- Kitano Ken
Flow and Fusion, Kitano Ken’s first project, is a series of cityscapes shot mainly in Tokyo. The series began the same year as the starting year of the Heisei era, following the death of the Showa Emperor, who reigned from 1926 to 1989. This was also the era during which Japan was at the peak of its “bubble economy,” and Japanese money circulated throughout the world, buying anything and everything, including Columbia Pictures and the most expensive of museum-quality paintings by Van Gogh and Renoir. The photographs in Flow and Fusion were taken throughout this dramatic period of change in Japanese society during the “bubble” period.
Setting his camera on the streets of Tokyo, Kitano took pictures using a slow shutter technique, opening the shutter for 30 to 40 seconds at a time. In using this technique, moving images such as people or vehicles did not disappear completely, but remained instead as amorphous entities, without contours, like clouds of smoke in the cityscape. When Kitano first saw the “cloud” of people on the photographic paper in his darkroom, he somehow sensed therein his own presence among the particles that formed the cloud, though no human figures were identifiable. He explains, “I felt a sense of wonder. I started to think that I was looking at a world with no contours, as if I was analyzing the world on a molecular level and had begun to regard the people in my photographs as particles of sand, and that was the real condition of their existence. Then I came across the idea that I myself was also one of these grains of sand.”1 Thus, Kitano felt as if he were connected to everybody in the universe as a whole.
This particular image, Flow and Fusion / Tokyo Dome, Tokyo, was taken with the same technique, in front of Tokyo Dome following a baseball game in 1990. The audience rushes out of the stadium in droves, and the stream of people becomes a wriggling cloud that moves in the same direction toward Suidobashi station. With Japan’s bubble economy on the verge of collapse, this “human cloud” is highly charged with the heat, energy, [End Page 136]
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and dynamism of the moment. Indeed, Tokyo Dome, the first domed stadium and a huge financial investment built in 1988, is symbolic of architecture that represented the bubble boom. Although the stadium itself does not appear in the image, you can feel its strong presence, as suggested by the title, with the “human cloud” being exhaled from the big stadium that lies in the background.
Japan’s economic prosperity ended in 1991 and was followed by a period of economic stagnation that came to be known as the “Lost Decade.” During the decline of Japan’s economy, several disasters struck the country. In 1995, Japan experienced the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the sarin gas attacks on Tokyo subway lines. Kitano, deeply shocked by these tragic incidents, was unable to comprehend the lost lives or the pain of the innumerable people involved in the catastrophes. He felt as if he was being separated from his vision of the world that he had experienced in the process of creating Flow and Fusion. As a result, he eventually stopped producing artworks. He commented, “Was my charmed existence merely fiction in relation to this other reality? […] I could only half comprehend these events of extreme significance and the fact, presented to me repeatedly and almost to a numbing extent, that all of these immeasurable lives had been taken.”2
Lost in his anxiety, Kitano often traveled to Mexico, where he encountered large-scale mural paintings by Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Of his experience in Mexico he explains,
The murals by Diego Rivera that I encountered there often featured seas of faces. […] Figures from the pre-Columbian era, invaders, rapists, living sacrifices, despots, resistance fighters, children, clergymen...