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Inside Fukushima – Part 3

Read part 1 and part 2 first.

I take a last look, tracing the wall with my eyes to where it vanishes into the distance. Visible on the horizon is a tall chimney that belongs to the Haramachi power station, not a nuclear power, but a coal processing plant. Huffing and puffing white vapor into the sky, the smoke proves it is running again. Having been severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, the plant was relaunched in spring 2013. I am thus reminded of the fact that the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant was not the only plant accident resulting from the massive natural impact of the earthquake and the Tsunami waves, which reached up to around 30m in some areas. As well as the Haramachi plant, several other thermal and nuclear power plants were damaged by the Tsunami.[1] However, the terrific outcome at the Fukushima Daiichi of a Maximum Credible Accident (MCA) was arguably the only man-made disaster resulting from the natural disaster, human error giving bearing the 3/11 disaster a radioactive triplet.

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Condition of Japan’s nuclear reactors as of May 2011. Source: http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/bild-764907-219565.html

Along Tohoku’s eastern shoreline the prefectures of Fukushima, Miyagi, and Aomori have nuclear power plants (NPP) that were affected by the earthquake and Tsunami.[2] Aomori’s Higashidori NPP luckily was in maintenance shutdown when the disaster struck. However, the severe aftershocks that came about a month later on the 7th of April with a magnitude of 7.1 caused a power outage at the plant. Nevertheless, plant failure was avoided and the reserve system worked fine.[3]

After initial complete shutdown, as of the 10th of March 2016, only one of the 43 operable nuclear power plants of Japan, the Sendai plant is running again. However, under the guide of President Shinzō Abe’s pro-nuclear political agenda many more are awaiting their restart.[4] The recklessness of such an energy policy seems all the more apparent after the recent 7.0 magnitude earthquake in April 2016 in Japan’s southwest on the island of Kyushu.  What irony to have the strongest earthquake since 3/11 strike so close to Japan’s only running plant. The feeling of discomfort caused by the alterity of this dystopian landscape doesn’t leave me when I get back in the car and we start driving again. We are still outside of the exclusion zone.

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On our way closer to the Daiichi, we pass a couple of houses partly dismantled and severely damaged by the natural disasters. The bottom floor pulled away, standing like a stilt house, screen shields in flares, windows and panels removed, like someone took it and shook it violently, outside of the exclusion zone these houses are a rarity now. The areas outside of the strictest no-access zone are already cleaned meticulously. With their superimposed decontamination grid lines they have an almost sterile and orderly feel to them.

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Source: http://www.meti.go.jp/english/earthquake/nuclear/roadmap/pdf/150905MapOfAreas.pdf

Throughout the last five years since the disaster, the demarcation lines, zones and checkpoints have been anything but rigidly fixed. The initial exclusion zone of the 20km evacuation radius around the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has been transformed into areas with different levels of access restrictions and security measures. Besides the strictest no-go exclusion or difficult-to-return zone closest to the power plant, there are those that can be accessed for short periods of time, as well as areas where evacuation orders are ready to be lifted. The zone at the core is off-limits to the public, special entrance permits are required to access it and even former residents are only allowed in for short periods of time around a dozen times per year. While you don’t need an official permission the second stage zone is accessible only during day time and any kind of business is prohibited. However, even these demarcations are continuously in flux, and we are surprised to see a checkpoint at a previously accessible road.

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A checkpoint into the restricted area.

We revert to using a white lie and the guard grants us access. He notes down our number plate and we are free to pass into the restricted area. There are more carcass-like housing structures here, but I am surprised at how busy this area is, less than 6km from the power plant’s smoldering reactors. There are construction workers around. Former residents digging up their belongings from beneath the foundation walls of their houses that look like Roman ruins now. Even the Geiger counter confirms a radioactive contamination that is less than that measured in some parts of Tokyo. Governmentally inflicted borders are somewhat arbitrary and free to interpretation after all. Radiation doesn’t stick to a superimposed boundary and there hardly ever is a strict division between the here and there, the inside and the outside of the zone; except maybe for the linguistic labels that us humans stick to certain geographic terrains. Instead, the here and there of the Fukushima exclusion zone and the rest of Japan, or even the rest of the world, is metaphorical and hardly comprehensible at all. As I stand by the ocean, the chimney of the Fukushima Daiichi peeking out from behind some trees in front of me, I think about the impossibility of discerning where the fiction the nuclear catastrophe and its zone ends and where its reality begins. Radioactive contamination is elusive, and so are the ecologies it creates. I turn around: this is as close as I will get to the heart of darkness, this time.

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[1] https://www.tohoku-epco.co.jp/ir/report/annual_report/pdf/ar2012_p08p11.pdf‘

[2] There are no nuclear power plants located in Iwate.

[3] Besides the Higashidori NPP, Aomori is also the location of the Rokkasho Repossessing Plant, a nuclear waste dump, uranium enrichment and plutonium processing facility.

[4] http://www.nei.org/News-Media/News/Japan-Nuclear-Update

All images and content ©Theresa Deichert, 2016.

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Inside Fukushima – Part 2

Read part 1 here.

Saturday, 05.03.2016:

The next day the journey continues towards the shore and closer to the hotspot of the nuclear disaster, the Fukushima Daiichi. More mountain ranges of black decontamination bags are passed. The tallest ones, which measure three or more stories of bags are half shielded by walls of grey-blue panels. At the end of the day it is all about appearance; out of sight out of mind, or so the saying goes. Since day one of the catastrophe, the Japanese government and TEPCO (the Tokyo Electric Power Company) have worked and continue to work hard to “save face.”  To convey an impression of control over the sheer untamable situation at the Fukushima Daiichi and the surrounding exclusion zone seems to take first and foremost priority. There is not only the hard working public relations machine of the electric power company itself, but additionally also a severe lack of credible journalistic reporting by the national press.[1] The latter is due to the structure of the Japanese press system, in which journalists often have to undergo self-censorship in order to secure their jobs and future access to governmental sources.[2] Subsequently, one may notice big discrepancies between the national and the international press in terms of the reporting on the gravity of the ongoing meltdown. However, governmental cover-ups and secrecy are only one of many misconducts related to the issue. Sub- and sub-subcontractor structures (and the involvement of the Yakuza) are determinant of the way workers are employed at the plant and for decontamination work. This results in great salary gaps between individual workers, ranging from exorbitant compensation to a below-minimum-wage payment for some.[3]

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Mountains of decontamination bags

Driving past the busy-bee workers, I am told that, while the decontamination workers visible from the highway are required to wear their protective suits and masks, those further away and shielded from sight are not, and often remove the uncomfortable gear during the hot summer months. However, radiation is patchy and unpredictable. Some areas in the vicinity of the nuclear plant measure doses as low as 0.02 μSv/h. The fallout, spread by wind and rain, does not stick to human-imposed zones or artificially drawn borders. Nor does it stay where it once settled. Decontaminated school- and playgrounds are often re-contaminated through soil or dust that is blown in by the wind from other, still contaminated areas, which are often way too close to those decontaminated.

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A sign documenting the reconstruction efforts. Taken Saturday, 05.03.2016, 12:02:48

At around noon we make our way towards the ocean. Large plates beside the road document the reconstruction efforts and proclaim that it has reached 91% as of the end of November 2015. Besides a large graphic showing the construction matrix of the tsunami wall, photographs along the bottom of the sign document the development of the area beginning in 1963 (Showa 38) up to 2013 (Heisei 25). Where the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami happened, a photograph is missing. Instead black letters on white ground indicate zero hour. The last square of the succession still remains empty, a blank slate left open for the final photograph, as if to say a bright future is still possible. I sense propaganda on every corner, but I am also not sure whether I have just become overly critical?

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The Tsunami Wall. Taken Saturday, 05.03.2016, 12:08:00

Then, close to where the Minamisoma ward of Kitahara once stood, we reach the shore.[4] Despite that it is a sunny day, the landscape seems dismal. Behind us there are fields of Tsunami-emptied land, trees washed away or bend like matches, the larger vegetation reduced to patches that sit like little hoods on the remaining hills. And in front, there it is: the Wall. Defining the view, this massive concrete construction stretches from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can see. White washed and immaculate, the Wall is something that crept out of your latest science-fiction nightmare, a real life dystopia. Stretching along Japan’s Eastern coastline, each of the Prefectures along the shore have begun to construct tsunami protection walls, which once joined, will stretch more than 300km along the coastline.[5] However, the construction of this protective barrier against nature’s unpredictable forces has been the source of many controversies. While some scientists have argued that it will disturb the marine ecology, others argue that it might not even be effective. Instead of alleviating the effects of a tsunami and warding off the water masses, they argue that the Wall will keep them from flowing back into the ocean, creating a deathly pool of water on the land.

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The tsunami wall with the Haramachi power station in the distance, which was severly damaged by the tsunami.

(To be continued in the last part, where I enter the exclusion zone…)

[1] http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/japan-s-nuclear-cartel-atomic-industry-too-close-to-government-for-comfort-a-764907.html

[2] http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/02/25/national/media-national/japanese-media-self-censorship-seen-growing-abes-reign/

[3] https://www.rt.com/news/fukushima-workers-nuclear-yakuza-006/

[4] Close to Kitahara Kashimaku Minamiebi, Minamisōma-shi, Fukushima-ken 979-2312, @37.7095073,141.0023834

[5] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-to-build-250-mile-long-four-storey-high-wall-to-stop-tsunamis-10131013.html

All images and content ©Theresa Deichert, 2016.

The Krauts & the Tommys – A glance at the German/British Relationship

Subconsciously and then consciously I have noticed, over the last few months, more and more articles about Germany, German culture  and German leadership. Identified as a sign of German efficiency her ability to strip herself of unnecessary decision-making, articles regarding the latter often focus on Angela Merkel and her choice of jackets; in my eyes this women has perfected the concept of #normcore.

Decision detox. While her fashion sense remains questionable, Angie choses to focus on the important things.

This is not a completely recent development. More or less frequently, all major English newspapers have had their bit to share on our chancellor, our country, our football. However, it seems that especially in the wake of recent economic developments, the UK has become more interested in exploring their (often ambivalent) relationship with Germany.

Caricature via the Guardian

Now there is a major exhibition, as well as two massive retrospectives of seminal German artists picking up on cultural mouthpieces of German culture. They seem continue where Gerhard Richter and the major exhibition in 2011 at Tate Modern left of.

Gerhard Richter, Erschossener 1 (Man Shot Down 1), 1988 depicting Andreas Baader, co-founder of the terrorist organisation Red Army Faction (RAF) and arrested in June 1972.

Popping up on the cultural landscape are numerous museum shows with a ‘German flavour.’ For instance, there is the British Museum exhibition “The Other Side of the Medal – How Germany saw the first World War,” which examins German history through a selection of medals and their engravings. In this context, both the Observer and the Guardian ran buzzfeed-style lists of things that ‘made modern Germany.’  The weight that is attributed to sausages’ contribution to the development of our country, however, seems rather questionable to me.

With Anselm Kiefer  at the Royal Academy, which just opened this Saturday, and the Sigmar Polke retrospective at Tate Modern, scheduled to open next week on the 9th of October, two major London museums turn their full attention to German artists.

Anselm Kiefer, Wege der Weltweisheit: die Hermanns-Schlacht,1978

What these artists, have in common is that they reflect and are a reflection, if not magnification, of German history and historical developments.  Kiefer, for example, is well-known for his work’s occupation with Hitler and the resulting collective silence in  post-war  German society.

Arguably, these exhibitions then come to surface in a process, wherein the British try to understand and come to grips with Germany’s political, social and economical development after the war. After all Germany, as a country, has made its way out of their (self-inflicted) misery like a well-plucked phoenix ascending from the ashes. In a time of Scottish referendum, terrorist threat and possible economical downfall, it seems the Empire is looking for an example or a backup-plan to follow, when and if they have to struggle to their feet again; Something they never had to do before.

Online Exhibition

As part of the curatorial team of the New Media Gallery (INMG) I have been involved in the conception of an online exhibition. I am happy to announce that it went online today. You can find more information and links below. I hope you will check it out!

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The International New Media Gallery (INMG) is pleased to announce the opening of its second exhibition, ‘Thomson & Craighead: A Short Film About War’ (20th May – 25th October 2013).

Visit www.inmg.org.uk to see the show.

‘A Short Film About War’ (2009) is a two-channel video which explores the way contemporary conflict is represented on the Internet. The left-hand screen is comprised of photographs found online, released under a creative commons licence. The right-hand screen references the source of each image. Weaving the sequence together is narration based on blog posts, written by individuals involved in the events depicted.

This year is the anniversary of two important events: twenty years since the first web page went online, and ten years since the second US-led invasion of Iraq. The INMG’s current exhibition marks both of these occasions. The Internet has had military connections since its inception, and this exhibition aims to explore some of the current links between the two. Since 1993, the Internet has become a dominant tool for communication. This has changed our understandings of war: today at the touch of a button we can access a myriad of blogs, photographs or footage by soldiers or citizens from across the world. As certain conflicts unfold through real-time Twitter updates, sometimes it can be hard to shift through the excess of information; turning each web user into a data-hunter in a vast archive.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue with contributions by Jo Chard, Edwin Coomasaru, Alan Ingram and Tom Snow. It can be downloaded for free at:

www.inmg.org.uk/thomson-craighead/catalogue

Snow places ‘A Short Film About War’ within the context of the essay film genre and discusses the impact of digital technologies as artistic medium. He also discusses the representation of war as a circulation of digital data. Chard and Coomasaru approach such issues with Thomson & Craighead in an interview, focusing on the way conflict is mediated online. In their conversation they also deliberate tensions between the Internet as a tool of mass surveillance and platform to organise collective political activity. Ingram’s essay also touches on this point. His text investigates the idea that ‘A Short Film About War’ might be engaging in an experimental geopolitics, reflecting on information infrastructures and the links between technologies and power.

Go and see: Japanese Art

After a long (study-induced) hiatus from blogging I am back with my recommendations for two very different exhibitions you should definitely go see this month.

Souzou – Outsider Art from Japan at the Wellcome Collection:

What is ‘Outsider Art’? The term is used to describe art that is ‘raw,’ ‘primitive’ and uncontaminated by culture, work by artists that create for the sake of creation alone. The artists included in the exhibition at the Wellcome Collection have been diagnosed with cognitive or mental illnesses. This disposition is mirrored in the often naive and impulsive qualities of their works. However, when viewing the exhibition the “disadvantages” of the artists translate into  artworks with an aesthetic quality that is highly appealing to the senses, evoking a feeling of connectedness to the creators’ subconscious. Subsequently, the show is populated by strange creatures in bright colours, full of patterns and decor, and works that often contain an element of obsessive and even manic repetition and detail. I definitely recommend you to go check it out! You can still do so until the 30th of June.

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Wellcome Collection, 183 Euston Road, London NW1 2BE

Open Tues, Wed, Fri and Sat 10:00-18:00; Thurs 10:00-22:00 and Sun 11:00-18:00

Landfall  at Husk | Gallery & Project Space at DEPARTURE:

Hikaru Fuji’s films ‘Project Fukushima!’ and ‘3.11 Art Documentation’ which are included in this group installation are concerned with the aftermath of the triple catastrophe of the Tohaku earthquake, the tsunami and the partial meltdown of the Fukushima Daichii power plant in March 2011. While ‘Project Fukushima!’ focuses on the artistic activities, such as the FUKUSHIMA! music festival, undertaken by tsunami survivors to come to terms with the disaster, ‘311 Art Documentation’ shows what happened to artists, staff of art NPOs, art and cultural institutions in the affected areas, documenting their efforts to clean up and pick up the routine of a normal life while still living in the state of exception of contemporary housing settlements, exposed to an invisible background noise of continuous radiation exposure. Films also included in the installation and continuing a concern with nature and landscape are Katie Goldwin’s Silent Landscape’ and Owen Daily’s ‘Restoration.’ While, in my opinion, the juxtaposition of Goldwin and Daily with Fuji  is not quite successful, the show and especially Fuji’s films are well worth seeing! They are on show until the 28th of May.

Husk | Gallery & Project Space at DEPARTURE, 649-651 Commerical Road, Limehouse, London, E14 7LW

Open Tues 11:00- 17:00; Wed-Fri 11:00- 18:00 and Sat 10:00 -17:00

Have you seen either of the exhibitions? What did you think?

Exhibition Review – Duchamp at the Barbican

The exhibition “The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns” at the Barbican is well worth a visit!

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The Bride and the Bachelors was the first exhibition I have seen at the Barbican. The distinct make up of the exhibition space seems to be a rather difficult layout to curate exhibitions in (unfortunately I have not comparison yet). However, I felt that the show which provided a refreshing outlook onto the master of the art historical canon, was integrated quite well in, and even supported by, the dimmed atmosphere of the eighties architecture. Through combining the Duchampian paintings, readymades and objects with the works of Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Jones new life is breathed into artworks with have been chewed over many times before. The whole exhibition is filled with a soundtrack consisting of compositions by Duchamp and Cage. As I was walking through the rooms, I found the eerie voices and melodies strangely relaxing, and at the same time invigorating to my perception of the works on display. Several benches throughout the exhibition invite you to sit down and just listen.

Starting out with Duchamp’s famous Nude descending a Staircase, no.2 (1912) the exhibition tour leads past an impressive reproduction of The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) and paintings and stage requisites designed by Jones, who had been inspired by The Large Glass, for a dance performance by Cunningham. On the second level there are smaller works on display. Again artworks by Rauschenberg and Jones are juxtaposed with Duchamp’s readymades and small objects to reflect on mutual influences and similarities. The rooms are arranged thematically according to themes such as ‘Between Art and Life,’ ‘Chance’ and ‘Presence and Absence.’

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The exhibition is still running until the 9th of June 2013 and also includes dance performances of Cunningham’s piece, dates for which can be found on the website.

Did you have a chance to see this exhibition yet ?

Opening tomorrow – “David Bowie is” at the V&A

Opening tomorrow 23rd of March 2013 is the new David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I have been anxiously waiting to see this show since my friend, who worked for the exhibition, told me about it last summer. I can only recommend going! You better hurry to buy a ticket. Last time I checked they were sold out until June. The exhibition will last until 11th of August 2013. I am sure there will be queues.

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Are you planning on seeing the exhibition ?