Feet to the Fire Intern Rebecca Wilton discusses Eiko Otake and Bill Johnston’s “A Body in Fukushima.”
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 Fukushima. 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.
Although the portions of the exhibition in the Davison Art Center and CFA South Gallery are now closed, Eiko and Bill’s video installations remain on display in the Center for East Asian Studies through May 24. And if you happen to be around during Reunion and Commencement, the South Gallery installation will be up for an encore presentation from May 21-24.