Artist Kenji Yamada primarily focuses on challenging historical legacy in contemporary society, with a particular emphasis on war heritage and historical ruins. He does this by readdressing conventional wisdom, looking at the interdependent relationship between legacy and society, illustrating the ways in which historical legacies are embodied in society. By questioning historical legacy and recording the accounts of local people after carrying out his own imaginative and trans-regional interventions, Yamada attempts to uncover a hidden heritage of conflicts intentionally covered up by our governments.
This exhibition consists of two projects the artist completed in 2016: one in the UK and the other in China. The first project features a civil assembly occupying the remains of Millbank Prison, from which large-scale deportation in the nineteenth century took place, exporting the concept of ‘nation’ to Australia. The second project recreates a meeting held on a boat by people expelled from the developing region of an ancient town near Shanghai, taking the form of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 1921 as its model. The recreated meeting was knowingly held under surveillance through CCTV, as if to train people to be watched by the authorities. This project is one of many challenging visual approaches to question how free speech in China is considered, and how historical and political facts have been transformed in the post-Snowden era.
By exposing the interregional nature of society and through the reactivation of historic remains both in London and Shanghai, Yamada attempts to reveal the more honest and uncontrollable aspects of conflict and speech which are recurring amongst the layers of history within and beyond the community. By defining historical heritages as ‘super-autonomous’ footholds, communities can recuperate and bid farewell to people’s future way of life that otherwise would be moulded by the regional historical context. Yamada believes that this provides a paradoxical yet tactical approach to counter the unilateral relationship with states and governments, the powerful authors of the history.