This is a working document. Our team is developing this project and the method of its exhibition for the Zones of Emergency seminar. Team members are Daniela Covarrubias, Jenine Kotob, Adrian Melia, Micah Silver, and kswick.


Our team has been presented with a difficult challenge, requiring the greatest level of finesse and delicacy: we need to provide the people of Minami Sanriku a gift, a gift that would provide for them on opportunity to reflect on the tragedy they survived and a hope for the future of their families and their community.

To begin working towards this goal, we have studied lectures and texts and worked through individual design projects to better understand the unique and essential role art can play in zones of emergency. We are in a privileged position, and we must call upon our specific skills and ample resources to contribute what we can to downtrodden Japan.

Yet, we also recognize that, as American academics, we need to tread lightly when creating for a different cultural group that has experienced a tragedy we can barely comprehend. Japanese culture is rich and nuanced, and can be the subject of an entire career’s anthropological research. As a result, we commit to create a piece for Minami Sanriku that is culturally sensitive but that stands decidedly separate and independent, free of sophomoric attempts at reappropriation of local cultural symbols and complexities.

We, instead, are cultivating a project founded both in our independent research and experience and the precedents and treatises discussed in class and lecture. To begin, team members agreed upon a goal of ritualizing memory. We brainstormed individually and came upon a selection of viable options that seemed to cooperate better than expected. So we’ve determined to integrate these individual ideas into one, extended ritual.

The Project:

Ritual Outline

Part 1, Extended period of individual reflection

This segment of the ritual is an opportunity for individual residents of Minami Sanriku to reenact their life before the wave.

A base station will be established within Minami Sanriku, most likely at an administrative municipal office or community meeting space. Kept at this base will be a few large white weather balloons that are maintained and kept inflated by a local partner. They will each carry a small video camera and gps tracking mechanism and will be anchored by a weight that can be carried easily. The weight will contain a supply of pigmented biodegradable growing medium and floral seeds. Individual residents will then be invited to “check-out” an individual balloon, with the balloons being made available over a long period so that many residents have the opportunity to interact with the project.

Once an individual resident receives a balloon and turns on the video-recorder and gps tracker, they will be instructed to “reenact their life before the wave;” they have been given a supply of colorful seeds and asked to place the seeds in spots or along paths throughout the city in which they spent time. They can grab a chunk of seeds from the container anchoring the balloon and carefully scatter them close to the ground to outline their paths or populate spots in which they spend time, adding more to significant spaces. As they tour the town, they can describe their activities and share anecdotes. The camera attached to the balloon will document their path as well as these verbal anecdotes, and the gps will provide data so their path can be mapped.

After the resident has returned the balloon, the video of their experience and the gps data will be collected and submitted to our team here in Cambridge. We can then map their path and add data points that will feature their verbal anecdotes; all of which will be posted on a communal webpage available locally and abroad. We hope that this page will become a database of stories and visual representations of Minami Sanriku’s life before the wave.

Part 2, A day of communal remembrance

After the webpage has been populated with a map annotated with the individual stories, the few balloon-camera combinations will be replaced by a large collection of smaller balloons without cameras but still anchored to containers of the pigmented seed mix discussed above. Each balloon will contain a small handheld LED that will be turned on at the beginning of the festival. Also, a larger, remote controlled balloon will be provided with a more expensive specialized camera that can video the entire city from above.

Residents will gather together in the early afternoon and be asked to reenact their lives before the wave together. The balloons will be distributed and they will be asked to perform a similar procedure as described above. But instead of sharing verbal memories, they will simply be asked to visually document their activities with the pigmented seed-mix. As the sun sets, the LED lights will become more prominent.

The entire festivity will be documented from above throughout the day, documenting the movement of the balloons and the light paths created after sunset. Photos will be taken by the same module the next morning to document the distribution of the seed-mix. The video will be compiled and sped up, and will be posted in a shorter format online and also given to the community. In addition, one of the photos from the morning after will be blown up and printed in a extra-large format and framed and given to the community to be displayed in a commonspace or administrative building.

Physical Gift

The above is an outline for a series of activities, which would require a substantial investment of time and money to be realized. For the seminar, our team is working on a gift for Minami Sanriku that would provide a description of the ritual, a documentation of its development, and a physical example of some part of the ritual.


We are planning a small booklet that would provide a detailed description of the ritual, accompanied by logistical data and images of the different parts. We will also provide images and a video of a small practice-ritual which we’ll carry out and document locally.


The major physical element of the gift will be a large box containing a small inflated white balloon similar to the one described for the second part of the ritual, the day of communal remembrance. It will be anchored to the container of seed-mix, which we’ll design carefully to be handheld and light.