Don't Follow the Wind

Various venues, Fukushima & Watari Museum, Tokyo, Japan

Trevor-Paglen,-Trinity-Cube-(1)-cmyk.jpg

Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube, 2015, irradiated glass from the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite, 20 x 20 x 20 cm

Trevor Paglen, Trinity Cube, 2015, irradiated glass from the Fukushima Exclusion Zone, Trinitite, 20 x 20 x 20 cm

A simple description of a formidably complicated exhibition: ‘Don’t Follow the Wind’ is a selection of 12 artists commissioned to produce new works onsite in the Fukushima exclusion zone. Initiated by the artist collective Chim↑Pom in 2012, its three-year gestation entailed the formation of a 14-member committee and four designated curators: Kenji Kubota, Eva and Franco Mattes, and Jason H. Waite. The project was recently unveiled over two sites: the first, linking four locations within Fukushima (courtesy of residents who graciously allowed their evacuated houses to be utilized for the artworks’ display); the second, a suite of re-versionings installed at the Watari Museum in Tokyo, titled ‘Non-Visitor Center’. Due to radiation levels within the exclusion zone, the Fukushima works will remain invisible to the public until – if ever – the zone is deemed safe to re-enter. The Tokyo works are visible, yet placed behind a glass wall to prevent direct contact. In a canny curatorial gesture, the commissioning of artworks echoes the decommissioning of the TEPCO Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which suffered a meltdown after the tsunami of 11 March 2011 breached its protective walls.

It’s impossible to extricate the artworks from their site-specificity, especially considering the overloaded ‘disaster aesthetic’ I experienced when standing inside a dilapidated house, dressed in a radiation-protection suit and mask. Normally, I regard these curatorial conceits with suspicion. However, ‘Don’t Follow the Wind’ deliberately implicates you as a participant – firstly, by confronting you with the current state of life in Fukushima post-3/11; secondly, by presenting work sited in the once-vibrant locations of what is now deemed the ‘Difficult-To-Return Zone’. In this sense, it extends two famous post-Fukushima artworks: Chim↑Pom’s Real Times (2011), where members of the group entered the exclusion zone to hoist a nuclear danger flag a few kilometres from the nuclear power plant; and Finger Pointing Worker (2012), a video made by an artist who worked on the clean-up, standing in front of one of the plant’s CCTV cameras and pointing his finger directly at it. In this show, Kota Takeuchi’s Time Travellers (2015) is a life-size hi-definition photo documenting him and a colleague in an evacuee’s bedroom, dressed in clothes discarded on the bed prior to the residents’ hasty departure. Takeuchi and his friend stand on the bed looking at the camera. Their impassive gaze beautifully fuses their incursive presence with the cursive absence of the couple whose house they now invade. Chim↑Pom’s Making Blueprints (2015) – true to form – involves a partially illegal action, which I’m prevented from describing. Though some regard Chim↑Pom as sensationalist punk pranksters, as curatorial instigators of ‘Don’t Follow the Wind’ their commitment to interventionist interrogations of Japanese society draws an incendiary arc toward politically engaged art collectives who came before them, like Hi-Red Centre (1963–64).

inline_Taryn-Simon,-Final-Photos-(3).cmyk_.jpg

Taryn Simon, Final Photos, 2015, server, website, photographs and text from former residents of Fukushima Exclusion Zone, installation view

Taryn Simon, Final Photos, 2015, server, website, photographs and text from former residents of Fukushima Exclusion Zone, installation view

The non-Japanese artists’ works in the show tend to favour more familiar internationalist artistic strategies. Eva and Franco Mattes photographed banal or decorative domestic textures found inside the evacuated homes, then digitized them into wallpaper patterns and placed them online for copyright-free use. Taryn Simon assembled an online database of Fukushima residents’ last photos taken before they had to evacuate; Trevor Paglen produced a cube smelted from glass found within the exclusion zone combined with Trinitite, the element formed by initial nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico.

‘Don’t Follow the Wind’ offers an unwieldy quantity of curatorial dissection, political enquiry and socio-strategic manoeuvres. To my mind, its density of perspectives grappling with the TEPCO incident and its impact on Japan’s infrastructure recalls the feeling of being in the country during the first three months after the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami – a period of incessant reporting and analysis of how difficult it was to assess the devastation wrought across the Tohoku region. This exhibition refuses to forget the chaos and confusion that ensued, which is slowly being either forgotten or rewritten. I can recall any number of exhibitions intent on grappling with global ethical quandaries in the guise of agitprop gestures and site-specific collaborations. But ‘Don’t Follow the Wind’ seems cognisant of the pitfalls of globalist grandstanding in the name of politicized art, and has chosen to frame two Japan-centric concerns: how to deal with the Fukushima incident and how to make art in its wake. I think, for the Japanese artists, this impels a compressed response that folds the two questions into a kind of self interrogation. The non-Japanese artists provide a range of meta-commentaries – aware of their distance from issues of being part of Japan’s post-atomic psyche, yet intent on connecting such narratives to international streams of interrogation. Accordingly, all the works shift between global anti-nuclear stances and Fukushima-specific considerations, grounded in experiences within the exclusion zone and wishing to transmute their effect into art.

Philip Brophy is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Issue 175

First published in Issue 175

Nov - Dec 2015

Most Read

Ahead of ARCOMadrid this week, a guide to the best institutional shows in the city
A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018

frieze magazine

March 2018