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Perched on the edge of the seismic belt known as the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is subject to mega-quakes on a regular basis, something we were made freshly aware of by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. Today, however, many nuclear power stations built on active faults have resumed or are about to resume operation, heedless of the lessons of the serious nuclear accident that followed the 2011 quake. This brings to mind the control mega-technology volitionally exercises over us, which resembles the way financial systems have come to rule us.
Another “willpower” as strong as nuclear power technology is concrete. Advocates of this material have long preached us the joy of keeping nature under submission, enabling us to attain great convenience and living comfort. But the presumably impregnable, huge concrete sea walls were not only defenseless against the once-in-millennium mega-tsunamis but aggravated the damage caused. Yet the monster called technology still entices us to spend the colossal sum of 36 billion yen on the construction of a “New Great Wall” levee. The paradox this presents includes the severance from the sea of people who have always lived in partnership with the sea, and the destruction of industries to do with the blessings of the sea, with the ensuing dispersal of communities. A tragic future, where a huge sea wall is all that remains of a deserted coastal community, is fast becoming reality. People in Japan used to have inherited know-how for living in harmony with the sea—a sudden receding tide, for instance, meant each individual had to immediately run for higher ground no matter what. Once in several generations, a mega-tsunami came and washed countless homes away, but people always came back to their coastal communities, built shacks, and carried on living, reaping the blessings of the sea without fighting nature.
Perhaps we should learn from the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to abandon our blind faith in technology, and regain freedom of thought on a human scale. As Martin Heidegger warned, technology is not something created by humans, but a monster predating civilization, which controls humans to fulfill its own goals.
To prepare for the Port City Kobe Art Festival held to mark the 150th anniversary of Kobe Port, I boarded a sightseeing boat at Kobe Port, and the cruise brought back memories of the aftermath of the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake—how I walked the rubble-filled streets of Kobe, where reconstruction work was at fever pitch, and how I witnessed artist Georges Rousse at work in a destroyed harbor warehouse. I was employed at a girl’s school in Kobe at the time, and my studio suffered damage to its entire interior, even though it was located on the other side of the Rokko Mountains, where damage is said to have been relatively small. Despite the harsh reality, I was helped by numerous volunteers, and the experience has significantly influenced my artistic activities since.
In the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, I launched the “Vital Foot Project,” which involved designing a bicycle—a human-scale kinetic modality predating the black-boxing of technology—in partnership with bike builders in Kobe. Although practical, the resulting product was also an ideological prototype intended to symbolically urge viewers to question the nature of mega-technology as represented by nuclear power.
My series for the Port City Kobe Art Festival is titled “Post Paradise Project.” To people living in the Kinki region, which is said to be under imminent threat of a Nankai megathrust earthquake and tsunami, the series hopefully proposes a humble material alternative to concrete sea walls, or safety measures that involve removing people from their coastal homes. The work will be on view in Shinjuku in August, Kobe Port in September, and Okinawa in December.
Location of artwork

Kobe Sannomiya Ferry Terminal

Noboru Tsubaki
Noboru Tsubaki was born in 1953 in Kyoto City and completed his studies in fine art at the Kyoto City University of the Arts. He is a professor at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, where he is Director of the Department of Fine and Applied Arts. He is a trustee of the Mori Art Museum. Among his best-known works is the huge, 50-m balloon grasshopper exhibited at the 2001 Yokohama Triennale. He directs the Hishio-no-sato and Sakate venues of Art Setouchi, exploring modes of sustainable art festivals.