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

France's President Emmanuel Macron meets Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore at the Presidential Palace in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017. Courtesy: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
The French President’s recent comments hint at a dubious politics: using art restitution as a stopgap to France’s...
More from today’s Briefing: protesting Raghubir Singh; documenta artists defend exhibition (again); Enrico Castellani (...
Édouard Glissant’s play Monsieur Toussaint is translated into Creole at this year’s Ghetto Biennale, unpicking Haiti's...
Tiffany and Co., Sterling Silver Paper Cup, 2017, from the ‘Everyday Objects’ collection. Courtesy: Tiffany and Co., New York
Tiffany & Co.’s new range of gift objects and the shifting meaning of the ‘everyday’
From Hannah Black to Not Surprised, the changes demanded by today’s letter writers are still a long way from being...
Johan Grimonprez, Shadow World, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris, Flatland Gallery, Amsterdam, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Louverture Films, Dillywood and Shadow World inc., New York
Johan Grimonprez’s recent films explore the mechanisms of the arms trade
A pivot to glass by the sculptor shows an attempt to see hope through political disillusionment
In further news: initiative for museum staff diversity; Gwangju Biennale's 2018 curators; Jens Hoffmann clarifies Front...
Ahead of Manifesta’s opening in Palermo next summer, the importance of remembering an alternative Mediterranean...
Inverting the gaze: real life biography, game play fantasy and Frantz Fanon combine in the British artist’s films
Old Food, 2017, production still. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York and Rome, and dépendance, Brussels
Helen Marten responds to Ed Atkins’s new work, Old Food, currently showing at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
Elsewhere: activists protest AfD with Holocaust Memorial replica; censorship at Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Venice Biennale'...
Twenty years after the First Cyberfeminist International at Documenta X, what does Cyberfeminism look like in...
Thinking about propaganda, palimpsests, and a presentation of Tino Sehgal works in Moscow
As London's Architectural Association celebrates 100 years of female students, rediscovering the city designed by women
Lin May Saeed, Lobster, 2017. Metal, 11 x 24 x 14.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Nicolas Krupp, Basel, Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main and Lulu, Mexico City
Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico
For the 6th Amsterdam Art Weekend, our picks of the best shows and events across the Dutch capital
Highlights of the shows included in the third iteration of Dublin Gallery Weekend
An interview with Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, on new ways for art institutions to work
With her current show at Studio_Leigh, London, the artist shares some important images
Recent instances of censorship show an emboldened far right attacking the arts, queer identity and more: artists,...
The staggering price reached by Salvator Mundi prompts the question: what are you really buying when you buy an artwork?
Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together, 1997, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Alamy 
From the new issue of frieze: Changes in urban cultures and queer aesthetics across the Sinosphere 

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

September 2017

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017