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

With the 12th edition of the itinerant European biennial opening in Palermo, what do local artists, curators and...
In the age of Brexit, why Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pledge to return the ‘stolen’ Parthenon marbles has never been...
The museum director, who resigned last year, acted with ‘integrity’, an independent report finds
In further news: study finds US film critics overwhelmingly white and male; woman sues father over Basquiat
With the government’s push for the controversial English baccalaureate, why the arts should be an integral part of the...
From Bruce Nauman at the Schaulager to the story of a 1970s artist community in Carona at Weiss Falk, all the shows to...
Sotheby’s and Christie’s say they are dropping the practice of using female-only staff to pose for promotional...
For the annual city-wide art weekender ahead of Basel, the best shows and events to attend around town
For our second report from BB10, ahead of its public opening tomorrow, a focus on KW Institute for Contemporary Art
The curators seem set to ask, ‘how civilized is the world’s current state of affairs?’
In further news: declining UK museum visitors sees country fall in world rankings; first winner of Turner Prize,...
The Icelandic-Danish artist’s creation in Vejle, Denmark, responds to the tides and surface of the water: both artwork...
In further news: Emperor Constantine’s missing finger discovered in the Louvre; and are Van Gogh’s Sunflowers turning...
The opening of a major new exhibition by Lee Bul was delayed after one of the South Korean artist’s works caught fire
The LA-based painter’s exquisite skewing of Renaissance and biblical scenes at Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London
Lee Bul, Abortion, 1989, performance documentation. Courtesy: the artist and PKM Gallery, Seoul
In a climate of perma-outrage has live art self-censored to live entertainment?

A tribute to the iconic New York journal: a platform through which founder Andy Warhol operated as artist, hustler and...
A distinctively American artist who, along with four neighbourhood contemporaries, changed the course of US painting...
From Assemble’s marbled floor tiles to Peter Zumthor's mixed-media miniatures, Emily King reports from the main...
From Ian White's posthumous retrospective to Lloyd Corporation's film about a cryptocurrency pyramid scheme, what to...
Kimberly Bradley speaks to ‘the German’ curator on the reasons for his early exit from the Austrian institution
In further news: #MeToo flashmob at Venice Architecture Biennale; BBC historian advocates for return of British...
German museums are being pushed to diversify their canons and respond to a globalized world – but is ‘cleaning up’ the...
Sophie Fiennes’s new film Bloodlight and Bami reveals a personal side of the singer as yet unseen 
‘At last there is a communal mechanism for women to call a halt to the demeaning conventions of machismo’
The German artist has put up 18 works for sale to raise money to buy 100 homes
The novelist explored Jewish identity in the US through a lens of frustrated heterosexuality
Artist Jesse Jones, who represented Ireland at last year’s Venice Biennale, on what is at stake in Friday’s Irish...
‘I spend more time being seduced by the void … as a way of energizing my language’: poet Wayne Koestenbaum speaks about...
To experience the music of the composer, who passed away last week at the age of 69, was to hear something tense,...
In a year charged with politicized tensions, mastery of craft trumps truth-to-power commentary
In further news: women wearing rainbow badges beaten in Beijing’s 798; gallerists Georg Kargl and Richard Gray have...
‘Coping as a woman in France is a daily battle: the aggression can be subtle, and you always have to push harder to...
Toyin Ojih Odutola’s portraits of a fictional aristocratic Nigerian family push toward an expanded definition...

On View

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

April 2018

frieze magazine

May 2018

frieze magazine

June - August 2018