Ippon Matsu: the ‘Miracle Pine’

An image of the sole survivor tree after the 2011 tsunami in Japan 

gettyimages-151842586-2_600.jpg

Dying ‘Miracle Pine’ cut down for preservation, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images

Dying ‘Miracle Pine’ cut down for preservation, 2012. Courtesy: Getty Images

Six hours northwest of Tokyo, in the coastal town of Rikuzentakata, stands the sole survivor from a grove of 70,000 trees that once bordered the shoreline. In the immediate aftermath of the devastating tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011, this ‘Miracle Pine’ became a national symbol of recovery. However, by late 2012, it had slowly succumbed to saline infection. Inventive measures were devised to transform it: a carbon endoskeleton was inserted into the trunk, while artificial branches and leaves were fabricated to fill out its upper canopy.

A meld of psychogeography and trauma-monumentalism, the plasti-­petrified tree is a fascinating alternative to sculpting an edifice for commemoration. Like the A-Bomb Dome left to stand in Hiroshima, the Miracle Pine is an unsettling fracture of the real with its representation. More aligned with mummification and taxidermy (signs of the real that most Western monuments desperately avoid) the Miracle Pine synchs with Japan’s embrace of cyborg spirituality.

Thousands of images have been taken of the tree, but none truly captures its site-specificity. Twenty-seven metres tall, it stands at ground zero of Rikuzentakata’s urban reconstruction, which includes a 12.5-metre-high sea wall on one side, a massive water-lock on the other and a spread of incomplete arterial overpasses that currently 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 powerful example of how art can avoid monunmentalism by signifying absence.

Philip Brophy is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Issue 187

First published in Issue 187

May 2017

Most Read

Remembering the pioneering composer, visionary thinker, multimedia artist and techno-utopian, who died in May
Jennifer Piejko's guide to the best current shows in LA
Ei Arakawa work stolen from Skulptur Projekte Münster; Richard Mosse arrested; three men charged over counterfeit...
Joyce Pensato, Landscape Mickey, 2017. Courtesy: Lisson Gallery, London
Lisson Gallery, London, UK
Coinciding with Refugee Week, and her film Hear Her Singing screening at the Southbank Centre, the artist shares some...
Gilda Williams visits the first edition of the ARoS Triennial in Aarhus, Denmark
The Haitian Revolution as a lesson in corporate leadership and meeting the 'prophet of the Anthropocene': what to read...
Creative Time launches series of protest flags; photographer Khadija Saye reported as a victim of London's Grenfell...
A recent retrospective at the Museo Ettore Fico in Turin establishes the overlooked importance of a ‘total artist’
The third edition of the London performance festival makes the case for collective action in an age of political...
A past winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize, Zoe Pilger on the books and experiences that have influenced her as a writer
A guide to the best projects included in Skulptur Projekte Münster 2017
For the first in a series of our editors’ initial impressions from documenta 14 Kassel, Pablo Larios on the Neue...
Art sees itself as facing a crisis of legitimation – can this account for claims to 'authenticity' being made in shows...

An interview with the late artist on the unique classification system he devised to organize his books
The independent curator on 25 years in the arts

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2017

frieze magazine

May 2017

frieze magazine

June – August 2017