October 2013

Lieko Shiga's Rasen Kaigan (螺旋海岸 Spiral Coast)

At Easter this year I found myself on a secluded beach. It was between Arisaig and Mallaig on the West Coast of Scotland. I used the long stick in my hand to draw circles in the sand. Circles that started large and spiraled into themselves, getting smaller and smaller, until I was left in the centre surrounded by one big spiral.

Lieko Shiga's Rasen Kaigan feels like an act of compulsion. Something that makes sense even though it is unexplainable. Turning the pages you sink deeper into a Lynchian world of cross-processed colour and strange rituals. A populace of septuagenarian phantoms digs the wet sand in search of something. Are they searching or are they burying? I don't know. Shiga makes no attempt to answer any of the questions her images pose. As soon as you feel you're coming to terms with the rules of her world, something else appears - or is removed - that leaves you once again at a loss.

The shadow of the Fukushima nuclear disaster hangs over the book. Miyagi Prefecture, where this work was made over a six-year period, was one of the regions worst hit. And although there is nothing to directly point one towards reading this book as an allegory to the devastation caused in March 2011, there is a twisted image of humanity's relationship with nature that somehow seems to relate.

Plants - potted and otherwise - inhabitant this world of spirals. They grow out of the sand and they wither and die in terra-cotta pots. In one image, a woman in a headscarf and patterned clothing bends down amongst an amazing array of potted plants. Some have been overturned and trails of water stream down the road and out of the picture into the darkness.

Page after page of rocks. Are they boulders or specks of ash; the solitary remains of a cremated inhabitant of Katikama, magnified to the point of distortion? In two images a man holds what could be two of these rocks in the palms of his hands. But this could be further subterfuge, another red herring.

Darkness abounds. For all the mesmeric, subverted colour of Shiga's photography, Rasen Kaigan seems to be a meditation on black. Darkness. Night. Black. This is the true constant in the book. Breathtaking printing enhances this blackness, it becomes the coda that Shiga returns to for safety and it offers small respite to the reader. We know where we stand with black. There is little room for misinterpretation. Perhaps.

Shakes and Nature: Robert Macfarlane on The Marshes

The cover of The Marshes, the recent Tartaruga publication by Samuel Wright and Josh Lustig, features a stark monochrome print of a log. or tree stump, folding over the spine of the book, perhaps not immediately intelligible but unmistakeable once seen. It almost appears as a map, radial lines spoking outwards.  

'So many places to sit here. It's nature, but with seats. Sometimes they're only logs, but the slick damp of them, the patted down rot, tells me they're seats. Some are proper benches, but sitting on the benches is like watching animals in the zoo through glass. Their eyes look dull through the scratches. On logs and stones you're in it. Nature wraps around you, seeps through your trousers.'

These are the opening lines to the first separate story that you encounter in The Marshes, if starting from the beginning at least. These inset sections are not ordered or chronological, but are intended more as forking paths, to be encountered by the reader as they find their way through, charting their own route. 

Robert Macfarlane (The Wild Places, The Old Ways) is a writer who explores the idea of how we understand nature, or the idea of the wild, and the journeys we take through it. He recently wrote of the The Marshes:

'What a dark, beautifully made, intricately imagined document it is. I have read it through twice now, if it is something one reads through (rather than around, or into and out of), and I find myself no closer to comprehension, but fascinated and troubled by it. It stakes out a space. It is not easy to shake (I notice that the striking cover features, in fact, those artefacts - cracks - introduced into timber by too-rapid drying, which I think are known as 'shakes').'

An artefact is something man-made, or 'given shape by man' - not something you might expect to encounter in a log. But the very idea of nature is an ambiguous one, and this is the nature we find in The Marshes:

Robert told me it was nature, but I don't know where he got that from. He said nature was wild. I said, what was wilder than a gang-fuck behind a bush.

Alongside this praise from Robert Macfarlane, The Marshes also recently caught the attention of David Collard (TLS),  who describes it is as 'a spell-binding short story that strikes me as a dark, latter-day equivalent to Joyce's ['An Encounter']... superb typesetting, haunting images and elaborate inserts combine to make this a very collectible first edition.'

To read his full post, head to: http://davidjcollard.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/samuel-wright-josh-lustig-marshes.html

The Marshes is also now available via the excellent Antenne Books, who will be making the book available in Europe.