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


Home // Outputs





Recuperating the Monstrous:
Matter and Entropy on Hashima Island, in the edited volume Monstrous Geographies, Inter-Disciplinary press, Oxford.

How can we respond to sites that are ‘ruined’ and made ‘toxic’ by layers of trauma, psychic, social and environmental? How can we reclaim their hospitality – that is, their potential as sites for living with and alongside the ‘other’ – whilst at the same time welcome their monstrousness? How can we encounter and engage with the logic of matter transmogrification and entropy manifest at such sites, such that these become habitable? In this chapter, we address these questions via reference to some of our work on Hashima Island, Japan. Bought by the Mitsubishi company in 1890, and mined for coal, Hashima played a vital role in creating Japan’s industrial and political revolutions in the twentieth century. By 1907, the small rock reef had doubled in size; this extension, formed from slag waste, was levelled, ready for the construction of dormitories for miners. Within this 1.2 square mile area, by 1950, people lived in and amongst concrete tower blocks, a school (with gymnasium and playground), a hospital, cinema, shops, public baths, shafts, stairways, parks, tunnels, staircases, a police station, a promenade, a swimming pool and an encircling sea wall. This wall, Brian Burke-Gaffney writes, ‘gave the island the appearance of a battleship riding the waves. The resemblance was so uncanny that a local newspaper reporter dubbed it Battleship Island…’, or Gunkanjima (軍艦島).


An extract from Carl Lavery's essay 'Came Dancing Cross the Water: The Ecology of the Image' in Return to Battleship Island. The essay was part of an invited panel at the Central School of Speech and Drama on 1 Nov 2013 as part of the 'New Perspectives on Ecology and Performance' Symposium.

In Hassall’s film, there are pictures of wave following wave. The images seem to twist and turn, to flux and reflux. The eye can’t find a fixed spot. The waves appear to come at you; they make you dizzy, all that turbulence, all that movement; like you are assailed by what Michel Serres might call  ‘noise’, and which he associates with nauticus, navy, the sea. In the chapter on painting, in his beautiful book Genesis, Serres discusses a painting La Belle Noiseuse in terms of the sea god, Proteus, the god, he says, ‘of background noise’, ‘chaos’, ‘the cloud’, the god ‘who refuses to answer question even though he knows all the answers’, the god of ‘sensation’, the murmuring god full of images’. In the presence of Proteus, painting is perturbed and perturbing, musicalised, deprived of an object. What we are left with instead is the invisible movement of the world made sonorous, the sound of the background, of the thisness, the haeccity of the world itself.
             This is how I responded to Hassall’s film, as a work that does not represent the sea as iconography, but instead makes you, the viewer, feel sea sick, an ichnography. As I watch the film, as I have done on many occasions now, I tend not to watch it with my eyes, but with my abdomen. I breath with it, taking it in through my body, through my skin, throught my mouth and thorax. Infected by airborne molecules, by an inhalation. Hassall is not interested in representing the image of Hashima, in giving us the object stage managed like Ezra Pound or Stendhal, as something hard, distinct and crysalline. On the contrary, what Hassall has tried – and I think – succeeded in giving us is the atmosphere, the indistinctness, the haze, that surrounds Hashima, and that blinds our eyes, as if in a fog, as we approach it. In this elemental fog, this molecular haze, Hashima is part of everything else, envelopped in a streaming, composite world, no longer a place or site in its own right, as something singular and separate