日南製鐵 Rinnan Steel Mill – INGOT
The 日南製鐵 Rinnan Steel Mill series grew out of the research into the hundreds of Japanese—ex-soldiers and civilians alike—who stayed in Malaya after World War II, in order to participate in the Malayan Communist Party’s (MCP) guerrilla struggle to liberate the region from British colonial rule. By 1960, only two remained: Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka, two military engineers who were employed at the eponymous steel mill and they stayed with the MCP after Malaysia gained independence and till MCP was disbanded in 1989. Through them, geopolitical conditions is seen embodied by the actions and choices of a single individual.
The object at the core of this series is a World War II-era Japanese ceremonial sword, known as the shin guntō (新軍刀, or new military sword). Instead of the traditional hand-crafted production method of katana, the shin guntō is created using an industrialised process, made possible only by Japan’s rapid modernisation and industrialisation, to meet requirements before and during the war. Raw material for these blades likely originated in Malaya, processed at factories such as the Rinnan Steel Mill.
For INGOT, a blacksmith in Malaysia was instructed to take a cast of the original blade, melt it down to an ingot, and document this in a photograph. The steel ingot is then cast back into a blade using the mould taken before it was melted. Finally, the sword is speared through the image of itself as an ingot. This sculptural object captures different states of its own material being, relating back to Hashimoto and Tanaka, and the mutability of their political identities. It is also a response to the travel of the steel resource – how it was extracted from Malaya and ironically returned as an invading weapon.
Media: Japanese shin guntō steel blade, digital print of steel ingot
Dimension: 100 x 10 x 5 cm (sword); 14 x 10 cm (print)
Text by Berny Tan
Shigeyuki Hashimoto and Kiyoaki Tanaka, Japanese engineers who worked in a Malaya steel mill and later joined the Malaya Communist Party