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).