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Art In Response To Disaster: Japan At The Venice Biennale

Art In Response To Disaster: Japan At The Venice Biennale

Picture of Marinel Valentini
Updated: 27 January 2016
The 55th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition (June 1 – November 24, 2013) welcomed Japanese media and video installation artist Koki Tanaka. Curated by Mika Kuraya, Tanaka examined the tangible and emotional after effects of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011. We discuss how this was achieved through Tanaka’s experimental work.

The 55th Biennale of Art marked Japan’s 30th entry into the internationally renowned contemporary art exhibition. Curator Mika Kuraya, who is the Chief Curator of the Department of Fine Arts at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, commissioned Japanese artist Koki Tanaka to present a Japan which is still recovering from the massive earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear accidents of 2011. Japan’s National Pavilion, with the exhibition organised by The Japan Foundation, depicted the post-quake situation in Japan, and the ways in which the country is gradually recovering.

The official theme of Tanaka’s exhibition is ‘Abstract Speaking – Sharing Uncertainy and Collective Acts’. The work seeks to address the difficulty of perceiving and sharing the problems and pain of others. His installation plan turned the Japan Pavilion into a platform for sharing previous or fictional post-calamity experiences interactively through distinct assignments. Specifically, these assignments placed participants in unusual situations and prompted them to deal with atypical circumstances.

Watch excerpts of five video works by Koki Tanaka for the Venice Biennale:

Examples of devised disaster-style exercises included having a group of people descending the emergency staircase of a high-rise building together as quietly as possible; walking around nighttime streets with flashlights in hand; a ‘collective act’ that mimics evacuating a building in complete darkness; and reconstructing a single piece of pottery using the shards of several broken ones. This aimed to depict the collaboration required among conservators in their attempts to rebuild an object, and acts as a metaphor for the challenges in building a new post-quake society.

Groups made up of several people were requested to deal with these circumstances together, and their efforts were documented through nine video and photography works. Through these group interactions, Tanaka investigated how we empathize with the experiences of others through our own perspectives. Through video footage, photographic installations and interactive group experiences, Tanaka voiced the sentiments of a recovering and resilient nation.


Watch the full video of ‘A Piano Played By Five Pianists at Once (First Attempt)’ by Koki Tanaka:

Born in Tochigi, Japan in 1975, Koki Tanaka’s artistic practice ranges from video to photography, from site-specific installations to interventional projects. The 2013 Venice Biennale built upon recent projects by Tanaka such as A Haircut by 9 Hairdressers at Once (Second Attempt) (2010), A Piano Played by 5 Pianists at Once (First Attempt) (2012), and A Poem Written By 5 Poets At Once (First Attempt) (2013). These projects documented the behaviors unconsciously revealed by people facing uncommon situations in order to show an alternative side to occurrences which we usually overlook in everyday life. Tanaka has exhibited extensively; including Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka in his home country and Paris, New York, San Francisco, Seoul, Rome, Copenhagen, Rotterdam, Vancouver and Los Angeles overseas. He currently works and resides in Los Angeles.

Japan Team

Artist: Koki Tanaka

Commissioner: The Japan Foundation

Curator: Mika Kuraya

Venue: The Japan Pavilion at the Giardini della Biennale, Venice

About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale took place from 1 June – 24 November 2013. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is a series of articles leading up to the start of the exhibition. There were 88 countries participating in the 55th Biennale, 10 of them for the first time, and 150 artists from 37 countries. Our coverage highlighted a selection of the National Pavilions.

By Marinel Valentini