120,313 Nails Illustrate a Weighty American History [Video]

Thousands of visitors to the Block Museum of Art this Spring have had the opportunity to add a nail to the large scale installation The Nail That Sticks Up the Farthest…  by artist Kristine Aono.  This major project was mounted to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which ordered the war-time internment of more than 120,000 Japanese-American citizens and residents living on the west coast of the United States.

In the video above Aono discusses her creation and inspiration for the work

Deru Kugi Wa Utareru is a Japanese proverb which can be translated as “The nail that sticks up the farthest takes the most pounding.” When I came across this saying, it helped to explain how 120,313 people of Japanese ancestry, 2/3 of whom were American citizens, could so obediently submit to being incarcerated during WWII. The proverb and its translation wrap around the room. The walls are wallpapered with copies of letters from my maternal grandfather and documents of testimony by former internees given before congress. Stippled into the walls is a grid of 120.313 holes, one for each person interned. Rusted nails are pounded into the grid, forming a large American flag on the main wall. The remaining nails would fill the walls. Visitors are encouraged to add nails to the wall in memory of or to honor those who were incarcerated.

The Block Museum preparators and registrar team worked closely with the artist to execute her vision for the work, which includes 120,313 holes and 120,313  nails.  Aono described visiting the sites of Japanese internment wth her family, and picking up off the ground rusted nails, all that was left of the cabins in which her father had lived during his time in the camps.  In one of her first visits to the Block Museum, Aono shared with the staff a box of nails she had collected on pilgrimages to these sites


To execute the artist’s ambitious vision the Block exhibition and preparatory team set about “aging” the nails that would become the work.   After acquiring 15 fifty-pound boxes of six penny nails (750 pounds!)  the museum worked closely with the Office of Risk Management on developing a safe rusting process.  The Department of Art, Theory and Practice, generously offered use of the departmental photo studios for the undertaking.  Tubs of nails were set in vinegar solution to speed oxidation  and teams spent nearly two weeks shaking, raking and sorting to finish the project.  The sheer work involved in the process  underscored the vastness of the number of human lives that were affected by this American policy.

View: Behind the Scenes – Rusting 120,313 Nails

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