As the island slowly loses its battle to stay still amongst the chaotic forces around and below it, there remains movement. Bodies moving in the shadows, against gravity. The pink hollow mannequin body moves gracefully across the island, from sea level to the highest levels looking over the ridge of the coal-bearing rocks protruding through the sea and the earth. What moves this body, who moves it? Like silent shadows objects are moving, for what purpose? What are they looking for? Is she seeking a higher power, a deity to make sense of what has become of her island, or is she escaping the intruders on the island. Free from the force of gravity what can she achieve? Place and time lose meaning as forces constantly change in the fight for continued movement, the fear being that with stillness, brings death.


Image by Tong Lam, reproduced with permission. See


Photo by Carina Fearnley 2013

The work of film-watching

Watching Lee’s 30 minute film yesterday at the University of East London’s conference on Radical Space was hard-going. There is no seductive, ruin porn imagery here, and no metaphorical statement to ponder. Instead, the repetitive wave action operates like a blunt tool, hammering away at your eyes and brain, asking where the limits of your endurance are.

There was no sense of deja vu for me. And this is because, I think, the physical force of those celluloid waves made the occasional glimpses of Hashima island little oases of calm; the colours, particularly the reds and greens (anything except blue-gray), were like a balm. And here were shapes and objects that stayed still, as opposed to twisting and turning at odd, acute angles. I hadn’t seen Hashima like that before.

One image did occur to me in the aftermath, and that was JJ Grandville’s ‘Juggler of Universes’ from 1844, where any notion of a cosmic harmony is wrenched away by a laughing, manic buffoon-figure, such that perverse chance holds sway. Hassall, biographer of Hashima, juggler of universes.

Juggler of Universes – Illustration by J. J. Grandville from Un Autre Monde [Paris: H. Fournier, 1844].


The Time that is Hashima (2)

History and earth history; human chronicles and deep time. It is tempting to knit these temporalities together and search for the fractures that form along the deformation zone. Surely Hashima is one such warped place. On the one hand, Hashima explodes into life in a shower of coal and steam. And, a fragment of the new Pacific Order rises above the waves like a brittle volcano. On the other hand, we have the irretrievable disorder of entropy; a heat death signalled by the falling of Fat Man and the layer of ash that covered nearby Nagasaki. Time as rebirth rubs up against time as catastrophe.

I am taken, however, with Carl’s description of Hashima as a ‘dark Saturn.’ I think of it also as a cosmic body. For me, it is a black hole, where neither history nor earth history can exist. Hashima does not rush toward its destiny, nor slump into perpetuity. It implodes upon itself. Huge bloated books, children’s crayons, rotting wood and  tiny sea shells pack tightly together, turn away from space and time, and hurl themselves into an abyss that is full to the brim and beyond.



Recuperating the Monstrous: Matter and Entropy on Hashima Island

Forthcoming, in the edited volume Monstrous Geographies, Inter-Disciplinary press, Oxford.

How can we respond to sites that are ‘ruined’ and made ‘toxic’ by layers of trauma, psychic, social and environmental? How can we reclaim their hospitality – that is, their potential as sites for living with and alongside the ‘other’ – whilst at the same time welcome their monstrousness? How can we encounter and engage with the logic of matter transmogrification and entropy manifest at such sites, such that these become habitable? In this chapter, we address these questions via reference to some of our work on Hashima Island, Japan. Bought by the Mitsubishi company in 1890, and mined for coal, Hashima played a vital role in creating Japan’s industrial and political revolutions in the twentieth century. By 1907, the small rock reef had doubled in size; this extension, formed from slag waste, was levelled, ready for the construction of dormitories for miners. Within this 1.2 square mile area, by 1950, people lived in and amongst concrete tower blocks, a school (with gymnasium and playground), a hospital, cinema, shops, public baths, shafts, stairways, parks, tunnels, staircases, a police station, a promenade, a swimming pool and an encircling sea wall. This wall, Brian Burke-Gaffney writes, ‘gave the island the appearance of a battleship riding the waves. The resemblance was so uncanny that a local newspaper reporter dubbed it Battleship Island…’, or Gunkanjima (軍艦島).


The Time that is Hashima (1)

To think of Hashima as a ruin is, perhaps, to locate it outside of the modernist progress of time embodied in the rise of Mitsubishi, the growth of Nagasaki Prefecture as an economic hub, the stocking of Japan’s imperial navy, and the fuelling of the country’s Meiji Restoration. Hashima seems to signify an oppositional moment to this tempus, as the quickening rhythms of production and reproduction stutter and finally unravel into a chaotic ensemble of materials and forces that exude a ‘stillness,’ or imperviousness to time passing. The proffered tourist encounter with Hashima, wherein a guide explains daily life on the island, and the careful carving of metric time here as well as space, becomes a matter of recalling, and marking, a trajectory that, now, will never be realised. We are called to witness a ‘lost hope’ for a modern Japan, wherein it succeeded in bringing forth a new, Pacific-centred, world order. Nagasaki Prefecture becomes the site of this other Japan’s birth and death.

Current efforts to ‘conserve’ Hashima as part of a broader landscape of production, and associated avant garde architectures, would seem to confirm this setting aside of an imperialist tempus. Such historical stratagems put the dead in their place. What is more, the allure of haikyo (manifest in visions of a deathtopia), would appear to build on Hashima as a prudent lesson for proponents of present rhetorics of progress, as Japan’s economic bubble continues to dissipate. To encounter Hashima as ruin is to become dis-located from, and to mourn for, the fragile tempus we are remembered, and anticipated, within. As Carl has intimated, this encounter itself becomes dis-located, dream-like; it exists, in part, as a form of collective remembering that requires prompts, autocues, and moments of slippage between the now and then.

Yet, does not an imperial temporality itself rely upon such dis-locations? A renewal of time, again and again? For David Harvey, creative destruction is (he rightly observes) a spatial ‘fix’ for extant and emerging falls in profitability. So too the ruin is a site of creative destruction, offering up times future. The ruin becomes here the symbol not of death and decline – the sublime ‘Fall of Empire’ — but of a contingent and adaptive tempus that enfolds stillness into irruptions, revolutions, gentrifications, and rapidly extending presents.

For me, this renewal of time is interesting not because it is predicated on, or resists, death. This anthropo-centric framing of temporality has been much discussed elsewhere. Rather, I’m interested in,

(1)    The spatio-temporal displacements that allow for a rhythmic production/reproduction to occur in sites such as Hashima;

(2)    How such temporalities are read through an extant natural history. (And here I would reference Walter Benjamin on the German baroque and petrified landscapes, as well as Achille Mbembe and Janet Roitman’s essay ‘Figures of the Subject in Times of Crisis.’);

(3)    How such temporalities rub up against, and are enfolded within, what we might call ‘earth times’ of subduction and weathering, fracturing and corrosion; temporalities of the past, present and future that are the concern of earth scientists (or, as Carina has termed them, earth detectives), but which are all too often subsumed or dismissed by historians. (Here, I would reference the work of Deleuze, of course, on the dynamic between a Chronos and the Aion, as well as de Landa on time. But also the speculative realists, who have so much to say about an inhuman cosmos, and the feminist material philosophers, who reach between the quantum and the flesh.) And;

(4)   How ruination itself both inhabits and exceeds its denotation as a modern, Western topoi.

The Night Sky – On Hashima

I was just reflecting on last nights meteor shower here in the UK and thinking of my friend Dan Roach, sitting in his back yard at 2am in his dressing gown and wellington boots, looking up at the sky and …

The Night Sky – On Hashima

One student, influenced by the planetarium, took to the concrete roof tops to star gaze. She saw; the fading ember of the sub-horizon sun. As the sky darkened she saw, towards the south, a blurred patch – the Large Magellanic Cloud, a neighbouring irregular galaxy moving through interstellar space, it is, in subtle ways, affected by her own galaxy. In a quantum gravitational scale we attract that same dust, that gas, that mass of stars. Our student of the sky saw; Sagittarius, the Southern Cross, Scorpious and Corvus (the Crow). Perhaps most compelling is the thing she saw unawares – that part of the sky, which contained the galactic centre of her own galaxy. It looked like nothing. A patch of sky like any other. Penetrating deeper, she witnessed a group of stars orbiting an empty point in time and space. These were not in the realm of normal stellar orbits. These colossal balls of burning hydrogen were catapulted around at a rate of weeks and days. She saw them piroutte around the singularity that anchored all that existed in the Milky Way. They careered, hell for leather, through the void in space, hurtling around the super-massive black hole, who’s maws gaped, signifying the end of space time and everything. This when the smog lifted and the sky was clear.

Lee Hassall


8. 8.13

Lee has left us today. He’s flown back a day early.

What I have found most interesting about this project is not so much the sharing of disciplinary approaches – although that has certainly been enlightening and provocative – but rather that the experience of fieldwork, the doing, the experiment, that we all engaged in on Hashima island a week or so ago, has now come to exist as a kind of collective memory – a membrane – that connects, corrects and keeps evolving (see the Performance Research edition On Fieldwork, eds Daniels, Pearson, Roms)

I was tempted to write ‘self-regulating’ above, but that would have been a mistake, for to use such a word would imply that there was an endpoint, a balance to the process, a moment of pure homeostasis or regulatory autopoesis. On the contrary, everything appears unpredictable, chancy, contingent, disruptive, dependent on an uncontrollable outside.

In this respect, my experience of Hashima is indissociable from the play, or rather the eruption, of involuntary memory – a type of memory that is occasioned, ostensibly, by luck. Who can tell what encounter will allow such a memory to emerge? Indeed it could be said that Hashima is like a ruin, a shipwreck in my own mind, an image that has been covered over and hidden by subsequent waves of perception and sensation. The only way to reveal the ruined shipwreck,  is through an involuntary shock of some sort or other. We could also see this in terms of being touched.

Importantly – and here I borrow from Gaston Bachelard as well as the German choreographer Michael Klien – this shock, this touch, is always material, a matter of matter, so to speak. The more intense the feeling, the more acute the memory.

Here in the Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens in an unfashionable and largely banal district of Tokyo, the sculpted shapes and theatrical placements of water, trees and stones produce a different type of thinking, a green wind thinking.

And as things slow….I start to remember Hashima….to reflect on it, to take it somewhere else, to take it on a journey with me.

Now I know – at least for the moment – why I was always interested in responding to Hashima as a phantom, and not simply as a ghost. For where the ghost ties us to human history, the phantom is conjured by an encounter with matter, which, in turn, produces a virtuality that points towards a new horizon, an horizon allows us to get beyond the ‘permanence’ of the ruin, its staggered but redemptive temporality, and instead to practise a different future in the now.