Sep 12 - Oct 27
by Lani Asher
A collaboration with Lost and Found: Family Photographs Swept by the 3.11 East Japan Tsunami
The exhibition (re)collection, on view at Intersection for the Arts through October 27, is the fifth stop of a collection of photographs gathered from Yamamoto, a city in the Miyagi prefecture of Japan that was one of the hardest hit by the devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. In the aftermath, rescue workers retrieved thousands of photos from the rubble, images that were subsequently documented by the Tokyo group the Memory Salvage Project to allow survivors to reclaim their lost family photos. A small fraction of the unclaimed snapshots were organized into a traveling exhibition by Japanese photographer Munemasa Takahasi and independent curator Ivan Vartanian to raise awareness about the continuing relief work in northeastern Japan.
Photographs have an alchemical way of holding memories. For this traveling exhibition, the water-damaged and disintegrating snapshots from Yamamoto were encased in small plastic sleeves for protection; they are displayed in various configurations on the gallery walls. Unique to the San Francisco version of this exhibition is the inclusion of works by seven Bay Area artists and photographers. Their thoughtful responses focus on the impermanence of human existence and memory and on the nature of photography. Their interactions with this collection took the form of cataloging objects, writing essays, producing video interviews, and repurposing the photographs. By seeking out the intersection between their personal lives and ideas of memory and loss, the artists infused the photos with additional emotional and physical content.
Originally from Japan himself, Oakland-based artist Taro Hattori produced a video inventory of all of his worldly possessions. Japanese artist Mayumi Hamanaka, also based in
Oakland, created a layered paper piece derived from four to five images; it reads like a typographical map and is paired with video interviews, including one with a Native American man speaking about his relationship with his ancestral land. Kelli Yon uses a fugitive gum bichromate process printed on Mulberry paper to render images from her grandmother’s house. Kari Orvik poetically repurposes a photo print washer as a display case for overlapping etched glass plates. Mark Baugh-Sasaki’s wall installation displays both individual photos and animated videos of consecutive photos in small boxes, while an overhead projector rhythmically projects white light and photo images, creating afterimages of a far-off city.
The show considers whether the refuse of disaster can be transformed into aesthetic objects and how artists in the Bay Area might relate to the erasure of an entire Japanese city—a complex web of relationships, history, and geography. Underlying the show is the larger question of how do we remember, bear witness, and honor the dead. Intersection for the Arts has a number of upcoming events and workshops that invite the community to explore these ideas and recognize the ways we are impacted by distant events.