Reflection (Lipton)

By Jonah Lipton

I found Eiko Otake and William Johnston’s marriage of conceptual dance and photography to be a moving exploration of the relationship between trauma and its origin, as well as a thought-provoking rumination on the way human interactions with the environment shape both the landscape and those who inhabit it. Eiko has expressed a belief in art’s capacity to eliminate the distance between the spectator and the subject. Eiko’s agonized expressions and bodily contortions unlock the pain dormant in the abandoned ruins of Fukushima, while Johnston’s photographs of this process make this pain apparent to the viewer half a world away. The fact that Eiko brings her dancing, a recreation of the thoughts and feelings expressed while visiting Fukushima, to the halls of the exhibition is be an even more emphatic way of confronting the viewer with the emotional reality of a situation that occurred so far away.

There is a series of four or five photographs depicting Eiko dancing among vines, becoming subsumed in the green overgrowth, which took on an even more important meaning after I considered the fact that the entire landscape was irradiated in the Fukushima fallout. Not only does Eiko channel the sorrow of the people who were forced to abandon their homes in the region, but, by enveloping herself in wildlife that has been severely damaged by human industry, she inspires the viewer to consider our impact on nature, and, in turn, nature’s impact on us. By rolling around in vines that appear to be ensnaring her, Eiko transmits some of their radiation to herself. The cyclical nature of humanity’s link to our natural surroundings was an idea explored in several other photographs, including an image captured by Johnston of a formidable pile of bags containing irradiated soil rising up in the shadows of a distant mountain.

While I felt that reading several articles about the political, economic, and environmental situation in Japan added greatly to my understanding of the photos, as did Eiko herself, the wealth of emotion on display in each and every photo is recognizable to any visitor.