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.

Art as an antidote: artist duo Kyun-Chome discuss the fragility of the human condition and why we all need art

By Jessica Holtaway
Translation:  Kaori Homma

Kyun-Chome – Eri Homma and Nabuchi – are a collaborative artist duo who live and work in Tokyo.  Their work unravels social preconceptions and exposes ecological and political damage inflicted by, and on, society - but with a lightness of touch.  Darkly comedic but full of compassion, each artwork demands that we sustain sensitivity to others’ experiences.  Kyun-Chome don’t tell us how to respond, but they ask us to shift our focus from ourselves to ‘the other’, and to suspend judgement.

This summer, Kyun-Chome are in London for the Art Action UK 2016 residency.  The last two years have been busy and eventful for the artist duo – in 2014 they won the 17th Okamoto Taro Art Memorial Award for Contemporary Art, in 2015 they took part in the Tokyo Wonder Site residency in Berlin and this year they were hailed as one of Art Review’s ‘Future Greats’.  Their inaugural London exhibition Ain’t Got Time to Die, featuring new works from their UK residency, is now open at the Deptford X Project Space until May 21st.

Ain’t Got Time to Die features 6 moving image works, each exploring themes of personal and collective loss.  The shock and absurdity of disaster is explored through Wake Up! in which alarm clocks, set at different times to correspond to different historical events, are placed next to sleeping stray dogs. 
Wake Up! 2015 © Kyun-Chome
A number of pieces pieces respond directly to the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown of 2011 – in Do Not Enter the artists try to stop the sea sweeping onto the beach using barrier tape, and in The Story of Making Lies they teach members of displaced communities to use Photoshop, so that they can figuratively remove the road barriers that prevent them from returning to their homes.  The installation Time of the Sea and Time of the Town presents two hour glasses containing substances collected from irradiated areas: Time of the Sea is an hourglass containing particles of seaweed that the artists collected by diving down to the seabed next to the Fukushima Power Station; Time of the Town is an hourglass containing powdered rubble from abandoned buildings in Chernobyl.  These pieces indicate unimaginable scales of time.
Perhaps the most disquieting piece is Rhythm of Survive, a video-work that jumps between images of the artists collecting rope from a suicide site, Jukai forest, and images of the same material being used as a skipping rope in Tokyo.  This artwork, with its evocations of both childhood and mortality, uncomfortably reminds us of our liability to trip whilst trying to keep up with the rhythm of life. 

Rhythm of Survive, 2015 © Kyun-Chome

Finally, their newest work The Plough, created specifically for this exhibition, follows a constellation of migrants who, tied together at the ankles and holding torches in their mouths, link arms with each other and resolutely advance through the darkness of their surroundings.

This is an exhibition that doesn’t let us ignore unpleasant realities.  However, in a strangely playful and elegant way, it seems to reach out personally to each member of the audience and offer a tender kind of hope.

Here the artists speak about working collaboratively and how they understand the role of art in society:

First of all, congratulations on being listed as one of Art Review’s ‘Future Greats’ for 2016!  Your work often focuses on social and political issues in contemporary Japan.  How important is it for you to share your work with global audiences?

Most of our works are triggered by the disasters that have taken place in Japan. However, natural disasters and man made disasters can happen anywhere, at anytime, in the world. It is inevitable that each one of us will have to face despair at some point in our lives. In this sense, the issues we are dealing with is not so much related to "Japan and Disaster" but to the question "how do we live as humans?" This is not an issue we can discuss with specific reference to any nationality or race, but should be considered a global issue that has implications for the entire human race.

When and why did you start working together?

We started to work together in 2011, and for personal reasons.  Nabuchi had been ‘Hikikomori’ for 6 years, and was in a rather desperate state, where without collaborative interaction with Eri Homma, he might have gone over the edge. But we also recognised that by working together we could go beyond our own individual limitations, and create something much more potent and powerful.

Image © Kyun-Chome

What are some benefits and challenges of working collaboratively?

The positive aspect of working collaboratively is that when one of us is asleep, the other can continue working, so the work can develop further. Also when one of us thinks a work is OK but the other thinks it is not interesting enough, we then have to work harder to get to the point where both of us feel happy, so as a result our works get stronger.

The difficult aspect of working collaboratively is when we are at loggerheads. We then inevitably get to the point where we can sulk in silence for more than five hours before reaching a conclusion.  When this marathon-like stage arrives, especially when one of us is in a bad mood, it can be like hell. 

Your work combines comedy and tragedy in a very sensitive way.  One of the things I really like about your artworks is the absence of a specific moral message.  How does this ambiguity affect your audiences?

We think that when information becomes more concrete, we can become bound by specific information. Perhaps it is easy to repeat a mantra of  "Anti-War" or "World Peace", and highlighting the wretchedness of a specific war might not be too hard. However, we are interested in the issues behind those obvious moral messages. We are interested in the hidden aspects of human actions; the way we live, the beliefs we hold onto and the way our emotions sway from one side to another. News of war, or disasters we hear about from distant places, quickly becomes issues far removed from us, and can appear to be ‘other people's problems’. However the narratives of human behaviour are universal.  These narratives transcend time and place - even after thousands of years people might be able to relate to these narratives with their personal stories.

I am particularly interested in your work ‘Do Not Enter’, in which you try to stop the tides using ‘do not enter’ tape.  For me it provokes questions to do with the function of art; what does art actually do?  Can you tell us more about the role of art in Japan, particularly art that responds to the disasters of 2011?

Throughout history, Japan has experienced many tragedies. Considering the area is geologically prone to major earthquakes and tsunami, from now on, Japan will continue to face more tragedies. However, if we treat this itself as a tragedy, these incidents can only exist as archived parts of history. In other words, it will only remain as a data for future generations, but will not communicate the human impact and experience of these disasters. Therefore, art needs to go beyond the polarity of tragedy or comedy. We believe that art is a language beyond verbal language, and we feel that we need to further develop its communicative potential.