‘Light of Death, Again’ Detour Leading toward “Tatsuo Miyajima-Beyond the Death”, Catalogue of Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, 2005 , (Essay by Hiroshi Minamisima)


‘Light of Death, Again’ Detour Leading toward

Hiroshi Minamisima


You’ve actually only come here to see the 600 degree’s thirst, haven’t you?

To the land which seemed like the one to you.

To the very place you can see the invisible thirst,

Three year have passed since the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto opened its in doors for the first time on October 12th, 2020. The museum was founded with the primary and fundamental principle of being a “museum that analyzes the human condition through contemporary Japanese and world of art,” and we arrive here today having constantly endeavored to uphold that principle. Even so, we have not yet had the pleasure of presetting an exhibition that authentically articulates and tackles death with the same single-minded determination displayed by “Tatsuo Miyajima – Beyond the Death”.

Here, I’d like to fulfill my obligations as a curator by describing the relevant background and processes involved in realizing this exhibition “Tatsuo Miyajima – Beyond the Death,” which is truly a milestone for the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto.

Although “Death” has never been our intended focus, it has always been apparent in the core of our exhibitions. The opening exhibition of the museum, the “International Art Exhibition of Kumamoto: ATTITUDE 2002”, was intended to personify the concrete attitude of the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto and specifically implied “Death” at the outset of the museum’s history.

An in-patient of Kikuchi Keifuen, a treatment center for leprosy, was forbidden to have her own baby, and embraced a tiny doll Taro as her only child. In this object d’art of absolute death, deep within the darkness of despair where human rights were destroyed, the single visible tiny existence poignantly reveals the unknown force which deprives us of the rights and freedom of human beings; his protest transcends thousands of lines of discourse. Taro afterwards enlightened us by revealing the truth of how ultimate human strength emerged from within the doom of living in conditions comparable to Auschwitz, by leading us towards “Pictures of Light – Exhibition of Kikuchi Keifuen Picture Club”.

Dress for Death, produced by Yuko Ohara, a dress designer residing in Fukuoka City, is a series works depicting dresses for the last voyage to heaven. Ohara speaks calmly and quietly, as she embraces the life story of the person who ordered each dress. The dresses are sprinkled with the wearer’s fond memories, making them into perhaps the most beautiful dress one might ever wear in one’s life. This object d’art thus represents the dignity in life that can only be realized after experiencing the reality of death.

Another example is Memorial Project Minamata: Neither Either nor Neither – A Love Story, which we commissioned Jun Nguyen-Hatsushiba from Ho Chi Minh City to create. He actually dived to the bottom of the sea in order to produce this artwork in homage to Minamata, which had been metaphorically resurrected from the sea of death. Atomic Bomb by Tadashi Tonoshiki, who died of cancer more than 10 years before the exhibition partly due to the secondary radiation exposure to atomic bomb, dedicated all his artwork to Hiroshima as the revelation of unspoken truth. To Remember is a performance by Kosai Hori, condensed into 14 minutes which is believed to be the average time it takes the condemned to die from execution by hanging. Kenji Yanobe’s Antenna of the Earth focus on “Clear and Present Danger” pointing out the existence of radiation in the air, based on research of the desolate town of Chernobyl. September 11th, 2001, the terrorist attacks in New York happened in front of Taro Chiezo’s eyes. The artist reacted to the incident by presenting Polos and his Friends. Furthermore, the pupils from Kumamoto Yogo School for the mentally impaired transposed their inherited or acquired impairments, each of which can be recognized as small components of death, into fresh artistic ability and contributed to the exhibition by decorating the venue.

“ATTITUDE 2002” was simultaneously both the starting point and the return point of the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto. I’m inclined to show the reasons why such corresponding attitude exists in the artwork and other forms of expression in which the true manifestation of death is irradiated, especially in the case of the essay “Tatsuo Miyajima – Beyond the Death”. Indeed, it is a paradoxical fact much like the inversion of time, but 3 years on all of the reasons and origins behind “ATTITUDE 2002” also prefigured in this exhibition. Of course, it is probably necessary to give a somewhat clearer explanation. But to do so, one needs to explain that causes of past events for some reason often exist in the future.

Death of Time (1990),  which was dedicated to Hiroshima, was the first artwork in the “Death Trilogy” series. It is a monumental piece of art for Tatsuo Miyajima, since it paved the way towards the potential for new artist expression by means of historical relativism, as represented by Kaki Tree Project and Mega Death. At the same time, this artwork is of significant importance to me because it was I who commissioned Miyajima to produce it. I expected it to be a manifestation of the conclusion that I finally reached after struggling to re-examine aesthetic potential in Hiroshima for 3 years and 2 months some 18 years ago (beginning 1987). At that time, I was working towards opening the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art and its exhibitions, and everyday I would confront the Atomic Bomb Dome. Twelve years later, I returned to the field of museums, and came to Kumamoto to prepare for the opening of the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto. Since then, I’ve worked for the previously described principle. Death of Time was always there as a fundamental matrix of “Death” whose figure has been persistently silhouetted on the way towards “ATTITUDE 2002”.

I clearly remember when I proposed that Miyajima produce a piece of artwork in homage to Hiroshima. He didn’t give an immediate answer, but politely replied on the phone “Please let me visit Hiroshima again and walk around there. Could I think about your offer after that?” At that very moment I felt that his response indicated cognitive proximity to Hiroshima. I was convinced of his determination to be an artist who possessed fear for “indescribable matter” which is an inevitable tendency in being a creator. He visited Hiroshima alone and didn’t mention anything about the plan for the artwork. Silence seemed like the most suitable words for his actions. At the end of his silence, Death of Time was completed; he returned to install the work and dedicated it to Hiroshima. The whole process was conducted in a tranquil stream of time, which Miyajima spent solely his own introspection, and that alienated any spoken contact with us.

Needless to say, what made me really speechless was the artwork that Miyajima finally dedicated to Hiroshima. Pure darkness inscribed in broad daylight as if one were in the middle of a light halation; sudden darkness being the sole reminder of the dark murk relevant to that moment.

Red light emitting diodes were running through the venue, encompassing there-quarters of the walls of the Museum Studio in the Hiroshima City Museum of contemporary Art. It looked as if there were a plane on which human beings could stand that divides the supposed universe into  heaven and the earth. Each flash of light indicated a number from 1 to 9. Some counting down, some counting up, but whichever way they counted they never actually displayed a zero.; instead only darkness, indicating the gradual accumulation of death.

The shrouded point, Miyajima hinted for the sake of Hiroshima, was not lying deep within the beautiful sparks, but in the dark hollow irradiating devouring light. The abyss gouged out by that malicious force was placed at the center of the line of beautiful sparkling lights implying the continuous existence of human beings. Nothing could exist there, but at the same time, anything out exist. The absolute death that would simply justify such paradox without contradiction was awaiting me in the “Darkness” of the final goal of perspective, if it is not too uncivil to say,  towards the fertile homeland.

Hiroshima’s reality overwhelmingly subverted my critical perspective. Facing the reality where every moment means death, I was forced to endure relentless interrogation. What kind of artwork, and what kind of words are capable of fulfilling the texture of such death? Tacking the confrontation in my mind between artists and words; the artists who should be incorporated into the “Death” of Hiroshima and the words to depict how they perform, came to be the only one reason for my being a curator in Hiroshima.

It was then, finally, when Miyajima thrust that indescribable “Darkness” against me.

My story won’t be concluded here. While I was still embracing Hiroshima, I was directed to that genocide camp, Auschwitz, constructed in a small village in southern Poland, Oswiecim.

Auschwitz, was originally built to erase the Poles rebelling agains the Nazis, but later became another borough of despair, which took the lives of innocent victims; Jews from all over Europe and others from 28 races, and up to 1.5 million people in total.

Strangely enough, the tragic “Darkness” of Auschwitz gave me mysterious comfort. If you consider the situation composedly, Auschwitz was nothing but the “Darkness” itself, dreadful enough to demonstrate to God how human being could behave viciously to that extremity. It deprived the world of all the warmth.

It was amazing to notice that I surprising found myself being embraced by the feeling of nostalgia, which I had also felt for the deep “Darkness”, and place since then, I’ve had the perpetual feeling of that enigmatic nostalgia.

Numerous photos of slaughtered people pervaded the concentration camp almost lost as it was before. In the complete “Darkness”, all those victims whose smiles had been obliterated greeted me. I then confronted not the remembrance of those lives but “Death” itself. I like it to an experience, in which I never rejected death, but “Death” permeated and flowed inside of me, and my existence was brought back to my original self. At the same time, I gained an intuitive knowledge of the miracle of staying there. That is to say, within the conversion of my state, whether I was alive of living in the “Death”, the destiny of my “Life” became clear. Furthermore, that experience gave me an impression I had never imagined – that “Death” didn’t have a cause for itself.

One philosopher has said that poems written after Auschwitz are barbaric. I must say I am opposed to this opinion. Poetry is primarily barbaric and it should be an art, which swallows up even Auschwitz. Needless to say, this barbarity has nothing to do with roughness or violence. The reason is that discernment, or bravery in other words, never seeks for political nor ethical justice to Hiroshima and Auschwitz, but depicts the world radiated by the light poured from the “Death”, the absolute “Death” that embodies both Good and Evil, as written in “Crime and Punishment” by Dostoyevsky.

The question has been raised as to why I appointed the artist Miyajima to conclude the task of Hiroshima. It was in Auschwitz that I found the suitable words for the answer. He, in the “Death of Time”, didn’t just restore the moment of “Darkness” that occurred in Hiroshima by undergoing the tragic moment himself, but by performing as an artist. Despite my fear of being mistaken, I dare say that he himself metamorphosed himself into “Evil” and penetrated the world with the absolute “Death”, which is the ultimate “Darkness”. In other words, he allowed the poet’s barbarity to engulf Hiroshima. In 1999, Mega Death, a monumental installation for the last Venice Biennale of the 20th century, which was dedicated to the 170–200 million war victims of the 20 century, unveiled this “Darkness” in its real form to the whole world, Miyajima finally presented this work assuredly as his own conclusion of 20 century.

And, again, his “Darkness” leads us to the light of “Death” that illuminated the artwork described in the first part of this essay. The “Death” tune, just like a fugue, will keep revealing itself as a heartbeat of the Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto.

Of course, the context of the exhibition “Tatsuo Miyajima – Beyond the Death” describe here so far has nothing to do with Miyajima himself. It is no other than my definition of this museum’s history and this exhibition.

However, I do wonder where in the whole world exactly we can define “Hiroshima”, “Nagasaki”, or “Auschwitz” to be. When reading Maki Kashimada’s 6000-degree of Love, as quote in my epigraph, I feel that each of us came to this place, where one can see the invisible thirst, in order to see only the 6000-degrees of thirst. Now, we stand “Here”, which is a miracle. The fact that the light of “Death” keeps illuminating every one of us standing “Here” will mean that the work of Miyajima continually one attached to the transcendental cause for this exhibition in Kumamoto. No one can deny that “Here” you can experience “Hiroshima”, “Nagasaki” or “Auschwitz”. Miyajima’s light of “Death” proves that again.

Let me conclude my story by reporting something about Deathclock, one part of the “Death Trilogy” series. This work of art poses a question about what “Life” means. The observer sets the time for their own death, and the visualized time starts counting and proceeds on and until the person’s last moment. I’ve set my final day of “Death” to October 23rd 2005, the closing date of this exhibition. When that day comes, I will die in this artwork. But if that day is indeed my departure to “Death” that irradiates the truth, then I’m willing to accept that blessed moment in commemoration of the bliss.