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Irozaki Jungle Park: A Human-Environment Struggle

Artist, Images MEGAN KENNEDY

Coordinates  34° 36' 5.99" N  138° 50' 25.79" E
Date JULY 2016


At the southern-most point in the Izu peninsula sat a botanical park, a plethora of tropical plants enclosed in vast greenhouses. It can no longer be found there, but its remnants and history have been captured over and over again. The story of the masses of visitors, nearly 10 million in total over the span of 34 years, drawn to the flora and fauna isn’t documented here. It’s after that, the time between its closing and its end, that is detailed here by artist Megan Kennedy.

When 3000 tropical plant species merges with the concept of a botanical garden, jungle and theme park, the result is distinct. Over time, botanical gardens have come to define themselves, a concept that differs across place and people. The Irozaki Jungle Park sat in the Izu peninsula - a rugged, stunning region - flourishing with mountains, valleys, rivers, and hot springs. The park was reminiscent of just that, a unique fusion of natural and artificial elements, enclosed within 4 vast greenhouses. It sat as a perfectly designed environment, within the natural surroundings of the peninsula.

Once past closing, over 18 years ago, the once artificial environment returned to its origins. That is what this series captures so vividly. Whilst alive and bustling with people, the park was kept in an optimal condition, greenhouses with ideal settings to maintain the artificial space. Confined to the indoor spaces, albeit vast and tall, the tropical plants and surrounding features did not have control over the environment. Human manipulation, led by design and aesthetics, exerted control over this place. As artificial environments grow, the homogenous look they adopt hasn’t gone unnoticed. As generic, invasive, and popular plant species are embedded in these environments, the threat to local species is exacerbated. A form of ecological cleansing, in which human influence and decisions radically changes the prospects of natural environments.

The dynamic then shifts. Although this artificial space had indeed merged with nature, it’s constant need for monitoring and attention were necessary due to the way in which it had been designed. How many environments are there where human influence, whether direct or indirect, has not reached it? And once human exertion and manipulation has removed itself, what then of the place?

To the surprise of the artist, the vast greenhouses of the park sat intact 13 years later, amongst the growth and flourishing of native and introduced plant species within this tropical coastal region.

The Irozaki Jungle park in a sense had returned to its origins. In documenting this raw change, Kennedy hopes that “others can also draw lasting connections between our expanding artificial landscape and the profound ability of nature to return and flourish in our wake.” Flourish. An unlikely term when referring to natural environments that are left to their own devices. Not overgrown, unruly, uncontrollable, but flourishing. The remnants of sculptures, wooden poles, ponds, and wider structures meant that the natural environment would begin its struggle. 34 years of design and attention had altered the natural environment permanently. As a result, and as captured here, the environment once again changed. Nature took precedence. It was referred to as an “abandoned” place, a label derived directly from human influence. Is nature, once left, abandoned? Is it only abandoned once humans have gained control, altered the environment, and then left? The language itself is distinctive. The natural environment regained control and grew, extending itself in and around the artificial structures that had been left isolated. The greenhouses stood still; the footpaths empty. Is it then still abandoned? Outside of the park lay the natural environment of the Izu peninsula in complete harmony. Inside the greenhouses, its life began again.

“Documenting the site in 2016, I knew the life of the park would likely end soon - most abandoned locations endure on borrowed time. But in photographing a distinctly urban landscape overrun with a swarm of plant life, I did take a degree of comfort in the fact that in our absence, nature persists and thrives.”, says the artist behind the lens. Nature remains in conflict with human control, the polarisation of the two only truly visible once they are separated. In the absence of human design and influence, the polarisation lessens. Nature is no longer burdened; native species no longer threatened. Does it ever regain complete harmony with its encompassing elements, or does it have to settle for reverting as close to its origins as possible? There’s no doubt that human control, no matter how temporary, alters nature’s core dramatically. The park was torn down in 2017, and yet; the life cycles the environment went through are enough to embody the constant human-environment imbalance and struggle.

Written documentation by the artist.
Once inside, one of the most immediate and striking finds was the almost reverently preserved condition of the site. Thick vines worked their way through ticket booths and seasons of leaves spilled over weary walkways, but objects like stationary, brochures, souvenirs, and other paraphernalia remained where they had likely been set down when the park closed its doors. A concrete meercat corral rested steadfast and vacant in the centre of one greenhouse, with faded signs signalling the former occupant’s names and attributes. Old keys rusted into their allocated hooks. Jars with dwindling formaldehyde levels housed pale marine specimens. Analogue clocks tilted on walls, one stopped at 5:05 another at 8:38.  A calendar marked for 2003 remained fixed to a kiosk wall. Paperwork was neatly stacked in shelves. Yet compared to the glaring stillness of these artificial objects, the monumental thickets of organic growth affirmed the determined perseverance of the surrounding natural landscape most of all.

Megan Kennedy is a multidisciplinary artist and writer based in Canberra, Australia. An interest in the perception of space, incidental art, materiality, and the intersection between urban and natural environments has led her to experiment with a range of visual media including photography and textiles.


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