The Future of Ruins:
Reclaiming Abandonment and Toxicity on Hashima Island


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Poised somewhere between the utopian promise of modernity and and the twenty first century posturban spectacle, Hashima island is a microcosm of the forces that structure the contemporary built environment. Deborah Dixon and Carl Lavery's performative presentations of their encounters with Battleship Island take a form which perfectly exposes the tension between nostalgia for monuments to a future that would never be and the potential for new modes of engagement with space which lurks in the monstrous ruins of failed experiments. Both their form of presentation and what it reveals about the connections between urban space and subjectivity have had a significant impact on my own thinking and my development of a critical theory of posthuman urbanism.

Dr Debra Benita Shaw
Reader in Cultural Theory/Programme Leader, BA (Hons) Cultural Studies
School of Arts & Digital Industries,
University of East London

I engaged with ‘Hashima: The Future of Ruins’ at its early stages, enjoying the build-up to the researchers' actual visit. Since then, I have followed the blog and seen two incarnations of the performance, one at Aberystwyth's Theatre, Film and Television Department, and at the University of East London. The weave of approaches, from text, speech and film (both 'found' and recorded on location) have been inspiring for my own work, which traces the history of a place. For me, Hashima has demonstrated how to see a ruin as both a complete, or finished, history, while also pointing towards endless signification for the future. Both materially and phenomenally, the rich descriptions and images of a hermetic utopian past, and those of abandonment, provide an extraordinary reflection on our own present.

Reuben Knutson,
Phd candidate/tutor,
Dept of Theatre, Film and Television,
Aberystwyth University.

The performative lecture, Return to Battleship Island, offered an intriguing yet provocative perspective on the Hashima complex. It challenged many of the popular discourses on the utopian vision of the island through a careful structuring of film, photography projections and readings.  I found that the aesthetics of the film shown prior to the lecture component exemplified and enhanced the arguments and the rhetoric of the readings which followed and resonated with many of my research interests into the relationship between theatre and film and the ‘politics of perception’. As far as the film was concerned I was particularly interested in what came across as a purposeful denial of a subjective discursive position. The constant ‘turning away of the camera’ during the boat journey to Hashima montaged with dispersed images of the abandoned island complex created a sense of what Gilles Deleuze calls ‘molecular perception’.  I thought that this post-classical film aesthetic, which effectively deconstructed the concept of cinematic suture, worked well to question the possibility of a totalised, unified image of a world (in this case the world of Hashima with its housing estates, parks, restaurants, cinemas, mines etc).  The lecture presented a dystopic vision of Hashima which came into stark contrast with the notion of a capitalist utopia often propagated in popular media accounts of the island. This interpretation was well supported by a clever delivery of ethnographical and archival research. Philosophical and political reflections were made on the subject of the right to represent history were it was concluded at one point that no one can fully own a ‘total’ image of reality. In that sense the lecture questioned the possibility of a meta-narrative of Hashima suggesting that the way Hashima should be perceived lies within the ‘response-ability’ of the witness/spectator. Again this ‘disavowal of the image’ and the refusal of a meta-discursive position on Hashima was well supported and exemplified through the aesthetics of the film and projections of photography which accompanied the lecture. On whole I thought that the performance posed some meaningful questions on the implications of deconstruction and the very possibility or perhaps impossibility of a purely objective image of history. By doing so it also foregrounded the ‘politics of perception’, which made me reflect on my own political stance influencing the way in which I chose to perceive and position myself in relation to the imagery presented, the cultural myths and the historical fables surrounding the island.

Piotr Woycicki,
Lecturer in Theatre and Performance,
Theatre, Film and Television,
Aberstwyth University

I enjoyed Return to Battleship Island very much, there was a lot of potent imagery to take in and the way in which the film worked rhythmically was fascinating and effective as was the simplicity with which you both sat and read the text..I realized how powerful the simplicity of voice and image together can be. The written text was utterly engaging and beautifully observed and constructed.

Lucy Gough,
Playwright and lecturer in Theatre and Film,
Dept of Theatre, Film and Television,
Aberstwyth University.

This presentation (Return to Battleship Island at UEL on 16 October 2013) offered an intriguing insight into the abandoned island of Hashima and raised for me associated questions of how places and narratives of place are 'performed' by various agencies, authorities, researchers and historians. The format of the 'performance presentation' and the combination of creative text, film and images was particularly successful in evoking a sense of the research team's processes of engaging with this site and their own personal responses, frustrations and processes of problematising this site. The questioning of site responses, authenticity and modes of representation evident within the presentation chimed with my own research interests as a site-specific dance practitioner and researcher and have informed my thinking regarding cultural, political and personal 'constructions' of site. In particular, the performative, multi-layered presentation format as a means of getting 'closer' to the actual research process and enabling audience members an alternative 'way in' to the researcher's world provided a useful example to inform the dissemination of my own research processes and outcomes.

Dr Victoria Hunter
Senior Lecturer in Dance 
Dance Department
University of Chichester

I had to opportunity to attend the performace-lecture ‘Return to Battleship Island: Future of Ruins’ on Saturday 16th of October. This extremely rewarding experience was included within the Radical Space conference that took place at University of East London (15-17 October). The lecture – performed by Dr. Deborah Dixon and Dr. Carl Lavery-- focused on the island of Hashima, situated 15 kilometres off the coast of Nagasaki on the southern tip of the Japanese archipelago. Through the intervention, the island become an open studio to engage with transcultural echoes of overlapping traumatic pasts, including the Nagasaki’s explosion and the setting of Mitsubishi Company in the island and its later abandon in 1974. In the edge of the world, Hashima emerged not only as a modern monument of the ruins but also a unique eco-site to rethink the future.

The troubled attempts of the interdisciplinary team to make sense of Hashima’s contested history and its uncanny sense of temporality resulted in n provoking experience for the audience which was confronted with the images of an isolated and still liminal space where the past is made future. The research journey of the team was presented through three unfolded stages: a film, an oral portrait of the island and super 8mm footage. The combination of genres enhanced the power of the performance while proposing an immersive experience, which invited the audience to navigate the affective textures of this landscape of loss not only from a conventional academic- and arguably safe-- position, rather from an experimental and embodied-mimetic way. Thereby, spectators became not only witnesses but also actual part of the landscape, and as such, also compelled to respond to its silent demand of affective reparation. 

For a post-doctoral researcher working on sites of memory and the affectivities emerged out the traumatic military dictatorships in Latin American southern cone, the experience could not have been more provoking and stimulating. Quite in tune with my own preoccupations, the performance-lecture managed to address the affective and sometimes even playful textures of futurity embedded in this experience of an aftermath. In particular, I found the images of the local children endlessly climbing and jumping into the sea, as a powerful reminder of the recursive re-enactment of trauma, which surprisingly might also bring certain glimpses of joy and happiness.

Dr. Cecilia Sosa
Post-doctoral fellow,
School of Arts and Digital Industries,
University of East London,

"At first, I saw mountains as mountains and rivers as rivers. Then, I
saw mountains were not mountains and rivers were not rivers. Finally,
I see mountains again as mountains, and rivers again as rivers." –
Ch'ing yuan Wei-hsin

In Return to Battleship Island at Worcester on 5 November, at first, I saw sea as sea and ruin as ruin. Then, I saw the sea was
not sea and the ruin was not ruin. Finally, I see sea as sea and ruin
as ruin.

"When you investigate mountains thoroughly, this is the work of the
mountains." – Eihei Dogen

"Eihei-ji! too big! Zen Mitsubishi!!" – Daiju Tanaka (Zen priest) to
Bill Viola (artist) in some Mister Donuts coffee shop in the 1980s.

Zen Mitsubishi. Dogen's Soto Zen: investigate mountains thoroughly,
but use Korean Buddhists to mine the coal. Japan v. Korea. Dharma

Carl's melancholy. Heidegger's "being toward" (death). Being toward.
Like Benjamin on Klee's ‘Angelus Novus’: "His face is turned toward
the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single
catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in
front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and
make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from
Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the
angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him
into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris
before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress."

Hashima. Zen Mitsubishi as Capital's Paradise: "being toward" (death)
is the storm "we call progress."

There are no ruins in Japan. There is no progress in Zen. There is
only Dogen's 'uji' (time being). "At the time the mountains were
climbed and the rivers crossed, you were present. Time is not separate
from you, and as you are present, time does not go away."

On Hashima there are no ruins:

"It is nothing but an artifice of mind
This birth into an illusory becoming,
Into a world of good and evil action
With good or bad rebirth to follow."
– Nagarjuna: 'Twenty Mahamudra Verses'

On Hashima there is no progress, only "an illusory becoming." "With
good or bad rebirth to follow."

On Hashima there is silence. Hashima is silent (film). The
performance/meditation was in the silence: silent illumination
meditation. "Is this not original empty silence, original
nothingness?" (Korean Zen Master Chinul).

You do a good silence. Not brooding or confrontational. You do 'uji'
(time being) silence, the silence of original nothingness that
collapses the artifice of mind. You could have/would have/should have
stayed silent for longer. Carl coughing twice to "awaken the dead, and
make whole what has been smashed." You could have/would have/should
have stayed silent for an hour or more. Or more. The pauses between
you during the text portrait were performative, your original empty
silence was meditative.

And the colour. Hashima colour. Like Manet. Or like Velazquez. No, it
was like Chardin. I'd forgotten all about Chardin until I saw the
film. I wanted to cherry pick the colour from the film and make colour
palettes of it with which to build new worlds. New places. Hashima
colour! Mitsubishi colour!!

The colour chart of (faded) Hashima played off against that for 2013
Mitsubishi Outlander Touch Up Paint.

Thanks for the invitation, and hope to see you soon.

David Patten,
Meshworks Worcester

I was very taken by the whole set in Return to Battleship Island at Worcester; I'm inclined to say that I enjoyed the event but I think that is an unsuitable word here! I felt that there was something of a smothering action to the work. It was particular (in the sense of dust particles) - it found its way in and coated; a sort of mental pneumoconiosis. I was thirsty for some primary colours - the occasional plastic flip-flop didn't help.
Despite the initial freedom of the wave sequence, its repetition made
it anything but free and fed a feeling of claustrophobia that grew in
me (the same can be said for the looped 'found' footage of the divers
while you spoke - they were mesmerising images but eventually gave way
to a sensation of being lulled).

I realised afterwards that this claustrophobia was very much due to
the fact that we seemed to be trapped between the island and the
mainland and never got to experience the ocean beyond or even the
'back' of Hashima. Or indeed from the air like the James Bond film you
mentioned. I've just been online and quenched my thirst a little via
Google Earth! Hashima sterilised.

I was interested in a comment that Carl made at the end when Jim and I
spoke briefly to him - he expanded a bit on the fact that Japan has
few ruins and how shrines are continually refreshed - it made me think
of shopping malls and their continual present; nothing is allowed to
look deteriorate but equally the future is also suppressed somehow.
The film loop of the divers did this - the film does look dated now
but in some way the divers will keep on diving and never be allowed to

A couple of other thoughts...

I appreciated the friendly welcomes at the start and names mentioned.
Not sure if this was intentional or it's just how you and Carl are at
these events but the domestic nature contrasted well with what
followed. It reminded me of a pub scene... 'who's in tonight? Oh,
there's such and such', etc. Also reminded me a little of WS Graham
and his 'credits' at the end of 'Enter a Cloud' - references the
'real' people who were there perhaps - in the case of your piece - in
contrast to all the ghosts.

I think you/Carl touched on this in your intro - there was also a
sense that the audience become implicated in the 'problem' that
is/was/shall be Hashima.

I'm still surprised at how a film so full of water has left me so thirsty.

Stuart Mugridge,
Centre for Fine Art Research,
Birmingham City University

Dear Lee and Carl

Thank you very much for the interesting and stimulating presentation
on your Hashima research in Worcester on Tuesday evening.  The research,
and the way that you presented it, constituted very fertile ground for
speculative thought and imagined engagement with that extraordinary place -
and with the roles that an artist and theorist, researching
collaboratively, can play in the context of broader, interdisciplinary
enquiry. I have thought a lot about the bit of discussion that
happened with the audience afterwards, when you both suggested that
what you were presenting felt like the start of the enquiry; this led
me to think about how the form of the presentation proposed a
generative mode of ‘researching’ with, or in relation to, an audience,
or ‘others’ even (with all that ‘others’ implies) – and how that, of
itself, constituted some kind of interrogation of the possibilities of
‘performance’ as a mode of enquiry. As you will have gathered from the
question I asked, I was also intrigued by the role that sound (or its
absence) played in your presentation – the sound of voices, the sound
of one kind of discourse (conducted through speech) and the silence of
another (conducted through the moving and still  image), and the space
across and through which these discourses were simulanteously in play:
sounds made through still  bodies and silent bodies, moving – and
listening. Then there was the sea sick, almost quesy directional
relentlessness of that moving away across water, interspersed with
still images of presence in absence (a momentary halt in the entropy
of Hashima – itself perversely generative perhaps)  – and the
occasional hints of another kind of presence – the presence of the
researchers (and the peculiar presence, as a guide, of the absent  -
the former island inhabitant). All this is very unformed but, suffice
to say, I very much look forward to seeing how the project develops
further and to how your methods can be played out in a longer-term
process of understanding and generative knowing.

With best wishes.

Professor Antonia Payne,
Head of Institute of Humanities and Creative Arts,
University of Worcester

I was totally hooked from the start with Return to Battleship Island

The endlessly diving kids were mesmerising, especially when seen alongside your conversation with Carl. I have to say, the image of the two Nagasaki boys is still slightly haunting me today though!

The film was fascinating, there was such a rhythm to it. It was made more obvious without sound.

I couldn't help but think of the intact U-boat pens in La Rochelle and the various pillboxes along the French coast. What is the future of ruins? Especially ruins which hold so many memories and for what they represent.

I briefly spoke to Carl about our understanding of the differences between the UK and Japan and the perception/value of heritage. I went to Tokyo, Yokohamma and Osaka in 2006 and I was totally taken in by the Japanese culture. Carl's quite right, the approach to built heritage differs greatly. We are very focused on the built form, the significance of the heritage asset and it's preservation. Given the environmental conditions, the Japanese are more connected to the site, t's cultural, social and religious links. Things are changing here though, latest planning guidance [NPPF] suggests we need to understand
the cultural/social values of significance of heritage assets.

The introduction of human feet and then your guide came as a shock to the system half way through. Stuart and I turned to each other at the end and said we were desperate to see some colour and could almost taste the dust of Hashima. It looked such a stark environment.

I felt there may have been some symptoms of Stockholm Syndrome, there seemed to be a real out pouring of love when residents were told to leave - Sayōnara!

Jim Blackwell,
Senior Urban Design Planning Officer for Worcester Council

Return to Battleship Island: Future of Ruins was a film and text-image portrait ‘performed’ by Lee Hassall and Carl Lavery at the University of Worcester on 5 November 2013. The performance was rich in terms of the history of the island, about which those of us in the west should but probably do not know: in that its existence as a mining community, prison, and industrial-consumerist utopia, as well as its proximity to Nagasaki, offers a microcosm, one might argue, of the dominant military and industrial human histories of the twentieth-century.

Aesthetically, both the film and in particular the portrait encompassed aspects seemingly related to the ‘essay film’, defined by Timothy Corrigan as a largely performative ‘encounter between the self and [a] public domain’ (2011: 6) marked by some form of ‘social instability’. Corrigan continues by suggesting that this is invariably achieved through an often depersonalised (second-person) narrator (as in Patrick Keiller’s Robinson trilogy). Here, this occurs in references to the characters ‘Hassall’ and ‘Lavery’. That distance serves to establish a dialogue of social- environment and self which functions as an exercise in adjusting one’s own consciousness (35), but is also designed, of course, to stimulate a parallel response within the audience. Hence, Return to Battleship Island offers an informative, historical account by means of an interplay, in the portrait, between the personal reflections of the participants, first-hand accounts of life on the island, and social history while also, ultimately, making space for a more contemporary ecological reflection.

For the project appeared to connect with and shed light on a recent ecocritical concern with ‘material ecology’ and in particular the suggestion that vital material processes, even when humanly created, elude human control. This is vividly conveyed in the film which juxtaposes, remorselessly, the endurance of the waves – in images which (as the portrait says) care for nothing but themselves, point beyond the viewer, eludes their grip – with photographic ‘still life’ images of dead consumer products which are likewise itemised in the talk. However, it is underscored in the portrait in which the human hubris and hopelessness of Mitsubishi’s techno-utopian vision for Hashima is ultimately revealed in the concrete from which it is constructed: ‘concrete breaks down, decays and erodes. Concrete is porous, concrete is promiscuous, concrete is impure. It shifts; it moves; it crumbles – it fails’. The project offered a lovely and stark encapsulation of the real conditions conferred by human being’s material ecology.

Dr John Parham,
Editor of Green Letters, Lecturer in Media & Cultural Studies,
Institute of Humanities & Creative Arts,
University of Worcester