Spirit of North
In 2011 I was invited to join the project ‘Spirit of North’ in Fukushima Province in Japan. Although the project base was out-with the immediate disaster area, two years after the tsunami and nuclear meltdown the whole Province of Fukushima was still very much suffering from the after effects. The aim of the project was to connect with the refugees and local people and help, through art, to bring normality and regeneration back to the area.
Arriving in heavy snow, and living and working in basic traditional buildings the initial concerns were for warmth, dryness, and negotiating the various localities where we stayed. It was hard to escape from the fascination of the beauty and culture of the area and difficult to reconcile this with the warmth of the welcome we received from those who had lost so much. They said ‘everyone else has stayed away but you artists came’. We saw the devastation of the coastal areas and heard the stories of the dispossessed. They asked us to tell their stories back in our own countries.
On my return I gave a number of talks and showed my films in various parts of Scotland.
While the images of temples under snow are amazing, the images of whole empty towns where only the traffic lights still worked are haunting.
We created an exhibition, four artists from Norway Scotland and Japan, which was primarily about bringing normality and culture back into daily life. For us, working in a beautiful abandoned traditional Kura or Rice barn where the windows were paper or non existent and in sub zero temperatures, was a challenge in itself. Helped by a local restaurant owner who arrived un-announced with a huge urn of hot soup, a gesture typical of our welcome in the area. We gave talks and workshops and our own traditional food to groups of refugees and gladly spent the generous funding we had received in the local shops that could no longer rely on tourists to keep the local economy afloat.
At the time our presence was certainly appreciated. Through Television and newspapers we were well recognised, and even in shops people thanked us for coming. For me it was a unique and humbling experience of the role that artists can play in such unique and tragic circumstances.
The project was initiated and managed by Yoshiko Maruyama and funded by the Japan Foundation and the IORI club.