Producing a New Meaning Outside the Capitalist System: Atsushi Okumaya’s Photography of Local Festivals in The Northeastern Japan

Courtesy of Atsushi Okuyama,  Photo © Atsushi Okuyama


In the previous post Mark Fisher’s Magical Voluntarism and Individualist Spiritualism in Japan, I addressed our need of a new, and revised, means of collectivity in this country where the sense of belonging and communal life has been increasingly missed under the neoliberalism.

Through a recent dialogue with a photographer Atsushi Okuyama, I learned about a seemingly absurd, but conflicting, intrinsically anti-neoliberalist nature of what is called ‘dead culture’ such as local festivals, the rites and customs that no longer maintain the original context. While many of local festivals throughout Japan are subsumed under the capitalist system, quite a few of those Okuyama has seen in the depopulated, ageing northeastern Japan are operated without economic motives.

His body of work entitled ‘For the Newly Spun Thread’ taken in the northeast part of Japan is a collection of photographs of such local festivals that neither maintain the original context nor are profitable. Having moved to Shizukuishi of Iwate District in 1998 and since been photographing the northeastern Japan, he began seeking to grasp the deeper sense embedded in the seemingly mere repetitive work, or the pursuit of a new meaning that revives the corpse of the past.

As Okuyama said, “Fortunately or unfortunately, in Tohoku (Northeastern Japan) there are occasions and places where the economic logic does not work. There are indeed festivals that do not return any single yen to the community. So the community has to decide whether to stop or not. Many festivals disappeared through such courses. However, communities also decided not to stop, since they felt, for any concrete reasons, something would be wrong with terminating the practice. In such cases, they need to search or develop the new meaning of the practice–as far as it is operated by human beings, it requires reasons, even if it would be synthetic. My practice of photographing the festivals is parallel to my question on what we can discover in the practice. Although the practice has lost the context and cannot be reconstitutive in today’s economic system, I see there is something that cannot be overlooked.”

Producing new reasons outside the capitalistic system is challenging work but illuminating as such. In so far as it is a collective work, the practice would suggest a new possibility of collectivity.

奥山淳志「新しい糸に」より From the series of ‘For the Newly Spun Thread’ by Atsushi Okuyama

Courtesy of Atsushi Okuyama,  Photo © Atsushi Okuyama

先日、「Mark Fisher’s Magical Voluntarism and Individualist Spiritualism in Japan(マーク・フィッシャーの魔術的ボランタリズムと日本の個人主義的スピリチュアリズム)」のなかで、ネオリベラリズムによって所属感やコミュニティの感覚が著しく失われている日本において、共同体の新しいあり方、見直しが必要と書いた。






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