Reflection (Forster)

By James Forster

On view in Wesleyan University’s Zilkha Gallery is William Johnston and Eiko Otake’s environmentalist series of performance art photography titled “A Body in Fukushima.” While I cannot speak for everyone who visited the exhibit – and I encourage that everyone does indeed visit – my experience with the exhibit was not one of horror, regret or melancholy regarding the environmental disaster of Fukushima. Rather, my primary reaction to Eiko’s work was, fittingly, not one I had expected to feel – surprise, both at the exhibition’s execution of its themes and also Eiko’s own opinions regarding her art. Gazing at Johnston’s photographs, I was stunned by the terrain and colors of Fukushima. While the land had undeniably undergone a radical change – all of the signs of human inhabitation were in a state of decaying ruin – nature had never seemed as strong. The lush, green vines and glassy, reflective water were completely at odds with the irradiated, colorless wasteland I had been expecting. In reality, the poison was there, just hidden. All of the plants and water were heavily radioactive, rendering the region completely uninhabitable. Eiko explained to us that her decision to conduct a performative project in the irradiated wasteland of Fukushima was “a mistake.” “Stupid,” she called it. While I can easily wrap my mind around the idea of somebody, especially an artist, taking risks in the name of his or her passions, Eiko’s words implied that the risks associated with the nuclear fallout in Fukushima were not worth the creation of “A Body in Fukushima”. I was actually shocked – this was the first time I had ever heard an artist of any medium describe their work this way. I was never once under the impression that Eiko regretted her decision to act out “A Body in Fukushima” – I believe that Eiko understood the risks involved with travelling to Fukushima and decided that, while the exhibition itself was not worth risking her health over, the awareness that it would bring to issue to nuclear energy would be.