A Body in Fukushima
photo by William Johnston

A Body in Fukushima (2014)

A Body in Fukushima, a haunting series of photographs, is the collaborative work between Eiko and Japanese historian and photographer William Johnston. Eiko and Johnston have been collaborating for the past eight years as co-teachers of courses in Wesleyan University on the atomic bombings and mountaintop removal mining.

Eiko had conceived the project when Harry Philbrick, the director of Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art (PAFA) invited her to perform a 12 hour-durational work at 30th Street Amtrak train station in Philadelphia. To make a strong contrast to this majestic and busy station, Eiko wanted to place her body in very different stations and thought about going to Fukushima. She invited her friend Johnston to collaborate. 

In 2014, Eiko and Johnston made two extended visits to the areas surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors, which were damaged during the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the northeast Japanese coast in 2011. Only recently have people been allowed to visit these radiation-damaged areas, where access is limited to daylight hours only. The former residents still remain in exile due to the ongoing contamination.

Following the abandoned train lines, Eiko and Johnston visited the empty stations and their neighborhoods, places that formerly bustled with life and people. Over three years since the initial disaster occurred, the buildings hit by the tsunami remain in their damaged state. Those that survived without damage sit in a no-man’s land due to the radiation. Vines have grown covering the rusted tracks.  In these locations, Eiko embodies bitter grief, anger and remorse, sometimes in vulnerable gestures and at other times dancing fiercely. The photographs by Johnston capture Eiko’s evanescent gestures as well as the evolving landscape.  As Eiko explains, “By placing my body in these places, I thought of the generations of people who used to live there. Now desolate, only time and wind continue to move”

Johnston regards the project as “a form of witnessing.” He writes, “By witnessing events and places, we actually change them and ourselves in ways that may not always be apparent but are important. Through photographing Eiko in these places in Fukushima, we are witnessing not only her and the places themselves, but the people whose lives crossed with those places.”

The exhibition accompanies the tour of Eiko's new project, A Body in Places. The exhibition will include a few videos such as, A Body in Fukushima: Winter 2014 and A Body in Fukushima: Summer 2014. Using only William's still photographs, Eiko edited the videos to document their two trips to Fukushima in January and July of 2014 and also to "choreograph" video dance and create time based work.

The photo exhibition was first shown in Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia from Oct 3, 2014 through April 5 2016. The more photos were shown in the Galleries of Contemporary Art of University of Colorado at Colorado Springs ( Dec. 2014 - Feb. 2015) and in Wesleyan University, 150 photographs, 3 videos and 3 costumes occupied three galleries (Feb 5- May 25, 2015).

In 2015  summer  American Dance Festival exhibited the photos in three locations throughout the festival. In New York the exhibition was first seen at Pioneer Works in Brooklyn along with Iri and Toshi Maruki's Hiroshima Panels.  In 2016, International theater Festival Santiago a Mil in Chile presented the full scale photo and video exhibition together with Eiko's performance.

Danspace Project Platform 2016, which focused on Eiko's A Body in Places, included 24 hour exhibition of the Fukushima photo exhibition with video of A Body in Fukushima in the sanctuary of St Mark's Church in East Village New York.. Scholars and artists gathered for three roundtable discussions in prior to the opening of the exhibition. Eiko designed the shifting light and 24 artists performed at every hour at the hour joining  in the commemoration of the fifth year anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

In addition, the exhibition was/is on view in Raleigh, NC, Martha's Vineyard, Burlington, VT,  and at Columbia University in New York. The video of A Body in Fukushima Eiko edited was shown in group exhibitions at Brussel, Belgium, M plus Museum in Hong Kong, Australia, Frankfurt, Germany.

Eiko Radio Interview “NEWSWEEK TONIGHT”

Exhibition brochure

William Johnston's Bio

Eiko Otake's Bio

Johnston's article on Japan Focus The Making of “A Body in Fukushima”: A Journey through an Ongoing Disaster

Artists' video interview

For press photos for A Body in Fukushima and A Body in Placesclick here

To view A Body in Fukushima shown at the South Gallery of Wesleyan University

Photos of the exhibition in Wesleyan University South Gallery

Photos of the exhibition in Davidson Art Center, Wesleyan University

Photos of the exhibition opening in Wesleyan University

American Dance Festival Exhibition Programs

Viewers' responses

The project was made possible in part by funds from the Japan Foundation through the Performing Arts JAPAN program, the National Dance Project of the New England Foundation for the Arts, and Wesleyan University. The photography exhibition, A Body in Fukushima was co-commissioned by Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, Galleries of Contemporary Arts of University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Wesleyan University.  Eiko is a Doris Duke Performing Artist Fellow.