The Dystopic tale of Gunkanjima


Untitled #1, Dean Keep, 2015.

Gunkanjima (Battleship Island) is a small island just a short boat ride (40 mins) from Nagasaki. Gunkanjima was once the site of an undersea coal mine established in the late 1800’s and was occupied by many workers, including Koreans who were used as forced labour in the mines. Over time, many buildings were constructed to house the growing number of workers and their families. Up until its closure in 1974, there were 5000 residents on the island. Today the deserted island sits floating in the sea like a ghostly mirage, its concrete buildings eroded by the salt-laden winds that howl through the now deserted city. You can find out more about Gunkanjima by watching the short documentary video below.

My visit to the island involved booking a tour at the Nagasaki Port and a boat ride to the island. The boat stops at the island for approximately 40 mins so that visitors can experience a small section of the island on foot, as well as a short history lesson in Japanese language. At Gunkanjima there is no need for words, the crumbling structures may be considered ‘memory sculptures’ (Huyssen, 2003, p.110). These large slabs of decaying concrete carry the visual traces of occupation. Now all that remains is a crumbling ruin, the sound of the sea, and the song of black kites who glide on the sea breeze.

12274297_10153253424558587_2902741140278679546_nGunkangima, smartphone video still, Dean Keep, 2015.

Gunkanjima video still 1
Gunkangima, smartphone video still, Dean Keep, 2015.

It’s difficult not to draw parallels with the aftermath of the A-Bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as you walk amongst the modern ruins of Gunkanjima. Present and past fold over each other, creating a palimpsest of absence and presence. My challenge now is to delve deep into the images that I have captured during my time in Japan and consider creative strategies that will tease out the narratives that lay embedded within these mediated traces. No one image or photographic technique can embody the flow of time, so at this point in my Phd it would appear that the way forward is to apply multiple creative strategies  and imaging techniques as a means of building a body of work that best reflects the affective nature of my (post) memories of Japan.


~ by Dean on December 9, 2015.

One Response to “The Dystopic tale of Gunkanjima”

  1. I know what you mean. This piece of furniture makes me feel SO grown up. There are some great pieces if you keep looking. Click

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