By Avigayl Sharp
A Body in Fukushima exemplifies the ways in which we are able to reclaim place through art, illuminating the power of the body to redefine a space, to force the discomfort and action of witnesses, and to activate both empathy and change. To place a deeply human form against the stark backdrop of a desolate landscape, one that has been environmentally ravaged by human forces, boldly asserts both the fragility and strength of human beings and the spaces they inhabit. It implies a deeply rooted responsibility of people to the land and an inescapable grief at the destruction of this land, not only for the sake of the land itself, but also for the displaced people, and for all things exposed to radiation.
It’s strange and compelling to see beauty created out of such a tragic and destructive event. The grace and elegance of Eiko Otake’s body, robed in reds and purples that stand out against the eerie background of abandoned train stations and concrete blocks, is emphasized by the grief explicit in her movements. Her brightly colored body twists and contorts against the concrete background, emphasizing the inhuman effect of these human-constructed structures in Fukushima, the emptiness of a space that was once full and occupied, the damage of radiation and the loss of lives. For me, the most striking of these images is of Eiko framed against a bright blue sky punctuated by white clouds. She dances upon a flat grey concrete block, and the hard symmetrical lines of the concrete contrast exquisitely with the vibrancy of the sky and her body, which seems to be almost floating against the air. The lower half of the photo is stark and straight, something man-made and abandoned, and seems to explode into the wildly alive upper half of the image.
The photographs in A Body in Fukushima are deeply moving—simultaneously dead and alive, difficult and beautiful, the images compel one to think further on the relationship between human beings and the spaces we occupy. By placing herself in an area destroyed and then abandoned by human life, Eiko calls attention to the fact that our actions toward the earth are not only destructive, but ultimately self-destructive. The horrifying force of the tsunami was not manmade, but the aftermath of radiation and displacement was. Hurting the earth, the photos seem to argue, hurts everyone. Eiko dances for the loss of many lives—the lives of people, of plants and animals, and the very ground of Fukushima.
For me, these photographs exhibit what I love so much about art as activism—by placing a physical, human body in a place where bodies no longer belong, A Body in Fukushima forces a confrontation with the reality of our relationship to our bodies and the body of the earth around us. The artists created something simultaneously beautiful and difficult to comprehend. It is this inability to fully understand the photos—sad, lovely, and serious all at once—that mirrors our inability to fully understand the destruction and loss of the earth around us.