“Don’t Follow the Wind” is an invisible exhibition. Or at least, it will be as long as Fukushima’s official Exclusion Zone remains dangerously contaminated… Since its “opening” on March 11, 2015, on the 4th anniversary of the Daiichi nuclear reactor meltdown, entry is strictly forbidden without a special permit—which leads us to reflect on the duration of time, from the perspective of art, memory and the environment.
Tokyo, from our correspondent
On the day the Daiichi nuclear reactor exploded in Fukushima, a resident rushed into his car with his family to flee the radiation that was spreading, however imperceptibly, through the air. At one point, he stopped to check the direction of the wind. It was blowing north, the same direction advised by the Japanese government at the time. The man immediately turned the car around and drove south to move away from the invisible danger. This is the true story that inspired the title of a parabolic and subversive exhibition, Don’t Follow the Wind, to be viewed (or not) in the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.
Initiated by Chim↑Pom, a collective of six young Japanese artists known for their activist and often provocative projects (including two in Fukushima since the disaster), this last performance exhibits inside Fukushima’s notorious forbidden zone the works of 12 artists from Japan and overseas, including Ai Weiwei, known (among other things) for his sharp criticism of the Chinese government’s censorship in the aftermath of natural disasters, and Eva and Franco Mattes of 0100101110101101.org, who also initiated a project on Chernobyl in 2010.
The most determined viewers will see the show one day (during their lifetime?) once the exclusion zone has been reopened (we’re counting in years, maybe decades…). The rest of us can only inspect the accessories, samples, models, souvenirs and trailers of the artworks that have been installed beyond our reach, both geographically (in the forbidden zone) and physically (behind the glass).
Access to the Exclusion Zone, where annual radiation levels exceed 50 millisieverts, is strictly forbidden, day or night, without a special permit. 24,000 of the 120,000 residents evacuated within a 20 km radius around the Daiichi reactor lived in this zone. Some 50,000 are still unable to return to their homes.
Museum inside the dead zone
At a house, a farm, a warehouse and a recreation center, all abandoned in a hurry, now dilapidated and highly contaminated, the artists installed relevant, personal, in situ artworks that are exposed and vulnerable to the passage of time, climate conditions and nature. Their mission was to create a sort of museum inside the dead zone that could bear witness to the life that inhabited it up until March 11, 2011. Since March 11 of this year, the 12 artworks are installed, waiting to be seen—or not.
Meanwhile, behind the glass of the ad-hoc “Non-Visitor Center”, hosted by the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo until October 18, “avatars” of the artworks in question (conceptual for the most part, like the project itself) are on display.
And behind these silent representatives, we find solidarity: the battery of a vehicle transporting the four members of the Grand Ginol Mirari collective and the sentimental items they left behind on the premises; the clothes found in a bedroom, which Kota Takeuchi wore long enough to take a self-portrait and hang it on the wall; a video showing Ai Weiwei’s family photos being hung inside an abandoned house, as well as his installation of solar panels to light up another abandoned house twice a day, as if someone were still living there; a database of the final photos taken and uploaded by Fukushima residents in the days and hours before the disaster, documented by Taryn Simon and transmitted by a small server powered by solar energy within the Exclusion Zone.
But there were also more mysterious and strange things: Aiko Miyanga’s transparent glass stones tied with rope, one placed in the Exclusion Zone and one exhibited in the Non-Visitor Center; Ahmet Ogut’s suit of armor, imagining an era where full body protection has become the norm for breathing; Eva and Franco Mattes’s photographs of textures (floors, tatamis, grass, soil, concrete, etc.) taken inside the Exclusion Zone, transformed into abstract background images and reintroduced into the flows of our virtual worlds, from ad campaigns to video games…
Finally, other artists offered a more focused reflection on nuclear energy: Trevor Paglen’s block of trinitite (residue from the 1945 nuclear test in New Mexico, mixed with desert sand), encased in a glass cube made from reclaimed windowpanes from buildings within the Exclusion Zone, and which will effectively become more and more toxic over time; Nikolaus Hirsch and Jorge Otero’s model of the actual utilitarian hut sheltering an ordinary water pump, which, protected like a world heritage monument, also calls attention to the “monumental” accumulation over time of radioactive dust on its surface; Nobuaki Takegawa’s woodblock excerpts from his sculptures depicting the direct relationship between the risks of nuclear energy and life in Tokyo; Meiro Kozumi’s experimental (and silent outside the zone) video documenting a Fukushima resident talking about how life and the environment completely changed after the disaster; the trailer of Chim↑Pom’s documentary film Drawing a Blueprint about the past, present and future of our nuclear world.
How to visualize the invisible? By posing this question, the curators of this “non-exhibition”—Kenji Kubota, Eva and Franco Mattes and Jason Waite—decided to forego wordy signage in favor of exclusively audio descriptions of the artworks. As such, the more conventional catalogue, which documents the process of the project from conception to installation, becomes a vital element to appreciate the full context of the exhibition.
Turning the world’s attention to the black hole of the Fukushima Exclusion Zone gives evacuated residents who lost their possessions, their homes and their community a new visibility, and perhaps, renewed hope. Once the media is done airing the specular images of destruction and despair following the earthquake and tsunami, who is still concerned about the silent, non-visible and toxic effects of nuclear radiation over the long-term? As the Japanese government persists in reopening its nuclear reactors one by one, as of now there is still no estimated date for the reopening of the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.
Back to the ominous title of this inaccessible exhibition: “Don’t Follow the Wind”, or “don’t listen to the rumors”, or “don’t succumb to the erosion of memory”… The artists and curators encourage us to do so. But are the intentions of the project indeed on the scale of the disaster? So far, nuclear contamination has no known borders or lifespan. What is the place of art in the history of our planet? Only time will tell.
For more information: read an interview of curator Kenji Kubota and Ryuta Ushiro of Chim↑Pom; an interview of the filmmaker of “Alone in Fukushima”; watch a video report going behind the scenes of the exhibition