Five Islands: Games of Green, by Flora Weil
Please find below the updates on Flora’s research into the mechanics of greenwashing as seen in the Tokyo Olympics 2020.
Despite its clear and well-defined boundaries, an island is a blurry entity. Much like the notion of sustainability, the scales, spaces, and systems it occupies are often erased.
Five Islands: Games of Green, investigates the abstracted infrastructures produced by mechanisms of greenwashing. It takes as case study modes of representation that have contributed to both the marketed image of the 2020 Olympic Games and the fantasy of Japan as an archipelago.
1. Claim: "Natural environment and biodiversity: City within Nature/Nature within City" Counter-evidence: Satellite imagery of protected Indonesian rainforest being stripped by Korindo Group, operated by PT GMM, and supplied to Japan as source of timber for the construction of new venues such as the National Stadium.
2. Claim: "Resource Management: Zero Wasting" & "Tokyo 2020 E-waste Medal Project" Counter-evidence: Records of certified chemical e-waste refining process used to produce 2020 Olympic medals, in comparison to dangerous manual recycling process employed in Indian landfills where a majority of Japanese electronic waste is illegally exported to.
The postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games suggests that it might forever remain in our imagination, incidentally reflecting Japan's use of 'fantasy' as a mechanism to curate the global event and market its culture.
This belief in valuing ideals above reality can be illustrated by the difference between two words : "tatemae" and "honne". While "tatemae" indicates the behavior and opinions one displays in public, "honne" represents one's true feelings and intent. The distinction between these two principles is far-reaching in Japanese attitudes towards identity, truth, and image.
Within the first 20 Google image search results corresponding to the word "Japan", 15 depict cherry blossoms. From major banks (Sakura Ginko) to streets named after autumn foliage, blossoms, and rivers, Japan is a champion of using heritage symbols and extolling the four seasons. Meanwhile, nearly every Japanese beach is lined with hundreds of erosion-inducing concrete tetrapods, representing an annual spending of ¥500 billion within a construction industry for which the public works budget is four times that of the USA. The discrepancy between hanami and ubiquity of sterile industrial landscapes points to the paradox of a country traditionally associated with natural harmony, whose bureaucratic systems have in fact artificialised most of its environment.
In 1984, not a single city wished to host the Olympic Games. Los Angeles made a deal to volunteer with its existing sports infrastructure, thus avoiding the typical financial burden of new constructions and realizing a profit of $215 million. Since then countries have lined up for the honour of hosting the games, often spending above $100 million on the bidding process alone. Expenditures have required more substantial investments owing to publicly funded construction projects which have repeatedly failed to provide evidence of long-term national economic gains and instead led to social dislocations and resource diversions away from meeting basic needs. One symptom of costly Olympic developments is the resulting collection of often obsolete and underused sporting venues, otherwise known as “white elephants”, which become colossal burdens for their cities. Beijing’s 2008 Bird’s Nest stadium cost $450 million to construct and an average of $15 million annually to maintain. Meanwhile, Athens’ Olympic Hellinko Sailing Center costs $100 million each year to maintain, in addition to $340 million for the installation of a new roof. Most of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics venues, including the athletes’ village and Maracanã Stadium are now overrun with weeds, vandalized, and decrepit.
With the sort of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics now dependent on a successful global response to the coronavirus pandemic, many of the newly built structures run the risk of becoming white elephants before even fulfilling their primary use of hosting the games. Five Islands examines the potential of such venues in a post-Olympic society, where stadiums are used for reforestation and aquatic centres for symbiotic bioremediation. Images show ongoing research into the transformation of Olympic white elephants into alternative spaces for growth and ecological repair. The project imagines a world where the Olympic promise - envisioned as an instrument of peace – is realised not through corporate sponsorship and extravagant public works, but rather through subversive and cooperative responses to the global environmental crisis.
The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami laid the stage for what Naomi Klein calls “disaster capitalism”- a state of shock that leaves a population susceptible to an array of corporate measures hidden behind a façade of ritualised concern. A decade later as Japan promises to hold the Olympics “with or without Covid”, organisers pushing the new “Recovery Games” theme are also demonstrating a similar strategy referred to as “celebration capitalism”.
The choice of Fukushima as the starting location for the Olympic torch relay - against the backdrop of a region still unable to contain radioactivity, to receive exemptions for the payment of property taxes on uninhabitable homes, to get access to proper medical care– show the priorities of a government preparing the area for global TV consumption rather than rebuilding communities. The IOC has continuously marketed its sustainable agenda, anchoring environmentalism into its core mission with remediation tactics that are sold, greenwashed, and presented to consumers as a means to recover from disaster. The postponed 2020/21 Olympic Games are now the most expensive, most surveilled, most radioactive to have ever (not yet) taken place: a perfect merger of disaster capitalism and celebration capitalism presenting us with a spectacle of ruin and a ruinous spectacle .
The image shows radiation hotspots revealed in a 2020 Greenpeace independent investigation at various locations on the Olympic torch route in the Fukushima region, including the Olympic J-Village. Findings show evidence of recontamination and levels that remain too high even by revised governmental standards.
“Five Islands” is a tale of multiple realities, overlaid against the backdrop of a mass advertised global dream: the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. This event, forever occupying our imaginaries, nonetheless has real effects on the physical environment - from the destruction of Borneo forests for stadium construction, to the contamination of citizens' bodies due to the marketing of radioactive land.
Many of the heaviest consequences are enabled by extensive campaigns, covering the urban landscape with commercials for as far as the eye can see. Fittingly, Japan is a country with a history of spiritual importance, where often the dream world is given more value than the tangible. Centuries before screens existed, the Japanese were already experimenting with the idea of producing fantasy. An example of this are 3cm square paintings, a technique used in the past to draw the viewer closer to the work and create a sense of immersion. The second image shows one such painting by Nagasawa Rosetsu《方寸五百羅漢図》.
"Five Islands" imagines an alternative Olympic narrative where such forms of ancient storytelling are used as a replacement for mass advertising, bringing people together through a more subtle collective dream.
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