Printmaker Ryoji Ikeda’s Era

Ryoji Ikeda is a printmaker who, using copper plates, creates a world of unique expression. He transfers photographs he’s taken onto copper plates, and through etching, integrates these images, created by optical effects, with hand-drawn pointillistic images and lettering into a single simple depiction. His style is such that he uses the processes of etching and printing to produce something like a fossilized image in the mind of the viewer, just as pottery gains universality and eternity by passing through fire. There is a place that this printmaker, Ryoji Ikeda, has spent half a lifetime nurturing.

Cape Ochiishi (falling rock) is a small cape at the base of the Nemuro Peninsula. The cape, shaped like a human head, is named in derivation from the Ainu word “Oku-chishi,” the hollow at the nape of the neck. There are cliffs at the tip of the cape, where there have been discovered both dwellings and shell mounds from the Jomon Period (14,000-300BCE), so we can assume that ancient people found it comfortable enough. About midway up the cape stands an abandoned radiotelegraph station. Linking this relic to the lighthouse on the cape’s southern tip stretches a curious boardwalk, running straight through a pine forest.

This boardwalk, suspended just a little above the marshland below, is like a phantom path connected to another world. The marsh is dotted with clusters of Asian skunk cabbage, and in the beginning of May, when I visited, I was greeted by their simultaneous bloom. After passing through these clumps of skunk cabbage in their forest of red spruce, as I walked along this mysterious boardwalk that stretched on and on, it was as if I were quietly walking along a path to a heavenly place. Even if all you do is take this mysterious boardwalk on a round trip walk to the lighthouse on the end of the peninsula, it’s worth the visit.

Ryoji Ikeda, who was born and raised in Nemuro, established his distinctive world of art prints in Tokyo, but following his mother’s death, he made up his mind to base himself in his hometown. From his vantage point, he saw the ruins of the Ochiishi radiotelegraph station. This was in 1985. The Ochiishi station, established by the Ministry of Communications in 1908, was a vital telecommunications point for ships sailing the North American route. Itself shaped like an antenna, the Nemuro Peninsula served as Japan’s antenna for emitting signals to the world. The facility was decommissioned in 1966.

In 1985, the 38 year-old Ikeda, who had chosen this site as the perfect location from which to do his work, began tending to the ruins. He waterproofed the ceiling, stopped up the holes, and installed a white cube gallery space in the interior…. Rather than reconstruction or remodeling, however, he embraced the weathering of the building, assimilating and resonating his own body with it as a way to fuse his work with the ruins. It seems that his vision has steadily matured with time.

Ryoji Ikeda’s method is to embrace tightly that which is being lost and that which is disappearing. Naturally, antiques accumulated around Ikeda. Reclaimed wood, copper roof tiles and pea gravel from Ochiishi Shrine: such are the materials, all found around Ochiishi, of which the elegant couple’s home was constructed. In the small gallery are quietly placed old bottles found around the radiotelegraph station and round stones washed up on the nearby beach. From the house, which stands on high ground, I was able to enjoy a peaceful view of the Ochiishi lighthouse on the embankment.

The Ochiishi Project is an art project that Ikeda started with fellow printmakers Sotaro Ide and Toshiya Takahama, held at the site of the old radiotelegraph station, for just five days each August. If you want to take in Japan’s original scenery, you might do well to include this place in your list. Here, feel the gaze of printmaker Ryoji Ikeda, who continues to see the corrosion of the ruins of the Ochishi radiotelegraph station and the surrounding scenery as a history that is still being deposited.



SŌKO Ochiishi Gallery

398 Ochiishihigashi, Nemuro, Hokkaido 088-1782