

The 'Future of Ruins' aims to produce this expansive eco-biography of Hashima through a series of field trips to the island to gather data and material, which will be reworked into a a number of creative and critical outputs, including digital postcards, and a performance lecture, combining text, image and the spoken word. Through this sensory engagement with the living reality of the site, the aim is to translate our cross-disciplinary findings into accessible channels for expanding our understanding of the past and reconfiguring what it might mean to live on the planet in the future.

Planned Impact

The impact of this cross-disciplinary and internationally orientated 'pilot' scheme resides in its attempt to use Arts and Humanities methodologies to engage with the disastrous ecological and environmental legacies bequeathed to us by the 'long twentieth century'. A key part of our case for support is that the excellence and impact of publically funded, University-based research can be increased by finding more creative ways of produce and disseminating research outputs for a broader base of possible beneficiaries. Our outputs, in this instance, include a public performance lecture, podcasts, digital postcards. Audiences will be able to access the website, and to download images and MP3 files. The performance lecture will be recorded and uploaded to the website for free public consumption.

1. Communities living in proximity to toxic landscapes and threatened by hazardous waste: Our planned collaborative activities and events are intended to substantially widen public awareness on these issues and to place the need for responsible, sustainable futures at the very centre of ecology and environmentalism. To do this, we intend to engage academics and groups and organisations outside the Higher Education. The focus, here, is on developing a sense of planetary care by stressing the global implications of problems that are experienced locally, and on putting community groups across the globe in contact with each other.

2.Governmental Policy and NGOS (Nuclear Regulatory Commissions, Department of Energy and Climate Change, DEFRA, Copenhagen Agreement, UN, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, World Health Organisation). Our outputs are intended to offer a 'starker' version of ecology and to place issues such as exploitation, radioactivity, toxicity, waste and pollution at the heart of debates about sustainable futures. We intend to do this by providing an accessible environmental history and scientific context for the major challenges facing us today, and which are invariably still to come.

4. Public Sector Groups and Not for Profit Organisations: The project will contribute to the engagement of communities with questions relating to environmental justice and how to manage the toxic waste of the past.

5. Large scale national and international programmes (UNESCO, HERA, Arts Council, Research councils): These will benefit from the critical, assessment portion of the initiative, which will be translated into a series of policy recommendations. These will outlast the lifetime of the project and have a cumulative effect on a wide range of community engagement programmes.

6. Heritage and Education Sites: From art centres and national parks to museums and community centres, a series of sites will benefit from the creation of an accessible way of working that relates key ecological issues, thus enhancing their creative outputs.

7. Art Communities: artists and arts scholars will be able to use the project as a case-study for reflecting on interdisciplinary research into ecology and environment, and to reflect on the ways in which art and artistic methods can play a non-instrumentalised role in raising awareness about climate change.

8. All of these possible impacts will be considerably widened if the 'pilot' project on Hashima is successful. We intend to expand the scope of the project to include lawyers, scientists (toxicologist, medical researchers, social scientists, engineers,) and artists (playwrights, sculptures, sonic composers, poets, filmmakers, dancers), and to organise a series of 'sensory' field trips that would give rise to a new way of doing and communicating environmental research to a wide constituency of users. Further crossdisciplinary research and international collaborations could take place, for instance, in sites such as Chernobyl, Bhopal, Mexico City, Guiyu, the Northern Territories in Australia, Pennsylvania, Alaska, the Lake District, and West Wales.

Publications

10 25 50

publication icon
Lavery C (2015) On ruins and ruination in Performance Research

publication icon
Lavery C (2014) The Future of Ruins: The Baroque Melancholy of Hashima in Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

publication icon
Lavery C (2015) Introduction in Performance Research

publication icon
Lavery C (2015) A Future for Hashima Pornography, representation and time in Performance Research

 
Title Artwork in Great War Island: Desert Fiction 
Description A contribution to the show Great War Island: Desert Fiction, July-August, Belgrade Serbia, 2017. 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact A contribution to the show Great War Island: Desert Fiction, July-August, Belgrade Serbia, 2017. 
URL http://www.seecult.org/vest/veliko-ratno-ostrvo-puste-fikcije
 
Title Return to Battleship Island 
Description A live performance with film 
Type Of Art Artwork 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact The work was performed at the University of Warwick. There was no notable impact. 
 
Title Return to Battleship Island 
Description The product is a performance featuring creative writing and filmed image 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2014 
Impact Performed at the Only Human Festival, University of Glasgow 14-16 November. 150 people; impact grounded in linking ecology to ruins, and offering new ways of thinking about toxicity and abandonment for artists and general public. Impact on-going 
 
Title Return to Battleship Island 
Description The product is a performance featuring creative writing and filmed image 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact Performed at Ruins Day, Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow 18 September. 130 people attended - impact grounded in creating networks between artistic, academic and cultural institutions (NVA, CCA, Glasgow Museum of Modern Art) and general public. First step towards creating Glasgow Ruin schools and engaging with Historic Scotland. Impact on-going 
 
Title Return to Battleship Island 
Description The product is a performance featuring creative writing and filmed image. It is a creative account of our visit to Hashima Island as part of the AHRC Pilot Scheme, 'Future of Ruins: Reclaiming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island'. The performance is in a constant state of flux and change and is always being added to. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2013 
Impact The performance has been seen in numerous UK universities - Sheffield (May 2013), Aberystwyth (Sept 2013), Worcester (October, 2013), University of East London (October 2013) Central School of Speech and Drama London (October 2013), Warwick University (March 2014). It has also been performed for the public at the Japan Foundation, London (2014), and as part of the British Academy co-sponsored international colloquium in Buenos Aires ' 'Espacios de la memoir en el conn sur: nuevos affects, nueveas audiences, dialogues transculturales en el duel' (March 2014). The performance was also part of the 'Big Ruins Conference organised at Manchester University in May 2014. 
 
Description Cultural organisation such as the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow have used the research from the Future of Ruins project to increase knowledge about cultural and ecological impact of ruins. We are also in discussions for future events with Glasgow, Museum of Modern Arts.
Sector Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Sites of suffering sites of Memory conference 15-16 Sept. University of Liverpool 
Organisation Paris West University Nanterre La Défense
Department LABEX Pasts in the Present
Country France 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I showed the film Return to Battleship Island
Collaborator Contribution Feedback on film
Impact The collaboration was multi-disciplinary. The outcome was showing the film.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Sites of suffering sites of Memory conference 15-16 Sept. University of Liverpool 
Organisation University of Liverpool
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I showed the film Return to Battleship Island
Collaborator Contribution Feedback on film
Impact The collaboration was multi-disciplinary. The outcome was showing the film.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Spaces of Memory 
Organisation The British Academy
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I performed 'Return to Battleship Island' in Buenos Aires at an international conference in March 2014 and I also gave a paper at an international conference held at the University of East London in June 2014, Spaces of Memory and Performance: Trauma, Affect, Displacement
Collaborator Contribution They paid travel and performance costs for both the performance and presentation.
Impact A performance and a keynote paper.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Keynote at Beyond the Ruins conference, 23-25 November 2017 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited keynote at Beyond the Ruin Conference
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.enl.uoa.gr/uploads/media/BeyondtheRuin-PROGRAMME.pdf
 
Description Return to Battleship Island', Pasts in the Present/Care for the Future: Thinking Forward Through the Past (AHRC/LABEX), Fondation Royaumont, Val d'Oise, 16-17 January 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This was to AHRC and LABEX grant-holders. Impact in disseminating possibilities of Practice-based research in Arts and Humanities to other academics in France and UK
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk to Glasgow School of Art Students on Ruins and Ecology 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact Students used the presentation to inform their work on Shakespeare 400, which was screened by BBC Scotland in March 2016 to national audiences
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016
 
Description Visit to University of Dundee - school of art 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact We performed for postgraduate students at the art school, and talked about how to represent ruins.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016