115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

How to Remember a Catastrophe: Traumatic Spaces in Aida Makoto’s Monument for Nothing

Yuki Namiki, Tokyo Kasei University

This presentation examines artistic works by Aida Makoto (1965-) who works with the trope of social memory and historical trauma in popular culture. His Monument for Nothing series are discussed focusing on the ways in which these compositions could make historical trauma in a society’s collective memory visible. 

Proposal: 

My presentation, entitled "How to Remember a Catastrophe: Traumatic Spaces in Aida Makoto’s Monument for Nothing," examines artistic works by Aida Makoto (1965-), who is one of the leading Japanese visual artist whose body of work casts a new light on representing collective memory, especially of catastrophe commemorating the shock and mourning, making clear the historical ties between social traumas of different times. In particular, Monument for Nothing IV(2012), a wall-size composition made in the wake of Tohoku Great Earthquake of 2011, should be received and evaluated as the one of the first response in the face of such a catastrophic event, one that shows the characteristic of remembering the historical tragedy.

Aida is a contemporary Japanese artist who works with the trope of social memory and historical trauma in popular culture, focusing on the ways in which artworks could reflect historical trauma in a society’s collective memory. Aida’s artistic media span not just painting but also sculpture, video, performance, installation, as well as an impressive range of techniques that fit the topic at hand without limiting himself to a particular method. The subjects found in his work are also wide-ranging. It includes popular culture icons such as manga, nubile young girls, and salarymen, or history and war. Although drawing heavily from popular culture as other contemporary Japanese artists do, Aida’s peculiarity stands out in his conscious stance towards the Local and the Global and his intentional play between two tropes. This fact enables his work to provide viewpoint previously unseen historical and social trauma, as well as the nature of artworks.

In the first part of the presentation, to provide a larger context on representation of memory in Aida’s work, I will discuss An Air Raid on New York City (1996). A polemical work that concerns the Japanese trauma during World War II, it stirred much discussion when exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2003.

Then, I will examine his Monument for Nothing series, in particular Monument for Nothing IV , the most recent piece in the series. Monument for Nothing is the series made to revisit the concept of “monument.” Monument, which is broadly conceived as an everlasting artwork of large scale with a cause of remembrance, with a specific story and concept, as the way to commemorate a national event, is an inherently Western concept, and is introduced to Japan after modernity. Aida’s monuments are trying to hallow the notion associated with the monuments. It’s big and monumental to the ridiculous scale, but carefully made to be utterly meaningless, and consisting of the small parts, and flimsy, temporal. Monument for Nothing IV  is a wall-sized cardboard composition consisting of Twitter messages and responses of popular media collected at the time of the calamity. It effectively recreates the way people felt about and what peculiar about this disaster this time and commemorates details that would be lost in the official mourning, yet so essential in a way that it will unconsciously haunt community in the future as the undercurrent of trauma. Aida’s monument seems to be in accordance with other attempts of monuments that try to communicate the multitude and complexity of the disaster. After two years from the catastrophic event in Japan, there are some emerging artistic representations of the event commemorating the shock and mourning. Monument for Nothing should be received and evaluated as the one of the first artistic response in the face of such a catastrophic event and as an important development in the artist’s works.