On Sarushima Island, Art Is a Sensory Experience
HAKUTEN CREATIVE, Tree says「 」(2022). Exhibition view: Sense Island Sarushima Dark Museum 2022 (12 November–25 December 2022). © HAKUTEN CREATIVE. Courtesy the artist and Sarushima Dark Museum. Photo: Naomi Circus.
A charge of turquoise light shoots into the night sky from Sarushima, an uninhabited natural island in Tokyo Bay. Installed facing Kasuga Shrine, rumoured to protect the sea, Seiichi Saito's JIKU #004_v2022 SARUSHIMA (2022) welcomes visitors to Sense Island 2022.
The immersive exhibition series was initiated in 2019 by Saito, who led all three editions according to one curatorial vision: to encourage visitors to activate their instincts and senses, which are being lost to technological progress. In keeping, visitors to Sense Island Sarushima Dark Museum 2022 (12 November–25 December 2022) must put their cellphones inside an envelope to be sealed before entering the site.
For 2022, Saito, assisted by curator Jin Qiuyu from the Tokyo Photographic Research art collective, among others, coordinated an exhibition of 20 artists, performers, and collectives responding to the theme 'Behave', and experiments with darkness that ignite alternative reflexes, senses, and thinking patterns.
Visitors are invited to open themselves to ephemeral, sense-based encounters that incite an alchemy of immersions.
The experience is at once novel and activating for viewers, starting with Hanna Saito and Sohei Wakisaka's A Place Between Generation and Creation: shore (2022) installed near the island entrance, which invites viewers to move and categorise objects washed ashore under a spotlight, according to simple rules devised by the artists.
Further into the island, Saito's View Scanner #001 (2022) has been installed amid trees. Three light panels programed to flash every second cast shadows and forms in the darkness. The intensity of the surroundings, augmented by dramatic fluctuations in light, creates an unusual sensory experience in which the island itself becomes a part of the artwork.
Sarushima Dark Museum 2022 asks visitors to pay attention to how images and their framing within the context of an uninhabited island can affect sensory experiences. The result is a feeling of discovery, of seeking out and searching for signs in the darkness, as demonstrated in the staging of Takashi Kawashima's photographic works 'Mandarin Orange and No.IV' (2022).
Installed inside a dark bunker tunnel on the island—constructed by the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II to protect Tokyo Bay—are images of mandarin trees, whose tones have been muddied to hues of black and green under the tunnel's shadowy yellow light.
The work draws from a short story titled Mandarins (1919) by early 20th-century writer Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, who came to Yokosuka in the early 20th century to teach at the Naval Engineering Academy. The story describes an ill-tempered man on a train departing Yokosuka who is unexpectedly moved by the colourful sight of a girl throwing mandarins out of the train window to her brothers.
The mandarin trees in Kawashima's photographs have been planted by the Akutagawa family, which Kawashima took when visiting their house: a fact that adds to the experience of viewing these mandarins using flashlights provided, which restores their vibrant orange hues depending on how much they are illuminated.
By the bunker tunnel's exit, a single-channel video by Kohsuke Nakamura, Yutaka Nakamura, and Yuma Harada extends the history of Sarushima into the 20th century and beyond, when the island became disused and the Yokosuka Naval Base was transferred into U.S. military hands following World War II.
The video, OFF LIMITS (2022), stitches individual photos and captions into a slideshow, beginning with signs reading 'Only U.S. Military Personnel Allowed' in Japanese, followed by photos of an interaction between an American soldier and locals who are fishing together.
Using these Japanese signs and personal interactions as entry points to understand relations between the Yokosuka U.S. naval base and the local community, OFF LIMITS asks where boundaries between populations and cultures lie, when those borders were drawn, and who defines them.
Connections between here and there, the past and present, and the uncovering of those fluid links continue to the centre of the island, where Yuki Morita's three-channel video installation Back Garden (2022) draws on layers of micro-histories and personal memories.
Morita's videos follow the artist tracing possible routes from Saitama to Yokosuka that his brother, who went missing in 2006, might have taken. Two videos projected onto curtains reference in a poetic voiceover Sarushima's local legend: a white monkey that guided a priest in a storm to safety, and Yokosuka's wartime history.
Morita's third video is projected onto trees and records the endpoint of the artist's journey at the Yokosuka Friendship Day fireworks festival, organised to promote friendly relations between the island's local communities and its U.S. naval base.
By visiting places and names from his brother's story, Morita's videos relate to a sense of loss and displacement. Amplified by the swaying surfaces of trees and curtains, which wrinkle and distort the images projected onto them, the artist's memories materialise like apparitions within the haunting grounds of this historically significant island.
Morita took from post-war Japanese photographers such as Ishiuchi Miyako, whose practice—known for haunting photographs that document the scars of war and occupation—departed from the buildings and streets of her native Yokosuka, including the enduring presence of the U.S. army.
Throughout this exhibition, artworks constantly refer back to Sarushima, creating a feedback loop.
In keeping, photographs of Yokosuka Naval Base by Taisuke Koyama, Ryu Ika, and Hana Yamamoto (all 2022) are installed inside Saruchima's old observatory, at the highest point of the island. From there, the blinding white light of the base itself can be seen across the bay.
For NONAGON PHOTON YOKOSUKA (2022), Koyama used a shallow focus technique to capture the sunlight reflected on the water near the naval base. Resulting images were turned into a video projection whose soft light casts upon the surrounding environment like a ghostly glow.
Ika employed an infrared camera to take ghostly, thermographic images for New Era! (2022), which is laid out on the observatory's deck, while in The Naval Spectacle (Yokosuka, Japan) (2022), Yamamoto turns warship photos into curtain-like banners hung in front of vacant windows.
Throughout Sarushima Dark Museum 2022, artworks constantly refer back to Sarushima, creating a feedback loop whereby artworks activate the site where audiences find themselves: somewhere between the past and present.
Extending this temporal stretch is archiving as progressive vol.01 (24 November 2022–31 January 2023), a showcase of the research behind artworks from Sarushima Dark Museum 2022. Curated by Tokyo Photographic Research at YAU Studio in central Tokyo, the exhibition features Yokosuka-related art and literary works, reports from the National Institute for Defense Studies on the decision to turn Yokosuka into a U.S. navy base, and artist research-related photos and diaries.
Attesting to art's ability to trigger memories and emotions such as to balance a sense of curiosity with critical sensibility, Sarushima Dark Museum 2022 invites visitors to open themselves to ephemeral, sense-based encounters that incite an alchemy of immersions. —[O]