Ippon Matsu

The Miracle Pine Tree, Rikuzentakata, Japan

published in Frieze, No.185, London, 2017
Rikuzentaka - December 2016: concrete pillars for roads yet to be built; scaffold barrier walkway path leading to Miracle Pine monument.

Six hours north-west of Tokyo in the coastal town of Rikuzentakata stands the sole survivor from a grove of 70,000 trees that once bordered the shoreline. The ‘miracle pine’, which endured the March 2011 tsunami, became a national symbol of recovery. However, by late 2012 it had slowly succumbed to saline infection. But inventive measures transformed it. A carbon endo-skeleton was inserted into the trunk; artificial branches and leaves were fabricated for its upper canopy.

In a meld of psychogeography and trauma-monumentalism, the plasti-petrified tree is a fascinating response to sculpting an edifice for commemoration. Like the A-Dome building left to stand in Hiroshima, the ‘miracle pine’ is an unsettling fracture of the real with its representation. More aligned with mummification and taxidermy (horrid signs of the real which most western monuments desperately avoid) the ‘miracle pine’ synchs to Japan’s embrace of cyborg spirituality.

Rikuzentaka - December 2016: Miracle pine - tree base encasing titanium endo-skeleton; extending trunk with plasticated branches and pine leaves.

Thousands of images have been taken of the tree, but none capture its site-specificity. The 27m height tree stands at ground zero of Rikuzentakata’s urban reconstruction, which involves a 12.5m high sea wall stretching on one side, a massive water lock sitting on the other, and a spread of incomplete arterial overpasses which thread across razed planes of bulldozed dirt. It’s a chilling experience, trudging through this flattened landscape to be confronted by a solitary vertical arborization. With its spindly skyward stretch, the ‘miracle pine’ provides a lateral and powerful example of how art can avoid monunmentalism by rendering absence.

Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Philip Brophy.