Coral Sea : The Unsung Battle of the South Pacific

at Alfa Romeo Tango / USS Iowa, Pacific Battleship Center

July 6 – Nov 6, 2019

 

installation view

 

 

 

Eight Views of the Sun Setting on the South Pacific / Castle Ruins

2019

 

 

 

Eight Views of the Sun Setting on the South Pacific / Five Story Pagoda

2019

 

 

 

Eight Views of the Sun Setting on the South Pacific / IJN Shōhō

2019

 

 

 

Eight Views of the Sun Setting on the South Pacific / Operation MO

2019

 

 

 

Reconnaissance Mission A

2019

 

 

 

Five Blade Propeller

2019

 

 

installation view

 

installation view

 

Coral Sea begun as a series of contradictory ideas that explored the semantics of this historical sea space and time; a triangular body of water represented as an ecological paradise flowing in and an unattainable utopia flowing out; the first naval engagement in history in which the participating ships never sighted or fired directly at each other; aircraft warfare became the new remotely controlled offensive;  the crucial speed of communication and decision-making which had significant affect; and an intuitive sense which required more than analysis. 

 

The centerpiece of the exhibition is the Coral Sea (Sangokai) lithograph which is currently in the collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The hybridized, layered and fused diagrams of various war machines represent the notated accounts from Griffith’s Japanese grandfather, the rear admiral Heiji Shukuya and his daughter’s (Griffith’s mother) itinerant and unsettling journey from one bomb-ridden port city to another. The bridge represents the restricted passage to the naval base prohibiting women and children to cross over. This was the terminal where Griffith’s mother would see her father leave again and again. In her 6 year old imagination, the Coral Sea was some kind of utopian resolution in alluding hope for her father’s return.

 

In the months leading up to Pearl Harbor (fall 1941), the late rear admiral Heiji Shukuya was summoned to a mandatory interview conducted by a high level officer. The posed question given to all high-ranking officers was to gather a consensus and challenge their ambitions. “What are our chances of fighting the U.S.? Will we be victorious?,” to which, Heiji bluntly answered, “Not a chance.” Eventually removed from rank and demoted from task force command, rear admiral Shukuya’s new assignment was Operation MO, the support invasion of Port Moresby, New Guinea. 

 

The assigned ship was Shōhō, "Auspicious Phoenix," was a light aircraft carrier, originally a submarine support ship converted with a slapped-on flight deck enough for two dozen Mitsubishi Zero fighters. This segment of Operation MO was thought to be a decoy mission. Perhaps the first suicide mission of the Pacific War, this lightly armed task force was deterred in losing the flagship Shōhō along with a destroyer and few other warships. Shukuya did survive to tell this story to his family, although Griffith never knew him since his death coping during the tough post war recovery. As his only work experience was in the Japanese Navy, the war’s end rendered him jobless. 

 

Griffith’s concept for Coral Sea is derived from the uncanny nature of the family history—enemies in the past, family in the present. The integration and embodiment of form, structure and material are explored throughout the works in the exhibition. Coral Sea (Sangokai) and Reconnaissance Mission A are hybrid plans of possible war machines that are ultimately disfunctional with conflicting mechanisms. The series of digital Japanese woodblock prints, The Eight Views of the Sun Setting on the South Pacific, are referencing ukiyo-e master Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku Sanjūrokkei). The metaphorical message of ‘sun’ (Japan) ‘setting’ (losing the war) alludes to the nostalgia that lingers through the post-war period. 

 

The architectural rendering of a fallen ancient Japanese castle superimposes the submerging bridge of a Japanese battleship; the aircraft carrier Shōhō listing empty and abandoned into the dark sea; the operation MO task force cruises through the dismal rainy sea towards Port Moresby; and a battleship bridge birthing from a five-story pagoda shed in moonlight.

 

The first half of the eight pieces will be on view from July 6 to September 15. The latter half will be on shown from September 15 to November 6.

 

The other works in this exhibition are a postage stamp of an imagining Coral Sea as a nation formed on water mass, a fluid border that cannot be divided;  photographs of Griffith’s dual families; and a sculpture of a five blade propeller symbolizing in contemplation of technology, advancement and the correlating economy.