Don’t Follow the Wind – Non-Visitor Center
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Image: Printed flag with exhibition logo by Naohiro Ukawa – Don’t Follow the Wind, 2015. Courtesy WATARI-UM, The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

Don’t Follow the Wind – Non-Visitor Center at Tokyo’s WATARI-UM (the Watari Museum of Contemporary Art) was an exhibition about another exhibition which you’re unlikely to ever see. The WATARI-UM show is to date the only way of engaging with the Chim↑Pom initiated project Don’t Follow the Wind, an exhibition spread throughout the 20km exclusion zone surrounding the nuclear facility Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, which nearly five years ago was crippled by the nuclear disaster on 11 March, 2011.

The nuclear accident and its ongoing repercussions have fundamentally changed the surrounding landscape. What remains is an area in stasis, the ongoing existence of which is ambiguous. As sites in the area are preparing for the gradual return of people, questions remain over what the future holds for certain of the affected sites, and the communities that may return to rebuild their lives within or around them.

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Image: Live Camera from Fukushima Exclusion Zone, 2015. Photo: Stuart Munro

In the wake of an ever-present and invisible threat, a strange sense of normality around an uncertain future has emerged. Misreported facts, conflicting information, mishandled waste material from the power plant and systematically collected topsoil mean few know what the disaster means in real terms. Will the zone ever be safe, what is the ‘real’ edge of the zone?

Curated by Kubota Kenji, Eva and Franco Mattes, and Jason Waite, the Don’t Follow the Wind project involves invited artists producing a work for installation within the exclusion zone. In 2012, the Japanese artist collective Chim↑Pom entered the exclusion zone and installed the artworks within sites that remain inaccessible to the wider public. Contributions came from Ai Weiwei, radical performance group Grand Guignol Mirai (Noi Sawaragi, Norimizu Ameya, Fuyuki Yamakawa and Shuji Akagi) , Nikolaus Hirsch and Jorge Otero-Pailos, Meiro Koizumi, Eva and Franco Mattes, Aiko Miyanaga, Ahmet Öğüt, Trevor Paglen, Taryn Simon, Nobuaki Takekawa and Kota Takeuchi.

The exact location of each work remains a secret, and they will only be accessible to the public once the exclusion zone has been lifted. Until then, the nature of each artwork is shrouded in mystery with a chance that they may, in fact, never be seen. Taking into account the current known radiations levels within the area and consequential public fear, there is a possibility these sites will not be reopened for sometime, if ever.

For Ryuta Ushiro of Chim↑Pom, the threat is countered by work sensitively placed throughout the zone, with each piece asking questions of its own. His impression is that both the site ‘interior’ and the works they house contain their own presence, asking questions such as, “Do you hear me, do you know me, do you follow me, do you understand me?”

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Image: Installation view of Non-Visitor Center Interpretation Station, 2015. Photo: Stuart Munro

The WATARI-UM exhibition presented a mixture of factual information and speculative fiction using materials that inform how the ongoing Don’t Follow the Wind exhibition may evolve and how it is and may be perceived from afar.

Spread across three floors of the Museum, the first floor began with a projection of the project website and an audio introduction—www.dontfollowthewind.info. In another space, live video from inside the exclusion zone was seen from behind glass as if to underline the separation between venues, with glimpses into streets that now lie dormant. This was followed by an Information Counter, a ‘Live’ archive of documents and artefacts, Research Area, and view into the inaccessible Non-Visitor Center Interpretation Station, on the floor above.

The Interpretation Station gathered snapshots of work in Don’t Follow the Wind, highlighting the importance of both placement and distance.

Chim↑Pom’s Preview for Drawing Blueprint, previewed their documentary Drawing Blueprint, a film about a place before, during, and after the nuclear age.

Wearing Yesterday Tomorrow by Kota Takeuchi hung replicas of clothing found in an abandoned house, and Ahmet Öğüt’s video Once Upon a Time Breathing Apparatus for Breathing Air showed a breathing suit and body armour worn together. Diagram of the Route of Electricity Fukushima To Tokyo by Nobuaki Takekawa, hung woodblock prints from one of his sculptures, while the Grand Guignol Mirai’s Demio Fukushima 501, displayed a film of the group entering the zone and the battery from the car they left behind.

Trinity Cube by Trevor Paglen, fused glass from sites exposed to nuclear activity, where as <tome-ishi> by Aiko Miyanaga, displayed one of a pair of objects made from glass and rope, with the other placed in Fukushima. Fukushima Texture Pack by Eva and Franco Mattes, collected photographic textures from the area, and Becoming Monument by Nikolaus Hirsch and Jorge Otero-Pailos, modelled a water pump that had been preserved and turned into a monument.

Meiro Koizumi’s experimental short film, Home, interviewed Fukushima residents, and is only played silent when shown outside the zone. Ai Weiwei’s Fukushima Project film showed him installing family photographs in an abandoned house. While Final Photos by Taryn Simon displayed an online database of images uploaded by residents taken before the disaster, and now stored on solar-powered server inside the zone.

The top floor was Transmission Area, a space devoted to 22:19:43–23:04:40, 2015, a video installation by film director Sion Sono that documented in real-time the three-way web-conversation between curators in Tokyo, Milan and Berlin. It book-ended the Non-Visitor Center exhibition and acted as an introduction to Don’t Follow the Wind exhibition by linking ideas with artefacts that are dotted throughout the Museum.

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Image: Key of the venue, 2015. Photo: Stuart Munro

The aforementioned web-chat revealed how some work from the Don’t Follow the Wind exhibition traces the physical impact of materiality. Paglen’s sculptural piece Trinity Cube, 2015, fuses glass formed from the sand of America’s first Atomic test site and mixes it with shattered window panes found from within the exclusion zone, melted to form one piece that touches on the short-term experimentation of nuclear technology and also the long-term social and environmental impact that this technology has had. Eva Mattes compares the exclusion zone to sites around the world that have become a type-of ‘Involuntary Park’; places bereft of people and now designated sites of natural importance.

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Image: Miyanga Aiko, <tome-ishi> boundary, 2015. Glass, breathing, rope. Photo: Stuart Munro

The detachment of both television and the computer screen, and seeing the artworks from behind glass alluded to swapping one reality for another, making it difficult to fully engage with the exhibition beyond the Museum—both the problem and challenge that Don’t Follow the Wind and Non-Visitor Center knowingly face. How do you show work that can’t be seen and will more than likely remain hidden forever?

The whole of the WATARI-UM Museum became the type of waiting room or departure lounge that highlighted the frustration of being so close and yet so far from the real work itself. A good example of this is the keys taken from four remote venues within the exclusion zone, Key of the venue, 2015. They offered the chance that one day we might be able to look inside, but without any real promise or guarantee. In the event each venue remains inaccessible, the keys will be donated to neighbouring Iwaki City Art Museum along with an archive of the entire project. Sitting alongside the impenetrable bureaucracy of application forms and licenses, this first floor archive may be one of the most poignant views that the WATARI-UM’s Non-Visitor Center offered—a zone beyond Fukushima, where the slow creep of administration required to record the area for prosperity is in danger of becoming just as ambiguous and unfathomable.

With the distraction of Tokyo ever present, a show this sensitive could easily have been mistaken for a comprehensive overview of Don’t Follow the Wind. That would be impossible and curators and artists alike acknowledged this to be so. Instead Non-Visitor Center outlined the former exhibition by sharing the idea that the threat of radiation is far more dangerous than radiation itself, and impossible to truly register.—[O]

 

Don’t Follow the Wind is an ongoing project and exhibition.

Originally published on January 6, 2016