One day, after he had graduated from art school, Shitamichi discovered a ruined twostory concrete building in his neighborhood, which had been used as a substation during World War 2, was pocked with bullet holes from machine-gun fire. The strange beauty inherent in the concrete’s coldness attracted the artist.
Shitamichi, astonished by his encounter with the reality of the war ruins in such an ordinary setting, started to take photos of scenery of a seemingly forgotten war. First of all, he felt uncomfortable about the situation of creating “Western Painting” in Japanese art schools, so when he encountered the traces of the war, he strongly felt he should work “not in painting, but photography.” Since then, he began to take photos of war-ruin buildings.
The first series of his works entitled “Bunkers” contains images of artillery batteries, pillbox structures, the institutions at which the weapons were tested, and bunkers that protected combat planes. For this exhibition organized around the theme of Articul 9, the artist has cosen to exhibit his ongoing project called “Untitled (torii).”
“Untitled (torii)” is a series of photos that capture images of Shinto shrine remains from Japan’s former colonies. The Shinto shrines shown in these photos were constructed as a part of Kokka Shinto (Shintoism as the State’s official religion) during WW2 in the area controlled by the Great Japanese Empire. Though the building of these Shinto shrines and the policy of forced worship, the Great Japanese Empire promoted Kouminka (Imperial Citizen Forming), which involved mandatory Emperor-worship, the raising of the Japanese national flag Hinomaru, and the compulsion of singing the Japanese national anthem Kimigayo in the Great East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.
As well as being a war device, some of these Shinto shrines had a function in trying to effect a good harvest, which is a character of primitive Shintoism. These shrines built, all over Asia. number approximately 1600.
In Shitamichi’s photos, the gates of sacred Shinto shrines call “Torii” are left quietly in grass, desolate land, or jungles, and sometimes the Torii stand before the building of Shinto shrine. At times the Torii themselves have turned into benches.
One thing that is clear is that these Torii in Shitamichi’s photographs are mearningless. The Torii made for Kouminka (Imperial Citizen Forming) have been forgotten, without having achieved their original purpose. After the war, these Torii remain, still atanding, but in daily life serve as noting more than meeningless lumps concrete. The scenery of the neighborhood has changed dramatically in the sixty-two years since the war’s end, and there is no reality of war in this lump of concrete that has survived. Shitamichi calmly portrays these relics as reality of war, which is connected to us somewhere but is now far from us. The posture of the artist has resulted in quiet, yet strong messages about the forgotten war.
Exhibition “INTO THE ATOMIC SUNSHINE”2008
Shinya Watanabe (independent curator)