Floating Petals – Japan 2010
For many centuries cherry blossoms were, and still are, highly significant in Japanese culture. The rich and complex meanings of these blossoms constitute a matrix of interrelated concepts, associated with renewal, the celebration of life and good fortune, but also predicated by the ephemeral nature of life, death and rebirth.
In other words, the symbol stands for process and relationships, not an isolated concept. In the 19th century, with the beginning of the Meiji era, when Japan begun its modernisation, militarization and colonial expansion, the symbolic meaning of the cherry blossoms was re-appropriated for nationalistic and military purposes. It is precisely because cherry blossoms stand for life, predicated by death and rebirth, that the Japanese military were able to tip the scales and exploit their symbolism in terms of death instead of life. For the imperial state, the virtue of cherry blossoms was not the life force represented by the petals as a full flower, but was instead the premature fall of the virginal petals as symbols of the sacrifice made by the young soldiers, since to die without clinging to life was a concept later introduced by the state to convince Kamikaze soldiers to plunge into death.
The symbolism of the cherry blossoms was transformed from full blooms as a life force to individual falling petals as a representation of the sacrifice of soldiers and their subsequent rebirth. The work that I produced in Japan between April and May 2010 meditates on the life and death dialectics that are symbolically imbedded in the life cycle of the cherry blossom. In the course of my journey I was moving between the cities of Tokyo and Hiroshima, both of which were damaged during World War II, and ancient locations and temples in the remote regions of west Japan. This geographical dichotomy allowed me to develop a visual dialectic between the historic and modern symbolism of the cherry blossom. The trees that I photographed in Hiroshima and Tokyo were all planted after the war.
In post A Bomb Hiroshima they are all fed from the nuclear contaminated soil, while in Tokyo they are often associated with death and nationalism, located in Kamikaze memorial shrines and around the imperial palace. In contrast, the trees that were photographed in the remote regions are ancient and were not affected by the war. These trees are often located in the vicinity of Buddhist temples and are associated with the force of life.