“ Body in Fukushima is one example of a history written in images and movement, and one that demonstrates the power and profundity of nonverbal language.
At the artist talk Eiko touched on the idea that time is not even. She said: “Something happens and it shakes you.” Time is not even because the shake reverberates — an event like the nuclear disaster in Fukushima cannot be neatly contained within a framework of linear time. Disaster is uncontainable, ongoing, erratic. Disaster cannot be sealed off into a single moment in time, a fact that appears ironic in the case of Fukushima where the place itself has been sealed off.
-Chloe E Jones
“But, when Eiko appeared to me as a live person in the pictures, I got to know the reason: she is not supposed to appear as a live person in Fukushima. She must be either a ghost or a dead body, if any, so that we can make sense of it. For, we naturally expect a pile of dead bodies in Fukushima after the disaster, not a live person. But, Eiko is alive in the picture, expressing herself as a live person with sorrow and anger. That contradiction between my perception/expectation and what is in the pictures had been troubling to me since the first time.”
“I was particularly struck during the Body in Fukushima talk by something that Eiko said about trying to be a bridge, an entryway, through which viewers can access the physical intensity and grief contained in the photos of Fukushima. In the photographs without the presence of her body, I find it remarkably harder to empathize with the wasted landscape of the Fukushima region. I find it much more impossible to imagine the sensations of loss and the massive, disastrous human effect embedded in the empty streets and overgrown fields. But by seeing another human in the space reacting emotionally and physically to her surroundings, I can imagine myself in her place with all of the feelings and sensations that would come with such an experience. Her body is a human bridge that I find absolutely necessary for nurturing a sense of empathy and understanding for this totally other world that Fukushima has become.”
Eiko Otake and Bill Johnston’s A Body in Fukushima overwhelms. Spread through three galleries, the sheer number of photographs and videos presented dominate the senses and in each space it takes a moment to get your bearings. When finally you are able to refocus and notice the prints individually, from gallery to gallery they continue to destabilize and confront the viewer with their fragility.
I sat in on an open workshop of Eiko’s course, Delicious Movement, where she challenged us to move uselessly, using our body as a landscape and the floor as a tool. When a student expressed frustration at her struggle to move this way, confused at the difficulty of trying to move with ease, intuitively, Eiko discussed the importance of struggle and difficulty in her work. Traveling to Fukushima, placing herself in danger of radiation poisoning, instead of fleeing the pain of the disaster, Eiko places herself at the center of it in an intimate embrace. And the photographs in the exhibition are not easy to look at – the bright swaths of blue sky in almost every print serve as a reminder of the life that used to inhabit these spaces. Eiko’s presence in the immense scenes of destruction highlights the lack; her body becomes a house of remembrance that holds the individuals still exiled from the contaminated communities.
In her workshop, Eiko returned again and again to the metaphor of regeneration to inspire our movements: “There are flowers growing all over your body – even if you crush one here [grabbing her chest], one may grow here [her back] or here [her leg] or here [her arm]!” The images in A Body in Fukushima that do show signs of life capture boundaries – edges of forests at abandoned subway stations, for example. Creeping in on the desolation, these shreds of verdant landscape cast a primordial aura over the post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic realm of Eiko’s Fukishima, The photographs evoke the tension of humankind’s existence on earth – after we have been undone by our own creations, what is left? Plants reclaim the space vacated temporarily by humans, negotiating a landscape traumatized by the push and pull between natural resources and those who use them.