April 01, 2012

Japan... One year later

By Chloe Montel (translated by Lauren Hasty)

One year after the disaster that shook Japan, and the city of Tohoku especially, it seems that Japanese artists are just beginning to express the aftermath of this tragedy in their works, conveying varied testimonies.
Up until this point, the extent of the damage has been widely documented by photojournalists and artists without any particular photograph really distinguishing itself from another. It is, without a doubt, difficult to propose an original vision of the tragic event, which left 25,000 dead, 135,000 km2 of land destroyed, and 160,000 homeless.
The most poignant images were those captured by the victims themselves. Photographer Aichi Hirano had the brilliant idea of distributing disposable cameras to survivors of the devastated areas, which they used during the months that followed the tragedy. The result of this collective work entitled Rolls Tohoku was exhibited in Tokyo and Stockholm.
Some artists rapidly offered their support by encouraging the reconstruction, such as the collective Chim?Pom (best known for its provocation) who during the exhibition Real Times in Mujin produced and submitted a video entitled 100 Cheers where we see the group determined, firm and assertive in the rubble of a fishing village near Fukushima, seeming to imply that Japan will soon recover, and that everyone must move forward.
Beyond the shocking images that were broadcast and offered to the public in numerous exhibitions (charitable or not) on the theme of 03/11/11, it is in the videos and especially the installations that most Japanese artists have best expressed their emotions and made personal reflections on the helplessness of man against nature and the destruction of the two by the sometimes inappropriate use of nuclear energy.
Since the 60s, through numerous performances and installations, Japanese artist Yoko Ono has worked to promote pacifism. The consequences of the earthquake and tsunami led her to work on a touching collective memory. Last January, she exhibited in the exhibition Light at the gallery Tomio Koyama. The installation “To the Light” projects the viewer into a dark labyrinth representing the victims’ malaise. Midway through, a single small light illuminated the ceiling, and to make it through, spectators needed help from other spectators, which was encouraged and formed a beautiful metaphor of the support the people of Tohoku need but are too afraid to solicit. In addition, Ono confronts the viewer with used objects recovered from the dilapidated houses ("Remnants"), which called out directly to the victims of March 11th. Since December 2011, the artist installed a wishing tree in the garden of the Contemporary Art Museum Art Tokyo, similar to the one she gave MoMA in 2010, embodying peace and encouraging collective effort in the reconstruction.
Courtesy of Tomio Koyama Gallery © Yoko Ono
Yuji Dogane (or Dougane) is an unusual artist. Having earned a degree in horticulture, he quickly focused on environmental issues and the coexistence of man and nature, a recurrent theme in Japanese contemporary architecture and art. In an ecological effort, he seeks to learn about the conditions of plants and has developed a machine entitled "Plantron" that interprets imperceptible micro-electrical variations in leaves by providing for each "pulsation" a sound or corresponding voice. According to Dougane, these fluctuations are equivalent to the changes in psychological states of the human brain. Thus, each individual reacts differently to environmental stimuli and according to personal history. 
Recently, Dougane connected a plant exposed to radioactive waves (equivalent to those measured in Tokyo after March 11) to his machine, which offers an opportunity for the curious to hear the live singing - or rather permanent complaints - of the latter. This installation, both poetic and tragic, reveals the sensitivity of beings, the perverseness of imperceptible radioactivity (odorless, colorless and yet extremely harmful in the long-term), and the cruelty of having to be exposed to such risks because man created weapons that caused their own demise.  Using the micro-mecenat platform Piece Unique, users can watch and most importantly listen to the plant subjected to analysis by the "Radioactive Plantron" for a contribution of 500 yen, which is donated to an association for the reconstruction of Tohoku.

One year later, Japanese artists are just beginning to digest the events their country has endured and will continue to face. 2011 marked an important turning point for work to come…work that is greatly anticipated and will help bring about great healing.
Courtesy of Yuji Dogane © Radioactive Plantron

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