Ippon Matsu: the ‘Miracle Pine’

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


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

60 years after the celebrated Brutalist architect fell foul of local authorities, a Berlin Unité d’Habitation apartment...

The central thrust of the exhibition positions Sicily as the fulcrum of geopolitical conflicts over migration, trade,...
The Carters’s museum takeover powers through art history’s greatest hits – with a serious message about how the canon...
The 20-metre-high Mastaba finally realizes the artist and his late wife Jeanne-Claude’s design
‘What is being exhibited at Manifesta, above all, is Palermo itself’
A tender new film about the fashion icon and troubled genius whose creative vision ‘started the 21st century’
A survey of 1,016 visual artists across the world finds that the badges of professional success don’t necessarily...
With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018