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Lieko Shiga’s photographs are characterized by their visceral color saturation, heavy use of flash, and uncanny, dreamlike tone. Experimenting with the medium of photography and deliberately challenging the conventions of documentary photography, Shiga blurs the boundaries between reality and representation, and draws on local myths and personal accounts. Her work points to fundamental questions about life, death, fear, and the means to express.
In 2008, Shiga started to spend time in the small coastal town of Kitagama in Miyagi prefecture on the Pacific Ocean. She soon became the “official photographer” of the village with only 372 residents and 107 houses, documenting daily activities, such as festivals and ceremonies, and collecting oral histories from the people in town. In her own words, “the bodies of those residents who became subjects of the works, represent the stories which are so delicate and invisible to be written as a history. Through the ritual of [being photographed], their bodies unify the land. [At the same time], as I tried to photograph, [by] subsuming and reflecting the ritual of [photographing], my body [also] experiences and traces […] the land of the Kitagama.” When Kitagama was devastated by the 2011 tsunami—the same tsunami that caused the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster—Shiga gathered, cleaned, and sorted the photographs that then resulted in her immersive installation Rasen Kaigan (2008-2012). The direct translation of “Rasen Kaigan” is “Spiral Coast,” but the artist also playfully makes a pun to refer to the “Past, Present, Future.” The psychedelic and uneasy experience of walking through this “forest of images” provides a glimpse into the community’s experiences in the aftermath of the tsunami, while reinforcing humanity’s vulnerability in the face of nature and the technology we invited to conquer it, both in the case of the village and the nuclear disaster.