I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of islands recently, of the strangeness of them, isolated and surrounded by water as they are; and the way that people make islands into all sorts of things in their own heads, turning them into exotic paradises or wild enclaves. I’m currently in Shikoku, attending the Setouchi Triennale 2013 Art Festival, which is being held on a number of islands in the Seto Inland Sea, in-between Honshu and Shikoku. The festival invites various artists from all over the world to come and create works of art on the islands, providing a great deal of pleasure to locals and tourists alike, a boost for the local economy, and firmly cementing the reputation of this region–already home to Naoshima and its various art galleries–as an art-lovers’ paradise.
Today I was taken to Shamijima, a one-time island that has long-since joined the mainland. There, by the beach, is a giant net, woven in five colours. It sits there between the stone promenade and the sandy beach, moving in the wind. The sound of the waves and of conversation, the smells of the sea and soup being prepared, the cloudy sky and the blue of the ocean, they all pass through it. The artist, Igarashi Yasuaki, visited a number of the surrounding islands to learn from the fishermen and -women how to create them, and set up workshops for surrounding members of the community to come and participate in creating the art. And now it stands, catching the emotions of the people who come to see, its function not so much altered as moved sideways a little.
All of which reminds me, in an odd way, of a different net. Walking along the beach, squinting through your sunglasses, you come to a fence. It’s high, and built far out into the ocean. Not string this time, but rather metal. Fashioned by the US military to keep local residents away. Henoko, on Okinawa main island. This is no community art project; this net is not designed to bring people together or start conversations. But it does. Tied to the fence are hundreds of ribbons, maybe thousands. Opposed to the expansion of Camp Schwab, they spell out words: “love”, “peace”, “anger”, “get out”. There are also banners in Japanese and English, deploring war and the expansion of the bases on Okinawa, demanding that the Americans up sticks and leave, holding out for a peaceful world, begging that the environment be saved. Nearby, a tent faces the ocean, full of protestors-in-residence.
It’s an odd thing. Two islands, two beaches, two nets facing the ocean. One an art project, the other a piece of military infrastructure. Both tying people together. With the power of the US military and the depth of the US-Japan relationship, especially on Okinawa (and over the heads of Okinawans) I’m not sure the fence at Henoko will come down any time soon. But it cheers me just a little bit to see those ribbons, to see people making the creations of a massive military-industrial complex their own; to see, even in a small way, the net bringing people together.
For more information on the Henoko protest movements, see here, among others.