The Project

Here, we present some of the work carried out for our project on the ‘Future of Ruins,’ which is a cross-disciplinary collaboration exploring the spaces and temporalities of Hashima (端島), an island situated off the coast of Nagasaki City in Japan, and once the most densely populated place on earth.

In the late 19th century, coal-mining was commenced on the island by Mitsubishi, followed by the construction of a series of concrete dormitories and communal facilities for its workers, brought from all corners of Japan. Up to and during the Second World War, the island became a site of forced labour for Chinese and Korean prisoners. During the 1950s and 60s, Hashima was increasingly domesticated, as workers established their families on site, and roof gardens, as well as a school, hospital and playground, were constructed. With the shift from coal to petroleum production, Hashima was abandoned in 1974, and its concrete tower blocks allowed to rot. There are currently plans to transform the island into a UNESCO heritage site and to exploit its industrial past, and architectural remains, for the sake of tourism.

Underpinning our research is a concern to map out a different, contestatory and thoroughly monstrous notion of ruins. Utilising a variety of creative responses, from on-site performances on Hashima to purgative postcards, we ask, what happens when the transmogrification of matter becomes the condition for making a site hospitable? Importantly for us, this mode of encounter does not limit itself to an anthropocentric history: rather, our intent is to think and work towards the future as an expanded dialogue in which the human and non-human, history and natural history, are connected and intertwine.

Project Participants:

Prof Carl Lavery (Performance, Glasgow): Carl researches on performance and its relationship with ecology and environment, and is particularly interested in ideas of affect, infection, atmosphere and breathing. He is concerned with how a practice of location might be a way of performing ecology.

Prof Deborah Dixon (Geography, Glasgow): Deborah has researched on art/science collaborations in the UK, US, Switzerland and Australia, particularly in regard to post-human life, and has written on monstrous geographies of touch and contagion, excess and deep time.

Dr Carina Fearnley (Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth): Carina has participated in collaborative art science research into the sensuous experience of geohazards and risk, and has written on the complex geographies involved in the production of knowledge concerning the limits of the known.

Dr Mark Pendleton (East Asian Studies, Sheffield): Mark is a cultural and social historian of modern and contemporary Japan with research interests in historical memory; transnational exchanges of ideas; and encounters with the past through contemporary texts and practices.

Lee Hassall (Fine Arts, sculptor, University of Worcester): Lee is interested in performance, the grotesque, parody, self-satire and questioning notions of sanctified space. Where is inalienable space and experience? Can we even locate it?

Prof Brian Burke-Gaffney (Cultural History, Nagasaki Institute of Applied Science) is a long time resident of Nagasaki and wrote the first incisive article on Hashima in English. He has published extensively on the history of Nagasaki in both English and Japanese.

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