10 September 2007

Memorial to the Dead of Hiroshima ("corrected")

Model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This image above is a composite of two photographs.

In this version of the montage have modified the top and bottom photographs to align with one another, particularly the lines of the two massive supports below ground with the legs of the arch above ground. In addition, the horizon line has been straightened to be level rather than sloping toward the left.

While these modifications of the montage are really quite subtle and don't change the essential idea being communicated, I've discovered several things about this memorial design that were otherwise obscure and unclear.

You can view an image of the overall site design here. This image of the site model reveals what appears to be a trapezoidal shaped slot in the ground plane. I have struggled to reconcile the slot admitting light to the underground chamber with this presentation of the design and have struggled to understand the relationship between the arch, the slot, and the memorial block located in the crypt.

Unable to resolve the seeming conflicting spatial arrangement suggested by the composite above and below ground image with the site model, I was only able to gain more insight into the design by breaking the two photographs apart. This approach to viewing the memorial design suggested itself to me when I recently discovered a Japanese publication of 1953 representing the work that Noguchi had assembled for exhibit there following his arrival there in June 1951.

Note: My research into the design of Noguchi’s Hiroshima memorial was stimulated and enriched by the following seminal article:
Winther, Bert. "The Rejection of Isamu Noguchi's Hiroshima Cenotaph: A Japanese American Artist in Occupied Japan". Art Journal, Vol. 53, No. 4, 'Sculpture in Postwar Europe and America, 1945-59' (Winter, 1994), pp. 23-27.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).

Noguchi -- model for "Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima" (above ground)

model for Hiroshima Memorial (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This photograph depicts the above ground portion of Noguchi's proposed memorial. You can view an image of the overall site design here.

This model represents the arch as one massive piece of carved granite. Realizing that such an arch was impossible to create on the site, Noguchi subsequently worked out in detail the construction, erection, and fabrication required for creating this monument as visible here.

I've found this image of the memorial to be compelling and powerful. While it seems to draw upon the parabolic arch shape of Eero Saarinen's design for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the Saint Louis riverfront, it clearly expresses an archaic, heavy weight of darkness. This character is a complete reversal of Saarinen's design emphasizing modern construction, materials, aerodynamics, and lightness.

The aspect of this photograph that has continually puzzled me is the juxtaposition of the massive arch with what I believed was a bowl-shaped funerary urn below it. Viewed in this manner, it seems to be a complete composition in itself. When the underground crypt is added it seems to replicate the honorary memorial of the urn.

I suspect I continued to view the shape below the arch as a freestanding urn based upon seeing the montaged image of the above and below ground sections simultaneously as well as the general blackness of the arch and the urn shape below it.

After examining these photographs more closely and comparing them to the other available images of the site model, I've come to realize that dark shape is not an urn at all! It is actually a trapezoidal (or rectangular) opening in the ground. Understanding the slot in the pavement in this manner begins to make more sense of the below ground view. That slot in the ground is the "skylight" focusing light upon the granite block below. Since the same slot is viewed from above and below in the montaged image and the two photographs aren't entirely aligned, it suggests two rather different objects.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).

Noguchi -- model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima" (below ground)

sculpture: model for Memorial to the Atomic Dead, Hiroshima (unrealized proposal), 1952.

This photograph depicts the below ground portion of the memorial. Two massive supports surround a central granite block inscribed with the names of the dead. The calligraphic symbol inscribed is for "Isamu" meaning "courage". Noguchi apparently added this inscription to the model after the design was rejected by the City of Hiroshima.

The stated reason for the memorial's rejection was that the design was too abstract for common people to understand as a place to pray. The actual reason the project was rejected was the fact of Noguchi's American citizenship. It was felt inappropriate to have an American design a monument for an act of horrific destruction perpetrated by Americans.

This photograph is almost always shown with an image of the above ground portion of the memorial design. There are several distortions and contradictions that are evident when the two images are viewed as if taken of a sectional view of a model depicting the above and below ground portions of a singular model.

One problem I've noticed is that in the typical montage shown, the massive concrete supports below ground are somewhat misaligned with respect to the memorial arch above. In correcting and adjusting the two images to fit together, I came to realize several things about the design.

I was always mystified by the trapeziodal opening admitting light to the below ground chamber containing the names of the dead. In Noguchi's design, the names were to have been inscribed on a massive granite block. The means of support for this block is vague at best. I could only assume it must be positioned up against a wall and supported in that manner, giving the illusion of a floating mass of black granite.

However, the trapezoidal skylight seemed positioned in a very particular manner to admit light from above to create a special aura. I couldn't imagine that Noguchi's design hadn't accounted for the position of the sun, shadows, times of day, and the seasons of the year.

I just couldn't reconcile the below ground image with the arch above. Investigating further offered more information, but additional complications.

Archival image from Isamu Noguchi: A Study of Space by Ana Maria Torres (New York: Monacelli Press, 2000).