Artists are installing work in the poisoned nuclear landscape devastated in 2011’s tsunami – and of course, no one can visit it. I can’t think of a more fatuous plan
It is no surprise that art is drawn to politics. The drama and emotion of a conflicted world can make for moving, haunting images. But is art really capable of useful commentary on world events – or does it encourage fatuously emotional responses?
An exhibition in the Fukushima exclusion zone in Japan is an example of what I am talking about. That’s right, the Fukushima exclusion zone – the 20km zone surrounding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged in Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and leaked radiation.
Artists including Ai Weiwei, Taryn Simon, Miyanaga Aiko, Meiro Koizumi, Takekawa Nobuaki, Ahmet Öğüt and Trevor Paglen are showing their work in a poisoned atmosphere, in a deathly post-apocalyptic realm. You get the picture. Or not. I’ve no doubt all these artists will make interesting works but the “exhibition” is a mere stunt, a gesture. Literally no one can visit this art show. It is real, but can only be visualised. The art is effectively invisible, like radiation itself.
So it makes us think, right? Actually, no. In mourning the Fukushima disaster and drawing attention to the supposed horror and scandal of this radiation leak, this exhibition stops thought instead of inviting it. A nuclear exclusion zone certainly is a strange, unearthly place, but does it mean what the soul-searching artists want us to agree that it means: is it an image of human folly and sinister science?
It’s interesting that Fukushima draws more headlines four years on than the earthquake and tsunami themselves that ravaged Japan in 2011. This natural disaster took 15,890 lives. It caused many injuries and huge structural devastation. But it was beyond human control: there is no one to be angry at. The earth itself is at fault.
The damage to a nuclear power plant was just part of that huge natural disaster – but it has become “iconic” and the stuff of art exhibitions because it arouses the intense emotions that nuclear power always provokes.
No one has died as a result of the Fukushima radiation leakage, and the World Health Organisation says even staff were exposed to no significant radiation. It is, in fact, an example of a well-managed and successfully contained nuclear accident. In one of the worst natural disasters of modern times, a cataclysm that shook a sophisticated modern society inside out, the nightmare of a lethal nuclear accident was actually avoided.
If we looked at nuclear energy rationally, Fukushima would not be a byword for sci-fi scariness. It would instead be a glowing beacon of optimism about our ability to use this form of energy in a safe way – even under the most severe tests.
George Monbiot scandalised the Green movement by pointing this out in the Guardian in 2011.
A rational debate may be more useful than just feasting, once more, on the apocalyptic image of nuclear disaster. The artists showing in the Fukushima exclusion zone would do more good starting a discussion with science about the pros and cons of nuclear energy as a solution to global warming.
Instead, this and other exhibitions about Fukushima – a recent show inspired by it included Sigmar Polke’s eerie photographs of green globs made by exposing uranium to sensitive paper – dwell on a stereotypical, cliched imagery of nuclear catastrophe that has not changed since the Cold War. The tragic history of Japan – the only nation ever to have been attacked with nuclear weapons – of course adds to that unease. But civil nuclear power is not the same thing as nuclear warfare. It may even be part of a better future for our planet. We need at least a more open-minded debate – and ever since Andy Warhol’s atom bomb paintings, artists have hindered that debate.
Politics, I am starting to think, needs less art and more science
original published on: theguardian