Make a Break: Immediacy in Art after Fukushima

A review of the Art Action UK discussion event at Deptford X Project Space on 21 May 2016

By Beatrix Joyce

How does one comprehensively represent the impact of the series of disasters that hit Japan in 2011? This is a question that has attracted artists and curators from around the globe and is currently being addressed, five years after the earthquake, tsunami and the devastating nuclear disaster that took place in Fukushima. As was highlighted during the artist’s talk, the Japan that is being revealed by these artists is not the Japan that is being presented to us by the media; Japan channels a great deal of effort into their arts and culture industry, which allegedly paints the picture of a ‘cool’ Japan, supposedly fully recovered from the massive upheaval. The relevance of the voices of artists such as Kyun-Chome hereby becomes evident, as they offer an alternative view, subverting the dominant, political agenda. Kyun-Chome’s exhibition held at the Deptford X Project Space presents a selection of their interventionist and mixed-media art works which they have been developing in the after-math of the catastrophes. In their own words, their works build on the mantra ‘escape to survive’. They seek to exemplify the human element of the victims, uncovering further issues of suicide and displacement. Their works offer a twofold insight into the lives of those who have been uprooted, and those who cannot leave the tarnished land they inhabit.

In ‘The Story Of Making Lies’ (2015), Kyun-Chome teach elderly residents of a temporary housing unit how to use Photoshop. They invite these victims, who will probably never have the chance to go home, to digitally erase the barriers now placed in their hometown. By performing this task the former residents revealed their true sentiments on the situation. Surprisingly, they did not always express the desire to return and even showed signs of optimism. This highlights the complexity of emotions invoked, as a mixture of feelings of both nostalgia and acceptance became apparent. Kyun-Chome noted that these thoughts may never have been exposed by a regular interview, and they therefore advocate an art practice that offers a more enriching way into researching political issues than conventional journalism ordinarily provides.

film still from The Story of Making Lies, 2015, image © Kyun-Chome

Other pieces, such as ‘Time Of The Sea’ (2015) and ‘Wake Up!’ (2015) capture emotions on a more abstract level. The stillness of two hour glasses containing radio-active substances is disconcerting, especially when contrasted with the startled responses of stray dogs to alarm clocks. The power of nature is firmly combatted with ‘Do Not Enter’ (2013), a gesture of human fragility and powerlessness performed on the beach in the gusty wind. The alternated use of rude awakenings, passivity and helplessness symbolise the weight and unexpected nature of the disasters, encouraging us to question the extent of the power we have over our environment.

film still from Do Not Enter, 2013, image © Kyun-Chome

Alongside Kyun-Chome, two curators were invited to speak at the artist’s talk. Jason Waite, co-curator of the exhibition held inside the exclusion zone at Fukushima, proposed the use of invisibility as a strategy. The invisibility of radiation is hereby turned into an invisible exhibition, which serves as a monument to those whose lives were lost and those who were displaced. Furthermore, Ele Carpenter offered insights into how contemporary artists have approached the effects of ‘the nuclear’. For example, the dilemma of nuclear waste is marked by the creation of a programme that counts down forever, broaching the incomprehensible concept of infinity. Along the same lines, another artist prints 3D images of Perseus, the Greek god of contagion, invisibility and dust. These statues are to be left behind for future generations to find and question. The theme of inheritance is also embodied in radio-active jewellery; a necklace was created containing stones that may not be safe to wear for generations to come. In this way, the duration of progress is embraced, as catastrophes take time to be processed, mourned and eventually healed.

Art, as proven by Kyun-Chome and as propagated by all speakers present, is an essential and progressive tool in the unearthing of global, political and human tragedies. A tool which is perhaps, as all Kyun-Chome’s works indirectly suggest, an aid in the process of healing too.


Kyun-Chome is a duo consisting of collaborating artists Eri Homma and Nabuchi. Winners of the Art Action UK 2016 Artist Residency Award, their exhibition Ain’t Got Time To Die was held at Deptford X Project Space from the 13th until the 21st of May 2016.

Jason Waite is an independent curator and writer based in New York. He is a co-curator of Don’t Follow the Wind: Non-Visitor Centre, an exhibition held within the Fukushima exclusion zone. 

Dr. Ele Carpenter is the Senior Lecturer in Curating at Goldsmiths College. She is a curatorial researcher in Nuclear Culture with The Arts Catalyst and editor of the Nuclear Culture Source Book.