In contemporary Japan, where unemployment, particularly among the young, has become chronic, and inequality and poverty grow worse every day, the high-growth economy of the postwar era is now a historical event that belongs to the distant past. Though there are several world-renowned works of architecture that emerged in tandem with economic growth in modern Japan, the brilliant Japanese “century of change in modern architecture” was preserved in A Storehouse of Contemporary Japanese Architecture, the exhibition held in the Japan Pavilion at the last Venice Biennale, and many architectural works that emerged at the height of the growth period have become subjects for historians.
A wide range of phenomena acts as an index of our times, such as the popularization of the Internet and other developments that have dramatically altered the information environment. But neoliberalism, rooted in the principle of competition, has deeply eroded the framework that permeates every corner of society – despite the fact that it does not appear to be an immediate threat like war, terrorism or environmental pollution caused by radioactive materials. Nonetheless, unlike the modern era, driven by a social engine powered by the overarching, meta-narrative of “progress,” and the high-growth period, we are unable to form or pursue a clear picture of the future that might counteract such circumstances and trends. This has caused a dark heavy, layer of despair to descend upon our society.
With the additional sense of loss that arose in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred on March 11, 2011, Japanese society is currently on the verge of a huge turning point. While the notion of a happy family life in the city, created by the modern state, has collapsed, a new community, based on “sharing” (values, lifestyles, etc.) has appeared in its place. How is our architecture changing to fit this new era? And where is our architecture headed? Many of the things that we are now focusing on have the potential to exert huge changes (at least superficially) on beautiful decorative elements such as architecture magazines (a propaganda tool for Modernism), and the architectural framework shaped by the modern state that is concealed in many buildings. This is why it is essential to place a strong emphasis on altering the state of society and various relationships – or in other words, the en (connections, relation, ties, chance, edge, fringe, rim), which serve as the theme of this exhibition.
This exhibition will not attempt to formulate a vehicle, such as that seen in Modernism, based on a big narrative or some kind of slogan. Instead, it will examine a variety of aspects of individual struggles in the fight against the conditions and issues that we are currently confronting. Though this fight, being waged on the front lines to ensure that we can survive these difficult conditions, may be in its infancy, it has the latent potential to serve as a basis for social change.