Exhibition, Document, Bodies: The (Re)presentation of the Minamata Disease
- Author(s): Inoue, Miyo
- Advisor(s): O'Neill, Daniel
- et al.
This dissertation explores the artistic representations of Minamata disease and their
spatial presentation from the critical framework of tenji (exhibition). The examination of
Minamata disease’s complicated history through the tenji framework discloses the relations
between this disease as an ongoing incident and the change brought on to Minamata as an
actual city, and also as a symbolic image of pollution and corruption. Moreover, the manner
and contents of tenji can be construed as a keen reflection of the larger social and national
conditions. With the expanded interpretation of the term “exhibition” beyond mere spatial
presentation and instead as an act of arranging exhibits under curators/exhibitors’ specific
intentions, I widen my observation to what are often categorized under production, such as
artworks. Therefore, my analyses include not only the works being exhibited themselves, but
also how these works, and the artists themselves, are being exhibited in various spaces and
contexts. While the works themselves remain unchanged, what does change are the contexts
and conditions in which they are used or exhibited, or even the very presence of the works
themselves in the space of exhibition.
The dissertation is comprised of three chapters. Chapter 1 examines how the issue of
visual ethics plays out in various forms of exhibition through the close analyses of the ways in
which two young female patients are being (re)presented. They both played symbolic roles in
the history of Minamata disease, and the resulting works compel artists to face the difficulty of
reflecting these patients’ voices onto representations. Chapter 2 focuses on iei (funeral
photograph) in order to observe the relationship among death, photograph and this disease.
The exploration of the portrayals of two Minamata disease patients both as the dead and
undead and also the iei mural created by Tsuchimoto Noriaki reveals how the meaning of each iei, thus each death, is created through its social relationships. Chapter 3 compares two
physical spaces of exhibition for Minamata disease and their environmental and historical
contexts. This observation foregrounds various Minamata disease narratives being created
through the act of (re)presenting this disease, and re-confirms that no one attempt to exhibit it
will be meaningful without the recognition of this essential complexity. And the conclusion
suggests Minamata’s role as part of larger struggle against discrimination and the authority,
rather than as a singular historical event.