*By Carrie Cushman
On January 17, 1995 at approximately 5:45AM an earthquake of immense magnitude occurred in the Kobe-Awaji area of Western Japan. Reports documented over 6,000 deaths, approximately 32,000 newly homeless, and more than 200,000 collapsed homes. In a matter of twenty seconds, much of the port city of Kobe was reduced to a pile of rubble, only to be followed by a series of fires sparked by the tremors. It was the worst natural disaster in Japan since the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923. Although the Kobe earthquake was of a lesser scale (magnitude 7), it occurred at an unusually shallow point in the Nojima fault line in an area that previously had not been considered a serious threat. Today, the event is remembered for the inadequate and poorly managed response of the central and local governments, which signaled the need for new research in emergency preparedness and disaster relief.
The Kobe-based architect Miyamoto Katsuhiro, who lived through the earthquake and witnessed the destruction of his own home, has recalled the restorative role of ruins in coming to grips with the unfathomable destruction of his city. He wrote of the event, “Immediately after the earthquake, wandering around the city, I had the impression that the landscape was comforting me. Walking or cycling over this ground I was able to accept, inside me, the earthquake.” Miyamoto describes an internalization of the landscape that goes beyond a visually-oriented experience to understand – or “accept” – the reality of the disaster. His therapeutic wanderings recapitulate the undoubtedly visceral experience of the event itself, as when he writes, “inside me, the earthquake.”
Miyamoto conceived a memorial to the disaster entitled “Topographical Healing,” in which heaps of actual rubble would be piled along a 2.5-kilometer stretch of the Ashiya riverbank in Kobe (Figure 1).
Certainly, the fractured state of the architecture, infrastructure, and communication systems mirrored his – and many others’ – own fractured state of mind in the months following the earthquake. His proposal suggests an unwillingness to let go of these material remnants, along with a desire to re-live, re-experience, or re-embody the tragedy through the preservation of ruins. Though not in Kobe, a form of Miyamoto’s memorial was constructed one year later in the Japan Pavilion for the Sixth International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale.
Architect as Seismograph
In 1996, the directors of the Architecture Biennale organized the exhibition around the theme, “Sensing the Future: The Architect as Seismograph.” François Burkhardt, one member of the exhibition’s Committee of Experts, described the theme as “oriented towards the future through the recognition of the value of individual research” with a focus on “the innovating architect.” Thus, the term “seismograph” here had little to do with the instrument that measures the force and duration of earthquakes. Rather, “seismograph” served as a metaphor for the architect’s responsibility to sense stylistic shifts and experimental tremblers in contemporary design.
Provocatively entitled “Fractures,” the exhibition in the Japan Pavilion was a blunt denouncement of such brazen optimism. A line of mannequins simulating emergency volunteers welcomed visitors to the exhibition. Adorned in orange jumpsuits and waving neon green flags, these robots ushered crowds ahead into the unembellished building, as if the visitors themselves were survivors of the earthquake, fleeing the disarray of the city for shelter in a designated evacuation area. The entrance to the pavilion offered little by way of explanatory text, displaying only the title and names of the project designers: the head commissioner Isozaki Arata; architects Miyamoto Katsuhiro and Ishiyama Osamu; and photographer Miyamoto Ryūji. A pamphlet handed out to visitors read:
The moment the earthquake struck, fractures rushed into this world.
Fractures appeared in the surface of the roads, and overpasses collapsed.
Faults were exposed in the earth’s surface.
Fractures came into high-rise buildings, they lurched, and the floors compressed.
Communications networks were interrupted.
Tons of public transportation became impassable, and operations were brought to
a complete standstill.
The wharfs fell to pieces, and the harbor ceased to function.
The lifeline supplies of gas, water, and electricity were disabled.
Families that became refugees in public buildings lost all privacy.
The cases of family ties being split apart mounted.
It left psychological wounds.
This introduction made it clear: here, Fractures referred not only to the physical terrain of the city, but to the social and psychological disjunctions that escalated in the wake of the earthquake.
The interior of the pavilion failed to reveal any further signposts or discursive framework. Bordered by photographic murals of Kobe in ruins, the space was flooded with nearly thirty tons of material wreckage and architectural debris lifted directly from the streets of Kobe into a world of high art, aesthetic display, and national exhibition (Figure 2).
The plan itself was relatively simple: a square room, sixteen-by-sixteen meters, with four additional walls jutting out from the periphery to break up the space. A path of flattened cardboard boxes guided the flow of traffic, but there were also points at which visitors might stumble through the wreckage, stirring up whirls of dust and unpleasant odors as they went. The architects made no attempt to preserve or highlight specific artifacts found among the debris. In fact, holes left in the roof of the pavilion exacerbated the exposure of the rubble to the natural elements. The rain and humidity of late summer in Italy heightened the lingering stench of the wreckage. An audible telecommunications and safety support system, developed by architect Ishiyama Osamu, was piped into the space through a series of odd robots stationed among the rubble, further contributing to the multisensory stimuli.
Significantly, in the context of an international exhibition of architecture, there was no architecture on display as such: no models, design proposals, elevations, or photographs of completed projects. There were no proposals for the reconstruction of Kobe, nor were there examples of recent experiments in aseismic engineering. Isozaki Arata was adamant that this material wreckage represent the current state of architecture in Japan. In an interview, he explained the exhibition in terms of its materiality: “Rather than using images as a technique for conveying an illusion to people, we think it is better to display the so-called ‘material media of the image.’ […] This is the concept of the entire Japan Pavilion. Things that are treated this way are slowly restored to things.” Thus, by preserving and foregrounding the raw material of the disaster, Isozaki and his team attempted to make present the Kobe of 1995.
Despite Isozaki and his team’s decidedly perverse interpretation of “Architect as Seismograph,” the Fractures exhibition won the Golden Lion Award for Best National Pavilion due to its conspicuous impact on visitors to the Biennale. In contrast to more conventional display techniques (framed photographs of the ruins, wall text listing statistics from the disaster), the construction of a total environment made for a palpable representation of the earthquake and its effects. Was this the work of mere spectacle – phantasmagoria at its finest? Or was there something more profound going on here? We must return to Isozaki’s concept of the “material media of the image” in order to fully grasp the psychological implications of such material when it is presented in ruins and in excess.
A Return to Things
The implications of the Fractures exhibition become clear when examined in the context of critical interventions made in Material Culture Studies in the years surrounding the 1996 Biennale. New Material Studies was developed in the 1990s and early 2000s in reaction to exclusively textual forms of interpretation. Anthropologists, sociologists and historians, increasingly suspicious of semiotics, symbolism and representations, called for a return to things. Working from Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1945), New Material Studies interrogates the complex relationship between the human body and material objects, emphasizing the potential for knowledge production contained in that relationship. New material studies was actively incorporated into the field of museum studies, as curators, scholars and artists aimed to reunite the discerning, disembodied eye – so long the sole occupant of modernist galleries and exhibition spaces – with the sensitized, mobile body.
Museums and exhibitions traditionally rely on the relationship between (or juxtaposition of) text and object to produce knowledge, at times propelling visitors’ attention past the presence of the actual objects on display. In contrast, advocates of new material studies identify the potential for embodied and emotional engagements in the space of the museum. Physical contact with objects has been identified as a particularly effective and creative mode of learning. However, actual touch is not a prerequisite for haptic experiences in museums. In her analysis of relational aesthetics, Jennifer Fisher explains the phenomenon of “haptic awareness,” defined as “the affective charge – the felt dimensionality – of a spatial context.” Understanding that the aesthetic involves sensory mediation, Fisher examines the capacity for aesthetic experiences to contribute to the creation of knowledge and meaning. She consults recent brain research to show that “the act of imagining an action activates the same processes in the brain as actually enacting it.” She goes on, “In this sense, then, to ‘imitate’ or simulate touch might in fact provoke a tactile experience as far as brain synapses go.”
Haptic awareness also involves resonance, generally defined as “the power of objects and places from the past to evoke memory in the present.” In addition to standing in for past lives and historical events, objects in museum settings also have the power to resonate with one’s own lived experiences. This is an entirely subjective phenomenon that depends upon an individual’s preexisting knowledge, past memories, and personal experiences. Myrian Santos describes how the “emotions triggered by the sight of an object” contain the power to create a bridge between the past and the present. This connection is both mental and physical, as one’s sensing of an object produces an embodied interpretation of its meaning. Sensing the exhibition in the Japan Pavilion through the kinesthetic demands of the space, along with the physical presence, proximity and scale of the ruins, would have familiarized visitors with the atmosphere of Kobe after the earthquake. Moreover, this embodied learning experience might have enabled them to draw on past memories and experiences of similar environments, such as other natural disasters, or even war.
Wooden beams, roof shingles, pieces of fences, broken chairs, webs of electrical cords and rebar, even a moldy mattress – these are but a few of the things that were arranged throughout the Japan Pavilion (Fig. 3).
Because the exhibition lacked a pronounced discursive framework, the mess of debris that filled the building may not have been immediately legible as the actual remnants of Kobe. Paradoxically, incoherent environments have the potential to stimulate a heightened awareness of the area and one’s own position within the space, perhaps forcing visitors to rely on senses other than vision in order to form a coherent understanding. The designers recognized the potential for resonance to produce a variety of interpretations. In Italy, another country with high seismic activity, the events of Kobe may have been all too familiar for many local visitors.
Fractures brought visitors through the remnants of actual homes. Typically a familiar and therapeutic space, the home was represented here as a pile of splinters. The architectural historian Kinoshita Toshiko described the unsettling effect: “Once I stepped into the building I was left speechless. It might have been because I was virtually experiencing there in Venice, which itself seemed like a beautiful ruin, that great earthquake, which had struck at peaceful and ordinary everyday Japanese, a year and half after the fact.” The confusion experienced by Kinoshita approximates the uncanny, which Anthony Vidler defines as “an aesthetic dimension, a representation of a mental state of projection that precisely elides the boundaries of the real and the unreal in order to provoke a disturbing ambiguity, a slippage between waking and dreaming.” This type of response is rarely evoked through sight alone, but rather involves an immersion in space; hence, Vidler’s exploration of the “architectural uncanny.” In the Fractures exhibition – where the material evidence of a tragic event made up a total environment – sensory and bodily reception became a legitimate means for people to cope with the emotive content and to make meaning out of the exhibition.
The photographic murals that enclosed the space – the one consistent and potentially stabilizing element of the exhibition – were also manipulated to reiterate the sense of disorder. The photographer Miyamoto Ryūji traveled to Kobe two weeks after the earthquake in order to capture images of the ruins. In an interview on the exhibition, Miyamoto confessed, “I didn’t want it to be pretty. I just wanted to line the photos up on the wall. […] The photos are themselves ruins on paper.” Thus, the edges of some the murals were ripped or burnt to imitate the aesthetic of the ruin. Moreover, the thirty tons of debris that was hauled into the buildings covered nearly half of some of the photographs, undermining their status as individual artworks and incorporating them into the collective disarray (Fig. 4).
When asked why he chose Miyamoto’s photographs for the Pavilion, Isozaki pointed to the crucial difference between these images and those circulated by the media. While documentary photographs taken from helicopters have the advantage of providing expansive and ostensibly more complete views, they still fail to tell the whole story. Isozaki doubts whether any group of photographs could ever convey a complete picture of the event, but he admired Miyamoto’s images for their direct and intimate perspectives, taken as they were standing amidst the rubble in the middle of the street (Figure 5). In Isozaki’s words: “You can never truly capture it. But he makes you feel as if you have understood.” And was this not the goal of the entire exhibition?
Memories of Ruins
Rather than selecting a single piece of mangled furniture or any other personal object to stand in for the experience of the earthquake, Isozaki and his team gathered as much material evidence as possible, without apparent preference or discrimination. And yet, Miyamoto Katsuhiro’s account of the design process reveals just how constructed and intentional this environment was. He reports that with the help of fifteen student volunteers, the entire space was meticulously laid out in Japan before being measured, photographed, deconstructed, boxed up, and shipped to Venice in late June.
There is something peculiar about the intentional design of an ostensibly accidental, naturally-dictated environment. And yet, survivors such as Miyamoto yearned for that environment as a part of the healing process. Many were troubled by the speed with which the authorities erased all material signs and evidence of the earthquake in Kobe, as if it had never happened. As Lisa Yoneyama has demonstrated in the case of Hiroshima, ruins have the potential to become representations of memories, and their erasure from the landscape can incite a painful process of “secondary loss.” Miyamoto’s challenge, therefore, was to make the earthquake “something that existed,” to avoid death denial through the preservation and public presentation of the material that he saw as “indelibly stained with meaning.”
The memories attached to these ruins were potent for many who worked on the project. According to Miyamoto, the daily proximity to the “timber that may have actually crushed people to death” weighed on his own psychological state while working on the project. At one point, he referred to the site as a “graveyard of architecture,” and later, “a necropolis.” He reports that many of the volunteers gradually broke down, overwhelmed by the aura of death that haunted the material. In his records he quotes from one volunteer’s journal: “August 18. It is a place that is missing the feeling of gravity. It has the feeling of killing the dead twice.”
For others, the material recalled that most ruinous event of the twentieth century: World War II. It was impossible for Isozaki to perceive Kobe without recalling World War II and the overwhelming destruction of Japan’s cities exactly five decades earlier. As a youth of war-torn Japan, Isozaki claims that he has never been able to design a building without first thinking of ruins, and they have remained a consistent part of his design process. For him, there is no question that “the future city lies in ruins,” so he chooses to harness those past landscapes of disaster, trauma, and fragmentation for a constructive re-imagining of the future. In projects such as Fractures, ruins free Isozaki from the myth of modernity, what he refers to as “that rose-tinted future that I never really believed in anyway.”
Disturbing though it is, the Kobe earthquake gave Isozaki the opportunity to materialize his theory of ruins, to make them tangible and thereby re-insert them simultaneously into public memory and a dialogue on the future of architecture. He wrote of Kobe:
“In the nineties, the real and the virtual have been reversed in the world of lived experience. […] It seems that the accidents of 1995 represent a return of the virtual as the real. That is, the events of fifty years ago, the memory of which had come to survive only in images and which had turned into the virtual, have been reversed once more to form the world of the real.”
Here, Isozaki recognizes that history as told through two-dimensional images and textual interpretation alone – what he refers to as “the virtual” – lacks the power to make the past present, or to make history a part of our own lived experiences. Thus, in order to preserve, translate and share the effects of Kobe, or perhaps even those of World War II, he turned to the incoherence, vastness, weight and density of the city’s ruined material self. In this way, architecture comes to play an active role in the narration of history. As Isozaki wrote of the exhibition, “We want to convert the relationship between people and buildings from one of utility to one where the very material becomes a source of memory.”
A kind of polemical trembler, Fractures was meant to engender an experiential shock to the international architecture community gathered in Venice. Far from ignoring the central theme, the Japan Pavilion forced a consideration of the future from the perspective of disaster: how to design for the future with the knowledge that it could all turn to ruin in an instant? How to respond when hundreds of thousands are left homeless? And just as significant, how to represent tragedy in architecture? Isozaki and his team answered this issue of representation with a raw presentation of material.
Ruinous spaces are everything that the white cube is not – chaotic, disorienting, overcrowded, uncanny, and naturally dictated. Paradoxically, the reconstruction of an accidental space had the power to conceal the human influence and control that brought these objects to Venice in the first place. One visitor went so far as to describe the experience as a “momentary confusion at the border between truth and falsity.” This phenomenon is about more than seeing the objects on display; it is an experience that involves haptic awareness and the physical form of the object as it relates to the subject’s sensory experiences and cultural memories. Recognizing the potent physicality of ruins, Isozaki and his team allowed the relationship between the visitors and the material to dictate the atmosphere and choreography of the exhibition space, creating the potential for embodied responses. In this way, what was being recreated in Venice was not the event itself, but the effects of it.
*Carrie Cushman is a a fourth year Ph.D. student specializing in modern Japanese art and architecture in Columbia’s Department of Art History and Archaeology. She is interested in modern ruins, the aesthetics of disaster, urban redevelopment, and the role of ruins, both natural and man-made, in narratives of postwar history. Her dissertation focuses on the contemporary photographer, Miyamoto Ryūji, whose work on ruins engages multiple layers of trauma in the contemporary Japanese experience.
 David W. Edgington, Reconstructing Kobe: The Geography of Crisis and Opportunity (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2010), 5.
 Ibid., 1.
 In 2002, the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial – Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution (DRI) was established by the Hyōgo prefectural government. The DRI functions as a museum and memorial to the earthquake, serves as the headquarters for an active research center on disaster reduction and response, and collects source materials for scientists and researchers. “DRI’s Missions,” The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake Memorial Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution, accessed December 1, 2014, http://www.dri.ne.jp/english/center/mission.html.
 La Biennale di Venezia 6th International Architecture Exhibition, Sensing the Future: The Architect as Seismograph (Venice: La Bienalle di Venezia; Milan: Electa, 1996), 397.
 Quoted in: Isozaki Arata, “Frattures,” Lotus International 93 (1997), 34-45.
 Often referred to as the “Modern Art Olympics,” the Biennale has been held in Venice, Italy every two years since 1895. The architecture division was added in 1991, and, in 1996, the Sixth International Architecture Exhibition was held from September 15 to November 17.
 La Biennale di Venezia 6th International Architecture Exhibition, n.p.
 Pamphlet text reprinted in: Isozaki Arata, “‘Furatture’: Benisu bienāre 1996 nen no tenrankai no keikaku,” Kenchiku jaanaru 904 (August 1997), 54.
 Hachikado Akihito, “Shinsai ato no Kobe no machi de shashinka ga midashita mono: Benisu bienāre kenchikuten ni shashin wo shuppin suru Miyamoto Ryūji,” 4 (September 9, 1996), 1.
 Miyamoto Katsuhiro, “Mō hitotsu no haikyo ron,” in Shōja to shisha no hotori: Hanshin daishinsai kioku no tame no kokoromi, eds. Yoshimitsu Kasahara and Toshio Kimura (Kyoto: Kinbun shoin, 1997), 241.
 Hachikado, 1.
 This is in stark contrast to the recent approach taken by Itō Toyoo, commissioner of the 2012 Japan Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale. In response to the devastating earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in the Tōhoku region of Japan in March 2011, Itō and his cohort presented proposals for post-disaster housing solutions for evacuees. The exhibition, entitled, Architecture: Possible Here? Home for All, like Fractures, also received the Golden Lion Award for Best National Pavilion.
 Hachikado, 3.
 Toshiko Kinoshita, “A Celebration of Construction and Fractures,” Intercommunication 19 (1996), http://www.ntticc.or.jp/pub/ic_mag/ic019/029/IC19-029-E.htm.
 Eilean Hooper-Greenhill elucidates this perspective: “The encounter between an active agent and an object has two sides to it: the interpretive framework brought to bear by the individual subject, which is both personal and social, and the physical character of the artifact.” Eilean Hooper-Greenhill, Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture (London: Routledge, 2000), 112.
 In a discussion of her experience with children in museums, Viv Golding explains that “touching objects seemed to provide a straightforward physical connection with the makers and users from past times and distant places, somehow prompting a feeling of what the other may have felt through the material reality of things.” Viv Golding, “Dreams and Wishes: The Multi-sensory Museum Space,” in Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations,” ed. Sandra H. Dudley (London: Routledge, 2010), 238.
 Jennifer Fisher, “Relational Sense: Towards a Haptic Aesthetics,” Parachute 87:1 (1997), 6.
 Ibid., 11.
 Gabriel Moshenska, “Resonant Materiality and Violent Remembering: Archaeology, Memory and Bombing,” International Journal of Heritage Studies 15:1 (2009), 51. The definition of resonance that Moshenska cites is “the power to be heard, to be seen, to be felt, and to be responded to through the existence of a physical marker or an evocation of a place.” He quotes this from: K. Remmler, “On the Natural History of Destruction and Cultural Memory: W. G. Sebald,” German Politics and Society 23 (2005), 43.
 Myrian Sepúlveda Santos, “Museums and Memory: The Enchanted Modernity,” Journal for Cultural Research 7:1 (2003), 36.
 Ibid., 37.
 Movement through the space must have been an important factor in recreating the feeling of having actually lived through the earthquake. Fisher explains the importance of movement in any museum-going experience, “It is through proprioception – the sense of dimensionality and motion in space – that we understand exhibitions.” Fisher, 6.
 Indeed, as Hooper-Greenhill has pointed out, unfamiliar objects and environments “can signal difference, diversity, possibly alienation, and mobilize attention.” She goes on, “Many of these responses involve the body and the senses, are tacit, and remain unspoken.” Hooper-Greenhill, 110.
 Miyamoto Katsuhiro himself recognized that the resulting exhibition allowed for a variety of interpretations. Rather than represent the “actual site of the earthquake,” he claims that Fractures “fabricated the condition of ruins.” Miyamoto, 241.
 Kinoshita Toshiko, “A Celebration of Construction and Fractures,” Intercommunication 19 (1996), http://www.ntticc.or.jp/pub/ic_mag/ic019/029/IC12-029-E.htm.
 Anthony Vidler, The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1992), 11.
 Hachikado, 1.
 It should also be noted that photographs themselves are multisensory objects, capable of producing emotional and embodied engagements with viewers. As Elizabeth Edwards points out, “Photographs mark experiences, encapsulate social being, from the banal and mundane to the traumatic and cataclysmic – they mark experiences that someone actually lived through and ‘felt’ in embodied and multisensory ways.” Elizabeth Edwards, “Photographs and History: Emotion and Materiality,” in Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, ed. Sandra H. Dudley (London: Routledge, 2010), 28.
 Hachikado, 2.
 Miyamoto, 239.
 We can almost think of Miyamoto’s project as a self-conscious performance of Freud’s psychic trauma theory, in which the patient repetitively returns to the moment of the trauma in order to master his or her own suffering. Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), trans. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1961).
 Isozaki, “On Ruins,” 54.
 Yoneyama, Hiroshima Traces: Time, Space, and the Dialectics of Memory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
 Miyamoto, 240. Mark O’Neill has described the distancing effects of most museum displays as an engagement with “death denial.” By presenting objects in heavily-fortified glass casings, museums maintain a distance between objects and individuals by literally containing the emotional and tragic nature of the artifacts on display, thereby reducing the potential for moments of resonance. Mark O’Neill, “Essentialism, Adaptation and Justice: Towards a New Epistemology of Museums,” Museum Management and Curatorship 21 (2006), 102.
 Miyamoto, 242-3.
 Isozaki Arata, “Ruins,” in Arata Isozaki, ed. Ken Oshima (London, 2008), 28.
 Ibid., 30.
 The multiple accidents that Isozaki refers to are the Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake on January 17 and the subway sarin gas attack by the extremist religious cult Aum-Shinrikyo in Tokyo on March 20. Isozaki, “Frattures,” 40.
 Isozaki, “On Ruins,” 55.
 Sandra H. Dudley, “Museum Materialities: Objects, Sense and Feeling,” in Museum Materialities: Objects, Engagements, Interpretations, ed. Sandra H. Dudley (London: Routledge, 2010), 7.