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Yuzo Ueda (Gallery Q, Curator, Exhibition Programmer)

Catalogue : Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong. 2013

Ishida Tetsuya
English / Japanes

Influences of Daigo Fukuryu Maru, or Lucky Dragon 5

Tetsuya Ishida was born on June 16, 1973, in Yaizu City, Shizuoka
Prefecture, and waslillled by accident on May 23, 2005, at a train
crossing in Machida, Tokyo. He was only thirty-one years old at the
time. Yaizu is approximately ninety minutes was of Tokyo by bullet
train. The city developed primarily as a fishing port and is known
nationally for its deep-sea fishing and seafood processing. It is
also known, however, as the provenance of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru
(Lucky Dragon 5), the tuna fishing boat irradiated by nuclear
fallout fromthe U.S. Operation Castle nuclear test carried out at
BIKINI Atoll in 1954. This accident exposed twenty-three fishermen
to high levels of nuclear radiation.

Four years after the incident, in 1958, the American nuclear
physicist Dr. Ralph E. Lapp (1917-2004)published his book The
Voyage of the Lucky Dragon. He also wrote a report on the incident
for Harper’s Magazine. Ben Shahn (1989-1969) provided the
illustrations for the series of articles.Shahn’s Lucky Dragon
series(1957-, figs. 2, 3), which comprise thirty original
illustrations from the piece, was exhibited in Yaizu in 1981.
After seeing the exhibition, Ishida, who was then just eight,
noted in his diary the he “want [ed] to become a painter like
Ben Shahn.”

The same year, Ishida submitted an essay titled “Masshirofunekun”
( “Mr. White Boat”) to an essay-writing and reading contest held
in Yaizu. The title referred to the Lucky Dragon and its exposure
to deadly nuclear ash. The folloeing is an excerpt from the essay:

From there, the entire body became sick and suffered. The nuclear
testing caused hair to fall out and blood loss. They were in pain
and could not get up to go to work. Its’s really a tragedy.
Why would humans use H-bombs to kill each other ?

This essay marked Ishida’s first engagement with social issues,
which would become a recurring theme in his oeuvre. As an elementary
school student, he already felt a sense of compassion for others
suffering misfortune and had developed a sense of justice. He had
also foreseen the tragedy that a blind faith in scientific progress,
which the hydrogen bomb represented, would bring to humankind.
Naturally, an eight-year-old could not have fathomed every aspect of
H-bomb testing. The essay suggests, however, that Ishida and already
discovered an enemy and an awareness of evil. In 1984, at age eleven,
he won the highest award in a human-right-comic contest hosted by the
Shizuoka Distric Legal Affairs Bureau. Ishida’s comic was titled
Yowaimonoijime wa yameyou (Stop Bullying Weaklings!) (1984, fig.4.)
This work also suggests that he was interested in upholding human
rights and criticizing faith in science and mechanicalcivilization.
His later practice of creating self-portraits, perhaps unconsciously,
in which he appears as martyr, to confront his ego and depict his
internal struggles had already been put in motion, if only latently,
by the “self becoming absent” deep within.

From Gundam to Evangelion

Many of Ishida’s later works, particularly those produced while he
was in college and after, feature cars, trains, and airplanes,.
Some, such as Supermarket(1996, fig.9) and Interview (1998, pp.26-27,
29), show bodies merged with machines- read: civilization / H-bomb
-and these images recall the anthropomorphism and merging of man and
mechanism explored in his early Lucky Dragon. essay. As such, even
Tremor (2002, p.47), a seeming humorous picture of a humanized mop,
evokes a feeling of horror. Isdhida’s sense of justice and sharp
critique of technological civilization manifest themselves in
depiction of disposable humans in Untiled (2) (1988, pp. 10, 33)
and Recalled (1998, pp. 8-9, 31), the letter a portrait of the
artist as plastic model kit. Conveyor-Belt People (1996, pp.20-21,
23) shows human being dismantled like machines, and Exercise
Equipment (1997, p.25), which depicts Ishida running in place on a
conveyor belt to survive without dropping out of society, satirizes
social institutions.

These works create a sense of horror and uncertainty in viewers.
While the images bring Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936, fig. 5)
to mind, Ishida’s machines are also heavily influenced by the animated
television series Mobile Suit Gundam(1979-, fig.6), in which people
merge with robots. This program was immensely popular while Ishida
was in grade school. The paintings he made immediately prior to his
death, however, more closely resemble Neon Genesis Evangelion (1995
-96, fig. 7) . As this television series was set in a world where
half of the human population had been decimated, the references to
it suggest that, in one sense,Ishida’s later-period works were self-
portraits of the artist moving toward death. In Waiting for a Chance
(1999, p.41), for example beds represent bridges for crossing the
river Styx.
In Untitled (2004, fig.1), he depicted piles of books and a slight
reflection of a person on the surface of a river. These uneasy images,
which evoke death, are also a response to the millennial cult Aum
Shinrikyo terrorist attacks of 1994-95, which caused great uncertainty
in Japanese society. The Visitor (1999, fig.8), for example, is a
terrifying image of the face of the cult’s leader, Shoko Asahara,
merged with a nautilus (called ohmu, a homonym for aum in Japanese)
body appearing in a doorway. Based on his production notes, excerpted
below, we can surmise that Ishida felt that this tragic incident was
a manifestation of the so-called emotional darkness and uncertainty
of the “lost twenty years” and that it made Japanese people aware of
their inability to understand one another. This, in turn, made the
population want to strive for mutual understanding.

I think that one psychological characteristic of the Japanese is their
ideal of “mutual understanding.” We tend to think that Japanese
people can understand one another without debate or other explicit
articulation. What was shocking about [Fumihiro] Joyu
[Aum spokesperson] was that he revealed that Japanese people do not
understand one another st all. He represented the Japanese that one
could not understand, either in terms of linguistic structure or thought.

Be it Mobile Suit Gundam or Neon Genesis Evangelion, late -
twentieth − century animation dealing with crises in human existence
resonated with, and was immensely popular among, the youth of
Ishida’s generation. The overwhelming response was a product of the
overlaps created between the depicted fictional crises and real ones,
such as the Aum Shirikyo attacks and other seemingly incomprehensible
circumstance of contemporary Japanese society.
These events, along with the downturn of the Japanese economy in 1991,
constituted the impoverished and stifling lost twenty years. Ishida’s
generation also faced employment difficulties and was described
alternately as the “lost generation” and “employment refugees.”
Unlike his peers, Ishida, who graduated from the Department of
Visual Communication Design at Musashino Art University, chose to
become an artist rather than find full − time employment in the
design field, Most of his works, even beyond the thirteen included
in this exhibition, which he produced up until his death, show
that the sensitive Ishida suffered from neurosis and was
psychologically unstable. Although these works, which were produced
during a period of turmoil in Japanese society, show manifestations
of personal difficulties, they are painfully resonant, on a more
general level, in their depiction of internal struggles.

Ishida was also moved by the Kobe child murders of 1997, in which
a fourteen − years − old killed two children, ages ten and eleven.
The boy had beheaded his victims and put one head on display in
front of his school gate, because he “wanted to examine it closely.”
Prior to this horrific display, he had put the head in a plastic bag,
hidden it in his attic, and gouged the eyes out with a knife because
he “couldn’t stand the boy’s sleepy eyes.” It is said that the killer
derived sexual pleasure from and had ejaculated while combing his
victim’s hair. Initially, the police were unable to identify suspects,
as no one guessed that a fourteen − year − old could have been the
perpetrator. He sent the following letter explaining his crimes to a
local newspaper:

Now the game starts. You stupid cops, catch me if you can. Killing is
unbearably pleasurable. I’m desperate to see people die. Let the dirty
vegetables be punished by death. Let bloodshed bring justice to years
of resentment. ( School Kill Seito Sakakibara)

From 9/11 to 3/11

Why do people find Ishida’s picture so moving ? His images, which depict
the artist’s and
show him as stifling withdrawn. They represent
a darkness that might be described as schizophrenic. After mixing
life and death in his works, he finally confronted his viewers with
his actual death.

The “Masshirofunekun,” or Lucky Dragon, essay, and its equation
of irradiation with death,is the origin of Ishida’s work. Descendant
(1999, pp.42-45), however, is an image of rebirth. It sounds a warming
against our uncertain civilization, which Ishida represents through the
merging of man and machine, and regarding our unquestioning faith in
scientific progress.Undoubtedly, this is a response to the unique
catastrophe that Japan, as the only nation in the world hit by nuclear
bombs, has suffered. Its’s hard to forget the shock of seeing the
Boeing 767 passenger planes flying into the World Trade Center
buildings on September 11, 2001. The world watched in awe as the
giant flying machines, arguably man’s greatest invention, crashed
into the World Trade Center buildings, the symbol of American
progress.The tragic event was variously discussed in relation to
political contexts and tribal conflicts as resulting from the “clash
of civilizations” and as spawning the “war on terror.” Seeing the
aftermath, many lamented the destruction of our future by products
of mechanical civilization turned into murderous weapons. Just like
the nuclear physicist Lapp, who helped develop the thermonuclear
bomb, we were forced to consider the cost of our progress.

On March 11, 2011, the great East Japan earthquake and tsunami
caused a nuclear meltdown.
This was a disaster caused by
scientific underdevelopment. Our post - March 11 world, in which
a blind faith in science could no longer be maintained, seems
identical to the world of Neon Genesis
Evangelion. Since he
passed in 2005, Ishida did not experience the earthquake or nuclear
disaster. His Lucky Dragon essay, however, also deals with
irradiation. The tragic events of 9/11 and 3/11 and the irradiation
of the Lucky Dragon on March 1, 1954, are all warning against the
myth of scientism.The are catastrophes that force us to question
our faith in modernization.

Ishida’s morbid paintings speak to our hearts. They touch on our
experiences of the historical tragedies described above, as well
as our deep fear of catastrophic disasters, to critique civilization.
There is a lack of compassion in contemporary society. Young people
live without physically interacting with others and consider their
cell phones their friends. Contemporary ma, for whom the phone is
the sole connection to the exterior world, is depicted in Long
Distance (1999, fig.11). These works employ images of a nonexistent
self, a self interchangeable with others, and portray the self as
divided and contradictory to hint at the era of the loss of the self.
The shock of Ishida’s paintings is constituted by the confession and
sprit they present to our selves, which have been warped by
contemporary society.I will conclude with the following text excerpted
from Ishida’s production notebook.

I’m strongly drawn to saintly artists. I mean people who believe that
each brushstroke will save the world or can represent the suffering of
humanity in the face of a sheep. They make me aware that I’m just a
philistine.(June 1999)

Post script 1:
Around 6 a.m. on May 23, 2005, unaware of the crossing gate, Ishida
walked onto the train tracks of the Odakyu Line in Machida, Tokyo,
and was hit by a train. I was told that his mother, who lived far away,
had called him just half an hour prior to his death. Worried about the
son, who worked night shifts, she had called to make sure he had eaten
breakfast. After the phone call,
he had decided to go and buy
breakfast at the convenience store located on the other side of the
tracks from his apartment. Strangely, it was discovered that he did not
have his wallet with him when he was killed. He only had US$100 bill
in his pocket.I visited Ishida at his apartment two or three years
before his untimely death. He opened his bankbook to show me that he
had saved nearly a million yen from working his part-time job. He wanted
to know if it was enough to have a solo exhibition in New York. I told
him that there are no rental galleries in New York and that a million
yen would only about three months there. I added that with his inability
to speak English, no one would take him seriously and that he would be
better off making more work and studying English. Following his death,
his family allowed me to read his diary. Immediately after our discussion
about his wish to go to New York, he’d begun studying English by
purchasing a textbook for an English- learning program on TV. It then
dawned on me that the $100 bill in his pocket was his ticket to New York.
He was prepared to go at any time.

Post script 2:
This text is not written exclusively in regard to the thirteen paintings
shown at Gagosian Gallery Hong Kong. Ishida produced more than two
hundred works between the age of twenty, when he was still at
Musashino Art University, and thirty-one, when he died. My text is
written in response to all of these works and his childhood artworks
and essays, which I accessed with permission from his family.
The works included in the current catalogue constitute a small
selection from his oeuvre.

<1.> Lapp participated in the Manhattan Project, which developed
the atomic bomb, but upon discovering the effects of radiation
and the health risks of radioactive fallout caused by nuclear
tests, he became a vocal opponent of atmospheric nuclear experiment .
Joe Holley, “Ralph E.Lapp, 87; Nuclear Physicist, ” The Washington Post,
September 13, 2004,

<2.> Shahn was a Lithuanian-born Jewish-American painter who made
a living as a lithographer in Brooklyn, New York. He empathized with
those on the bottom rungs of the ladder of American society, including
laborers and the unemployed. “Ben Shahn (1898-1969),”
The Phillips Collection, accessed June 13, 2014

<3.>3. Mobile Suit Gundam is widely known as a robot action anime but,
more importantly, it is a story about a hero’s growth in society. Set amid
a war, the story features rich and realistic human dramas. It also
introduced a new type of a humanlike robot weapon called “mobile suits,”
which were later referred to as “real robots,” and itbecame the forerunner
of robot anime series from the early to mid-1980s.

<4.> Neon Suit Gundam is a third-generation animation that inspired the
anime boom. The story takes place in the year 2015 in a world where half of
the population perished in the Second Impact, a catastrophe that occurred on
September 13, 2000. In the post-Second Impact world, boys and girls who
reach the age of fourteen pilot of giant humanoid known as “Evangelion,”
The story depicts their battles to protect Tokyo-3 from invasion by their
mysterious enemy the “Angels.”

<5.> 5. Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for many antisocial activities,
including the sarin-gas subway attack, a mass murder that took place on the
Tokyo subway system in 1995. Holly Fletcher,“Aum Shinrikyo,” Council on
Foreign Relations, last modified June 29, 2012,

“The Visitor” acrylic and oil on canvas 45.5x53cm 1999

“Untitled(1)” acrylic on canvas 146x206cm 1998

“Untitled(2)” acrylic on canvas 206x146cm 1998
 “Asian Avant-Garde”CHRISTIE’S  Auction 12 Octber 1998


 <8.>“Conquered” 53x45.5cm acrylic and oil on canvas 2004

1984:"Human Rights Manga" by Tetsuya Ishida(11 years old)(sponsored by Shizuoka District Legal Affairs Bureau)