Monday, February 07, 2005

Signs of the times.

© Tsunehisa Kimura

I was looking through a survey at the stereophiles website the other day and came across the survey. What is the single greatest album cover of all time? Why did you pick it?. The usual Sticky Fingers (with the real zipper!), Sgt Pepper, White Album, Dark Side of the Moon were there. A couple of orphans including the above of Midnight Oil's Red Sails in the Sunset.

Midnight Oil were unusual band. Great musicians with a political and social conscience. Much like U2 in the late 80s, although U2 seemed to have lost their way a little in the excesses of rock star super stardom. Not so with Midnight Oil. They started as angry young men, became a little older angry men and ran out of puff in the early 2000's.

The lead singer (and lawyer!), Peter Garrett ran for the Australian Senate in the late 80's under the Nuclear Disarmenent Party banner. Like most left leaning parties that have a possibility of being successful, it attracted every lefty intent of "doing something" and of course imploded under the weight of 1000 different ideas of how it should run. Garrett became president of the Australian Conservation Foundation where he gained respect for his pragmatic style.

Garrett ended up winning a seat in Federal Parliament under the Labor Party banner in the last Federal election late last year. Some said he sold out, but few realised the very strong history his family in the Australian Labor party......

Anyway back in 1984, myself and a friend in our final year of High School went to check out the new Midnight Oil album. The above photo on a full sized LP was met with stunned silence and the...... "How intense is that?".

The Red Sails in the Sunset photograph was completed by Japanese montage artist Tsunehisa Kimura. It depicts the usually deep blue Sydney Harbour being replaced by an outback red earth landscape, pockmarked by craters. A nuclear blast is just starting in the Circular Quay region of the harbour.

It described perfectly the shadow of the nuclear threat that had been much of our lives. It wasn't until the breaking down of the Communist regime that we thought we were safe. In those times the fear of the unknown came from "nuclear war". these days the powers that be seem to pushing the "terrorist" line.

Later coming across Chomsky, Michael Moore etal, one realises that the "fear" is there to keep the bewildered herd under control.

There are some more images from Kimura and a desription of the man and his work here:
Millions of newsstand browsers in Japan would be familiar with Kimura's Heartfield-style political montages which appeared in weekly and monthly topical magazines through the 1970s and 80s. His frequent target was the shady Tanaka faction of the Liberal Democratic Party in Japan which pushed through the rapid but careless development of so many blockbuster projects based on unchallenged technological progress.

As Heartfield excoriated the rise of Nazism, Kimura lampooned the era of the bullet train, urban throughways and nuclear power stations all of which came with pork barrel politics, bribery and massive corruption - the polluting gigantism of unrestrained development. Ideal material for a real life apocalypse.

Niagara Falls plunge through the canyons between New York's skyscrapers,

© Tsunehisa Kimura
the earth emerges in a plume of steam from a gigantic weather system on another planet,

© Tsunehisa Kimura

a supertanker heads away from Mt Fuji across a perfect sea with the giant Buddha of Kamakura perched on its stern,
© Tsunehisa Kimura

two helicopters drape Tokyo with a giant hinomaru flag, a nuclear power station nestles next to the towers of Shinjuku, a flight of Toyotas dive bombs Pearl Harbor.

One of sort of prophetic is an ocean liner exploding mid-air above the Empire State Building.

© Tsunehisa Kimura

I'm unsure of the creation date of this apocalyptic surrealism, it mixes events.... the tragedies of the Hindenberg and Titanic, with the backdrop of the Empire State....a symbol of modern capitalism. Was it before or after 9/11? I've read that "artists are the antennaes of the future" perhaps Kimura was a visual prophet of the signs of the times.

Keep in mind this was done pre photoshop when cut and paste meant using a scapel and glue!


  • Ah... Midnight Oil.

    Brings back so many fond memories. I was in college at the time, listening to the local college station, which of course played progressive music.

    The first time I heard Midnight Oil I was caught first by the strength in the music and, upon closer inspection, hooked by the message in the lyrics.

    Thanks for the memories...

    By Blogger Wave Rider, at 6:05 am  

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