Yearly Archives: 2013

Su Grierson’s email of 19 February 2013

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Thanks to Aeneas Wilder, a Scottish artist living further North in Japan, Su Grierson has been able to give us a sense of the changes to the landscape further up the coast.  Once again she asked me to emphasise that she is only able to report what she is told and sees herself, and cannot verify anything.

One of the most impressive aspects of Japanese society is the degree of tolerance, support and respect that is shown both to foreigners and within their own community.  Partly this is a necessity in such a heavily populated country and also because of the practice of sharing their home with many generations of a family – as one person said ‘we don’t have much option, we just have to get along’. But it does go deeper than this with many traditional small actions of respect happening as an expected etiquette in daily life. While these can sometimes seem hierarchical and onerous to us they actually reinforce respect and usually have an inbuilt level of equality.

Decision making likewise tends to happen through group discussions which allow everyone to speak and seeks a consensus view.  Again to us with our western linear approach which often allows the strongest voice to become powerful, this consensus approach seems to be very time consuming and often ends without an apparent firm decision: it is circular and ongoing allowing for new opinions to come into play.  I can see the benefit of the system even if I find it difficult. However I am hearing from a number of people how it was this system that failed Japan at the time of the disaster in March 2011.  Such an unprecedented series of disastrous events need fast firm leadership and decision making especially when the good systems already in place to cope with normal tsunamis were overwhelmed by the scale of that one. And I am told that the Government of the day just didn’t have the mechanisms to cope.

Following on from this I have had several conversations now and on previous visits to Japan about the Japanese approach to Charity. After the disaster the Government initially declined international aid when they actually desperately needed it. In this society accepting charity is seen as diminishing your own status, and giving charity as placing oneself in a superior position and taking on an elevated status. Some people in Japan were questioned and challenged for wanting to help the refugees. “Why are you doing it,” and, “You are only doing it for you own glory”. What this society does do is support those around them socially and in their own family which is seen as a mutual situation offering no advancement or diminishing of status. We could learn much from that. However it does create a certain tightness in society and a worrying distancing from the concerns and issues of the wider world.

The Temple at Otsuchi.  Photo and permission Aeneas Wilder

The Temple at Otsuchi after the 2011 Tsunami. Photo and permission Aeneas Wilder

The Temple at Otsuchi (today) Photo and permission Su Grierson

The Temple at Otsuchi (February 2013) Photo and permission Su Grierson

Last weekend I was invited to stay at the home of Scottish artist Aeneas Wilder and his Japanese wife Naoko and their children. They live near Hanimaki in Iwate Province, a three hour train journey north from Kitikata and much nearer the east coast. Aeneas kindly drove me through the mountains and out to the coast to visit the many areas decimated by the earthquake and tsunami.

He and his wife were actively involved in helping people in these areas and he has kindly said that I can give you the link to the blog he wrote at that time with many images and a video…

http://www.aeneaswilder.co.uk/writings.html

https://vimeo.com/28523111

He was also keen to revisit the area which still holds horror images and a memory of the smell that he was still needing to come to terms with.

This is a beautiful wooded, mountainous area with many small towns and settlements in all the coves and river mouth areas. The section we visited is repeated for many hundred of miles north and south of here. He told me the story of how only one small town survived undamaged. Many years ago the Mayor of this town had insisted on building the sea defence wall many meters higher than anywhere else had even considered. He was laughed at and his wall was the subject of jokes throughout his lifetime. After March 11 his town was the only one in the area where not a single person died. The very next day the local people began laying flowers on his grave.

Because there was no nuclear problem here it is possible for re-building to commence and a few people are doing so. However the sea defence walls have not even been mended let alone increased in size and one can hardly imagine that mortgages or insurance are possible. The fishery businesses whose warehouses were outside the sea walls anyway are all re-building at great speed. Building contractors in Japan are going to be over employed for many years to come. I have never seen so many diggers at work and doubt that private individuals could get a contractor even if they wanted to.

Near the Temple at Otsuchi after the 2011 Tsunami.  Photo and permission Aeneas Wilder

Near the Temple at Otsuchi after the 2011 Tsunami. Photo and permission Aeneas Wilder

 

Near the Temple at Otsuchi (February 2013) Photo and permission Su Grierson

Near the Temple at Otsuchi (February 2013) Photo and permission Su Grierson

There are still huge mounds of debris at the wharf sides. There is no obvious sorting operation so I think they are being slowly loaded onto ships either for dumping or sorting elsewhere. I haven’t found out about that so far.

Refugee Housing 2013.  Photo and permission Su Grierson

Refugee Housing (February 2013). Photo and permission Su Grierson

This area has a large number of refugee houses with people staying close to their localities, but it will surely be very many years before they are able to re-settle in their old locations. Also the stories about Government compensation for these non-nuclear refugees suggests that they will have very inadequate funds. I hear the stories but don’t know the facts.

Tsunamis have always been taken very seriously in this whole area with weekly rehearsals and hundreds of well marked high ground shelters designated. But many of these were also inundated this time with others escaping the tide by feet. In one area the tsunami went 8 km up a river valley which no-one had forseen. There was a 15 minute warning this time and most people reacted correctly. Without that the loss of life would have been catastrophic. Who knows why some people did not leave their houses? Would we leave if we had a bed ridden old person in the house? If our house had always been safe in the past? In some cases perhaps 15 minutes was just not enough time. Hospitals certainly did not have enough time to evacuate bed-ridden patients.

There are, as we might imagine, many stories of tragedy – the man who was safe but went to see if his wife was OK and was caught by the unexpected third tide. But also of survival – I am told the story that one lady recounted – when she felt the tremors a few days beforehand she had drilled her children that if the siren sounded, no matter what anyone else was doing, they must run up the hill to their school. As it happened they were at the school anyway when the tsunami came. She, on the other hand, was driving back on the motorway from another area and as she reached her town she and all the other cars were swept off the road and into the raging soup of debris. As her car was sinking the windscreen was hit and broken by a concrete electricity pole. She undid her seat belt and pushed out through the hole. She was instantly swept up into the racing debris, but eventually managed to climb onto a floating wardrobe. As she was swept in towards the hillside she tried to scramble up onto a wall but couldn’t because of the thick mud. Some people saw her and ran back to help and after several attempts managed to grab her and drag her up. In a totally dazed state she ran up the hill where she found her children safe. A few days later she went back to see if her car was still there and was met by security officers who told her that she was mistaken, her car couldn’t possibly be there because everyone in those cars had died, they had just finished removing the bodies. She was the only survivor. She reputedly told this story in a completely un-emotional way. She understood it was just one story among many.

Food contamination is another issue I have tried to ask about. Generally the first Government caesium testing figures were not trusted as most people seem to consider that Government is too tightly allied to big business who might be exerting pressure to falsify the figures. However there were many independent tests made in Japan and in other countries around the world which have indicated that with a few early exceptions which were dealt with, the levels pose no serious risk. This has produced two kinds of response. There are those who make a point of buying local food to support the beleaguered farmers and those who buy from the furthest away sources as possible, trusting foreign food above Japanese. Generally though I haven’t seen any particular paranoia about radiation anywhere locally. Life just goes on as normal – but without the tourists whom they so desperately need.

Images from the Residency can be found on three Facebook pages:

http://www.facebook.com/facingnorthjapan

http://www.facebook.com/SeishinNoKitae (spirit of north)

www.facebook.com/sugrierson

The Kitakata AIR artist residency is sponsored by The Japan Foundation and the IORI club

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
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Environmental Art Festival Scotland – call for proposals and partners

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Wide Open together with Spring Fling

Landscape, Chris Fremantle

Landscape, Chris Fremantle

and The Stove have launched a call for proposals and partners for Scotland’s first Environmental Art Festival Scotland.

The deadline for all strands is Thursday 22 March 2013.

There are several strands:

Open Call for Ideas – ideas for artworks that connect aspects of land, sustainability, energy, coast, rural living, Biosphere, Dark Skies, climate change, ecosystem services, transport, etc. and are relevant or connected to Dumfries and Galloway.  These could be small or large ideas.  Proposals are invited from any discipline.

Ten ideas will be selected to receive small grants towards their development.  They will be included in the Environmental Art Festival in some form (depending on the stage of development).

Commissions – temporary installations for the duration of the festival (30 August to 2 September 2013) addressing the theme of “energy and the land”.  There is a budget of £5,000 for each commission.  Commissions can be across a wide range of media including visual art, sound, film, digital media, text based or combinations.  The Environmental Art Festival is looking to demonstrate cutting edge art practices engaged with ecology, nature or land art which is moving, meaningful and dynamic.  The

Venues, Places, Organisations – Wide Open is interested in hearing from Venues, Places or Organisations with existing or planned activity that fits with the themes of the Environmental Art Festival.

Full Call is here.

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

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Call for Papers – Climate Change, Sustainability and an Ethics of an Open Future

This post comes to you from Cultura21

societas_ethica

Societas Ethica, the European Society for Research in Ethics, in cooperation with the ESF(European Science Foundation) network A Right to a Green Future is calling for papers for their Annual Conference, this year held in Soesterberg, Netherlands on August 22-25, 2013. It will be the 50th Societas Ethica conference.

“Climate change, dwindling resources, and growth of the global population have emerged as challenges for all areas of political action in modern societies. These challenges have been on the political agenda since the “Limits to Growth” report was released in 1972. While the challenges are well known, and while there appears to be some form of consensus that sustainability is a goal worth striving for, there is little discussion of how the changes necessary to achieve this goal will affect our political institutions, our social relationships, our moral responsibilities, and our self-understanding in general. The more far-reaching the necessary changes are, the more pressing the following questions will become: To what extent are political and economic institutions – national as well as global – capable of realizing sustainable politics and what is its ethical basis? To what extent will personal liberties, such as freedom of movement, property rights, and reproductive autonomy, need to be limited in order to realize sustainable politics? How could we extend the current system of human rights to incorporate the rights of future generations? Can we expect human beings to take responsibility for the living conditions of future generations, and how do such responsibilities affect philosophical and eschatological theories? An ethics of an open future must develop criteria for moral action under conditions of uncertainty. A developed theory of the principle of precaution in ethics and law is, however, lacking.”

Paper channels:

  1. Climate change and scarcity of resources as ethical challenges
  2. Sustainability, future generations and human rights
  3. Democracy, global governance and political ethics
  4. An open future; philosophical and theological responses
  5. Reflections from different cultural and religious perspectives
  6. Open channel

Authors are invited to submit an abstract of max. 4,000 characters. Abstracts should be suitable for blind review.

Deadline for submissions: March 31, 2013

For more information on the call and the conference visit www.societasethica.info

Cultura21 is a transversal, translocal network, constituted of an international level grounded in several Cultura21 organizations around the world.

Cultura21′s international network, launched in April 2007, offers the online and offline platform for exchanges and mutual learning among its members.

The activities of Cultura21 at the international level are coordinated by a team representing the different Cultura21 organizations worldwide, and currently constituted of:

– Sacha Kagan (based in Lüneburg, Germany) and Rana Öztürk (based in Berlin, Germany)
– Oleg Koefoed and Kajsa Paludan (both based in Copenhagen, Denmark)
– Hans Dieleman (based in Mexico-City, Mexico)
– Francesca Cozzolino and David Knaute (both based in Paris, France)

Cultura21 is not only an informal network. Its strength and vitality relies upon the activities of several organizations around the world which are sharing the vision and mission of Cultura21

Go to Cultura21

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It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine)

This post comes to you from EcoArtSpace
It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine) curated by Amy Lipton, opened on January 31st at Ramapo College Gallery in Mahwah NJ and will be on view through March 6th. The exhibition explores contemporary views of nature and habitat expressed through landscape painting and drawing. The artists included; George Boorujy, Adam Cvijanovic, Peter Edlund, Joy Garnett, Kimberley HartEve Andree Laramee, Sarah McCoubrey, Jason Middlebrook, Aviva Rahmani, Lisa Sanditz, Charlotte Schulz, Eva Struble, Sarah Trigg and Marion Wilson envision the natural world in relationship to pressing environmental issues.

Taken from a 1987 song by the band R.E.M., It’s the End of the World as We Know it (and I Feel Fine) this somewhat ironic title suggests the possibility that by avoiding complacency and with awareness, intelligence, compassion and activism, solutions to environmental problems will be found to avoid potentially catastrophic results. The works attempt to meet the challenges of the new ecological imperative by bringing attention to the viewer of the need for protection, preservation and action.  Artists often have a prophetic role and throughout history have alerted us to problems that are unforeseen or overlooked. Using realism, fantasy or process as a source for imagination and transformation, they seek to create an awareness of loss and beauty in the marginal, the overused and the threatened.

Images of the exhibition taken by Joy Garnett can be seen HERE.

ecoartapace ecoartspace is a nonprofit platform providing opportunities for artists who address the human/nature relationship in the visual arts. Since 1999 they have collaborated with over 150 organizations to produce more than 40 exhibitions, 100 programs, working with 400 + artists in 15 states nationally and 8 countries internationally. Currently they are developing a media archive of video interviews with artists and collection of exhibitions ephemera for research purposes. Patricia Watts is founder and west coast curator. Amy Lipton is east coast curator and director of the ecoartspace NYC project room.

A project of the Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs since 1999

Go to EcoArtSpace

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Su Grierson’s report, 11 February

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Su Grierson has sent the following report of her journey to Minamisouma City, in the heart of the Tsunami zone and near the Fukushima nuclear power plant.  Su emphasises, “that all I write has been gleaned through non-professional interpreters and there is often difficulty in putting follow-up questions. However I feel it is worth recording what I hear and see.”

Su’s reports provide us with eyes and ears in a place that has suffered a catastrophic natural event with huge consequences on human technology and society.  At this point we are only able to share in Su’s bearing witness, two years later, to the continued impact.

Abandoned School, Photo and permission Su Grierson 2013

Abandoned School, Photo and permission Su Grierson 2013

Yesterday we set off in pretty bad conditions for the long journey to Minamisouma City. As always snow that would have brought the UK to a standstill seemed to make no difference here. With winter tyres everyone seems to drive normally. We did see a couple of lorries with issues, but generally people just seem to ignore the weather. Ms Kobyashi, a curator from Izsu Kawamatsu Museum, willingly drove us for 9 hours in dreadful conditions.

SG ghost town

Ghost Town, Photo and permission Su Grierson, 2013

The Director of Minamisouma City Museum then acted as our guide to visit the disaster area which is nearest to the nuclear disaster site. We carried radiation monitors in the car (you can buy them in the Home Centre) and although these increased as we went further in to the area, the level was mostly below that of the city Kitakata where we are staying and only once reached the daily level of the city of Oslo in Norway so nothing to worry about for us. Outside it is a different story, miles of empty houses including whole villages with cars, lorries and tractors left abandoned because they are too contaminated to be moved. The ghost towns with their traffic lights still working are an eerie and disturbing sight especially in near blizzard conditions. Houses of all sizes are left abandoned with police patrol cars driving round as protection. These black & white cars with their silent red rotating beacons add an almost holocaust atmosphere as they glide around the empty roads. Apparently the public are not allowed within the 10 km zone, but because we were in an official car it was allowed – I still got the feeling we were being followed with red lights suddenly appearing nearby. Ex residents are allowed back to visit their property in the 10 – 20 km area, but are not allowed to live there. Some are allowed to plant their land and for one year will get paid by the Government for the difference between their previous and current value – hopefully no-one would buy. Presumably this is an attempt to de-contaminate the land but I couldn’t clarify that and I also don’t know if it is only after top soil has been removed. I have to add that all I write has been gleaned through non-professional interpreters and there is often difficulty in putting follow-up questions. However I feel it is worth recording what I hear and see.

There is work already going on to remove the contaminated top soil from the rice fields and we actually drove past the site where they are to dump this stuff. No one wants to have it near them so it is being sited in the conveniently flat and empty land of the Tsunami aftermath – clearly an area which could be flooded again should the worst happen.

We drove to the broken sea wall and saw piled up broken houses and cars still rotting on the now flattened land. We saw houses that survived against all odds sometimes turned completely round and what looked like a bungalow was actually a top story of a larger house just lifted off and deposited elsewhere.

Tsunami landscape 2 years on, Photo and permission Su Grierson, 2013

Tsunami landscape 2 years on, Photo and permission Su Grierson, 2013

From one refugee at our house we have learned that two days after the earthquake and Tsunami the people in the two villages closest to the reactor were simply told to get out immediately, they were not told why, or where they were to go or how they were to go: just to get out. Of course word quickly spread and others in the area all started to leave as well so that the roads were blocked. There was no petrol and no one knew how far away to go. Quickly centres were set up in schools and gymnasiums but they were soon over full and lacking in food. We were told that the food was sitting in lorries at the edge of the safety zone but no drivers would bring it further. Another problem was apparently that in the interests of equality the food distributors of the centres would only hand out food if there was enough for everyone. Those making the food didn’t know how many to cater for so if they made 1,500 rice balls and there were just 1000 people then the remaining 500 would be thrown away rather than try to find a way to distribute it fairly. Of course it is easy to imagine how such stories could spread but it has been well documented that these people were hungry. They didn’t want to leave before finding out if family were alive or located, which was in turn made very difficult by the fact that there was very little mobile or internet connection.

Again we were told that after a short time the government announced that all refugees could travel without paying the hefty toll charges on the motorways but since they had no identification they had to argue their case at each toll station. They were also given a code to get free cash from ATM machines to help them travel. When I see all the contaminated cars that cannot now be moved I wonder what state the cars were in when the refugees left in them – and that they are still driving round. Our refugee also heard that ferries would be free so he drove north to get the ferry to Hokkaido but the ferry company had not received official instructions so would not let him travel. He spent two nights in the waiting room there, with local people bringing him food, before turning back. He stayed in eight different places before a friend told him about this place – where Yoshoko and I are also now staying.

It is hearing the personal experiences that brings home the enormous difficulty that any country in a similar situation would face. Even after two years some refugees (I don’t know what percentage) do not know what their compensation will be. The paperwork is so complex that even with support some are unable to cope and are walking away without claiming. Others are fighting for a better deal. We are told that charities are making all household goods available free of cost to refugees so that they can furnish a new house when they get it, but the temporary houses are so small they have nowhere to store it.

On the Japanese news last night a programme showed 6 Nuclear reactors that have been found to be straddling actively moving fault lines and I am told that one of these is still in production (but that needs to be verified). Even if these sites are closed presumably they all still contain radioactive core material. With all but two of their reactors shut down, Japan has very high electricity costs and people are extremely cautious about its use. But if they really want to make a difference then they have to insulate their houses and start using renewables which are almost non-existent here at the moment.

It seems to me that there are so many issues it is almost impossible to imagine how any country can cope. The scale of all this is so huge it is only by seeing it that any idea of scale can really be imagined. I was told that in this Province there are 100,000 refuges and 200,000 in the next Province and they are in many other areas besides.

The great thing about Japan, which could help, is that so much seems to happen at a local and community level: small scale village businesses and food production; people who share their expertise with others and a general feeling of willingness and helpfulness – especially towards us as visitors. As everywhere, local Government comes in for a lot of criticism. But I have to say that in this very small village there is a beautiful modern Government-funded community centre, and others villages nearby have the same. They not only allowed me to use their splendid kitchen free of charge to make scones for an event for Refugees, but the staff insisted in coming in to help – interesting as we had no shared language at all!

So tomorrow we artists are giving a presentation at a Refugee camp about Scotland and Norway. We are providing Norwegian fish soup for lunch – with rice balls – and tea and scones and flapjacks for afternoon tea. Goodness knows how that will work out but hopefully they wont know what scones should really look and taste like. Japanese ingredients and helpers have added a little variety to the final outcome.

More images from the Residency can be found on three Facebook pages:

http://www.facebook.com/facingnorthjapan

http://www.facebook.com/SeishinNoKitae (spirit of north)

www.facebook.com/sugrierson

ecoartscotland is a resource focused on art and ecology for artists, curators, critics, commissioners as well as scientists and policy makers. It includes ecoartscotland papers, a mix of discussions of works by artists and critical theoretical texts, and serves as a curatorial platform.
It has been established by Chris Fremantle, producer and research associate with On The Edge ResearchGray’s School of Art, The Robert Gordon University. Fremantle is a member of a number of international networks of artists, curators and others focused on art and ecology.
Go to EcoArtScotland

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