THE GUILD OF BOSTON ARTISTS’ LEGACY CONTINUES
The radioactive land cemetery that is Fukushima may have been overshadowed in recent years as news outlets have trained their lenses on other human and natural disasters, but in
Japan, a country only 50 years removed from the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the fallout is psychological and physical — and ongoing.
“More than three years have passed since the meltdown, and the ruined facility is still spilling radioactive waste into the ocean. A recent article in The Guardian appeared under the somber headline, ‘Fuku-shima Cleanup Progresses, but there is No Cause for Optimism,’” writes Wesleyan University professor Andrew Szegedy-Maszak in a compelling essay that will accompany “A Body in Fukushima,” a combined photography, video and performance art work that will make its debut on the Middletown campus in February.
The exhibition features the photographs of Bill Johnston and the performance art of Eiko Otake, Wesleyan faculty who have collaborated for a number of years on seminars that examine the human cost of environmental degradation. Otake has just begun a three-year appointment as visiting artist in dance and professor in the College of East Asian Studies, while Johnston is a longtime professor of history and East Asian studies. This exhibition is an expansion of an enterprise entitled “Bodies in Places,” which began with Otake’s solo performances in Philadelphia’s bustling 30th Street Station. Fukushima offered a parallel universe that she hoped she might illuminate, she said.
In two separate trips last year, Otake and Johnston toured the evacuated region, traversing the now-abandoned rail line and taking in sights of ravaged vacant towns and fields. Immersed in this modern-day Pompeii, they found the detritus of lives that had been uprooted, with the only remaining human enterprise the cleanup crews in hazmat suits, bagging contaminated soil in a perverse kind of busywork.
In more than 70 photographs, Otake takes on the character of everyman/everywoman, channeling the devastation all around her through gesture, emotion and the barest of cultural references. “By placing my body in these places, I thought of the generations of people who used to live there. I danced so as not to forget,” she said.