Okunoshima is a small island located in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan in Hiroshima prefecture. The island was removed from maps when it served as a poison gas factory for much of the chemical warfare that was carried out by the Japanese Army during World War II which killed around 300,000; spearheaded by Unit 731 the biological warfare unit that also engaged in human experimentation and vivisection. Back then, 6,700 people were working on the island and manufacturing poison gas around the clock but after the war, the Japanese government was eager to cover up the atrocities and destroyed evidence and the poison gas factory on Okunoshima island.

Today the island is a tourist destination, but not because of its history. Instead tourists come and feed the large population of rabbits that live on the island, many of them descended from rabbits intentionally let loose when the island was developed as a park after World War II. An apt metaphor for the Japanese government gaslighting and promulgating Japan as peaceful victims of atomic bombs and refusal to acknowledge their role as the aggressors. Notably in Japanese films/anime about the war such as “In this corner of the world”, “The wind rises”, “Grave of the fireflies”, and “Barefoot Gen”.

Stephen reconceives 7 – shichi, 3 – san, 1 – ichi into new kanji – shichi 死地 (death). san (acid), ichi 位置 (place) that describes Okunoshima – Death Acid Place. Resonating with it and its anagrams, (Palace Had Edict, and I Ached Placated), Stephen connects Japan’s hidden shame with Canada’s hidden shame (the recent discoveries of dead indigenous children at residential school sites) in a performative and photographic series where he poses (over extended period) for portraits amongst the remaining ruins scattered across the island donning a bright orange “Every Child Matters” t-shirt which stood out against and drew attention from everyone on the island.

Stephen pointedly picked November 03, which is Culture Day (‘Bunka no Hi’) in Japan that “celebrates the freedom and peace of the nation” that was announced after WWII for the all-day on-site guerilla performance to wedge the Japanese government gaslighting of Japanese atrocities in WWII, and its rebranding of Okunoshima (which produced weapons for chemical warfare) into a benign bunny tourist spot beloved by instagrammers and youtubers.

In the portraits, Stephen has his hair in a side part (also referred to in Japan as the shichisan or 7:3 hairstyle), the portrait centered on his body of one (ichi) against the ignominious many who carried it out, the innocent multitudes who died and suffered. These are contrasted against tourist-style snaps of the island rendered through simulated Fuji film stock: the decaying tourist facilities, and the emaciated rabbits who have to rely on tourists for water and food for survival (but in typical Japanese gaslighting, are under so-called “Wildlife Protection”)

CREATED BY: Stephen Chen | COMPLETED: 11/03/2023

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dissonance productions

Started by trans-discplinary art-ivist Stephen Chen to consolidate his recent work; as well as facilitate collaboration with others. Stephen’s oeuvre is often allegorical as well as simultaneously deconstruct and hybridize the very forms he works in. Disdaining academic and esoteric expressions, as well as institutional conventions and practices, Stephen explores complex ideas and issues immanent in his works through experiments in form and technique.

dissonance productions