Ele Carpenter. Getting Closer to Deep Time with Kota Takeuchi
Over the last 6 years, Fukushima-based artist Kota Takeuchi has made a series of intelligently informed and aesthetically embedded artworks that draw us closer to the contaminated site of the dilapidated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant.
Text Ele Carpenter
Kota Takeuchi is interested in how we physically view and perform images of public scenery, social events, and their memory. His recent artwork investigates relationships between media and social memory by revisiting historical monuments and modern industrial legacies. He also has a powerful ability to collapse the visual and emotional distance between the viewer and his subject, perhaps because he has chosen to live in the context of his work.
Takeuchi lives and works in the city of Iwaki on the southern edge of the non-residential exclusion zone the Fukushima Prefecture on the east coast of Japan. He moved to the area after the earthquake, tidal wave and triple nuclear meltdown in 2011 to be closer to the event; to be located and engaged in the complex social, economic and aesthetic processes of the post-event. Whilst many feel ambivalent about becoming a disaster tourist, Takeuchi has made a profound commitment to being embedded in a context, to creatively respond from within the radiological transformations of the area.
Over the last 6 years, Takeuchi has made a series of intelligently informed and aesthetically embedded artworks that draw us closer to the contaminated site of the dilapidated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power plant. His artworks form an archive of the event itself, starting with From the Moment of Recording it Became Peeping (2011) which captures the live reporting of the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, juxtaposing official Japanese news channels alongside social media and international news feeds. Takeuchi then became famous for representing the Finger Pointing Worker whose performance of TEPCO’s self-surveillance web-cam Pointing at Fukuichi Live Cam (2011) drew on the work of Vito Acconci, trapping the viewer and radiation worker in the loop of image capture. These works capture a media-archaeology of the relationship between technological vision capture and place, a fleeting moment now archived in museum collections2. As human memory of the Fukushima event fades, the exclusion zone shrinks, and the media archives become inaccessible, the artwork will be preserved in museum storage, and continuously loaned to exhibitions around the world.
In the last couple of years Kota Takeuchi has concentrated on two major new projects: creating his Take Stone Monuments Twice archive, and making new interventions in the exclusion zone with the Don’t Follow the Wind (DFTW) collective3. The Stone Monuments series brings the past into the present, whilst we might consider how DFTW projects the present into the future.
Take Stone Monuments Twice draws from a book by Ichiro Saito called ‘Economic History in the Modern Age of Iwaki’ (1976) documenting stone monuments and site markers in the area of Iwaki. Since 2013, Takeuchi has been following Ichiro Saito’s guidebook, retracing his steps and re-photographing the stones in the southeast region of the Fukushima Prefecture. The resulting series of images deals directly with the difference between monument and site marker, where the marker urgently communicates a message for the future, rather than a memory of the past. Whilst a monument is an important site of remembrance, when there is no-one left to remember it becomes a historical artefact, rather than part of contemporary culture.
The contemporary artwork presents pairs of images. The monochrome pictures on the left of each pair are taken from Saito’s book, whilst the colour photos on the right are Takeuchi’s restaging of the original photographs. After three summers spent cycling around the city to find and capture over 120 historical monuments listed in Saito’s book, the series is now complete. As such the project has re-archived the work by revisiting and updating the historical archive of images. The monuments often record military fatalities or environmental disasters, especially high tides and breaches of the sea wall. For Takeuchi, this art history of monuments raises important questions about the time-frame for human memory of important events in the landscape.
In 2016 Kota Takeuchi participated in the exhibition ‘Material Nuclear Culture’ at KARST Gallery in Plymouth, UK, and gave a presentation about his Take Stone Monuments Twice project at the roundtable discussion4. He explained that his artwork was inspired by the stone monument to the 1933 Sanrikku Earthquake discovered at Ofunato in Iwate Prefecture. This massive 20 ton stone was engraved with the name ‘Tsunami Stone’ at the high water mark of the 1933 tsunami, but was buried under roadworks in the 1970’s. Ironically the stone was revealed by the 2011 tsunami which swept away the soil and rubble around the stone, enabling it to be restored as a marker warning against future tidal flooding.5
Takeuchi explained how Japan experiences one or two great earthquakes and giant tidal waves approximately every one hundred years. Yet the significance of the tsunami markers is unable to be communicated from one generation to the next. Even the shorter life-span between nuclear accidents and detonation of atomic weapons is hard to retain in human memory. In Japan, many people had forgotten about the problems of radiation before the Fukushima accident, as elderly people born pre-World War II are passing away, and it is becoming more difficult to directly inherit memories of the atomic bomb. At the same time, Japan is experiencing demonstrations based on historical revisionism and racism, which have increased in the last ten years.
There’s no lack of digital documentation about any contemporary disaster, but the more images there are available, the less consequence they seem to have. Stone Monuments Twice highlights the need for a physical material monument, where events are engraved in stone as well as etched in our memories. The artwork re-inscribes historical events back into a contemporary discourse by visiting and photographing stone carved monuments, recording how memory is retained or fades over time.
When Takeuchi visits the stone monuments, he has a physiological relationship and response to the stone. He can touch the mass of cold stone, feel the damp moss and see the tiny insects crawling across the surface. He says “I can feel my tiredness in my legs and my breathing. Then I feel an aliveness and connection between me and the stone” and he reflects that this may be the original function of stone monuments.
This artwork is one of several of Takeuchi’s works investigating the relationship between the human act of marking sites between stone and digital media. Shifting between different material temporalities of digital video and sculpture. When thinking about Take Stone Monuments Twice, he reflects on the fact that his photographs are far removed from the physicality of the engraved stone, which hints at one of the possible reasons for lapses in memory. His sense that there’s a memory lapse between the experience of taking the photo and the image itself raises a dilemma: to intensively record a serious event to keep its memory alive might be the start of the process of forgetting. As if the more images we have, the more distanced we become from the reality of the event.
The material presence of the carved stone marker is far more durable than the digital images that document it. And today there are new stone monuments being built in the Fukushima disaster area to commemorate the earthquake and tidal wave, including a monument commemorating the domestic animals and cattle left behind in the radiation exclusion zone.
In Belgium, the nuclear research agency SCK-CEN and the radioactive waste management agency NIRAS/NIROND are thinking about how to mark radioactive waste storage sites for hundreds and thousands of years. One strategy is to support the relay of information from one generation to the next, whilst long-term communication aims to provide information for people in the long-term future. Today digital images can perform an effective relay, whilst more permanent materials such as stone monuments mark unknown sites. After visiting the HADES underground research lab for radioactive waste in Mol, Belgium, in July 2016, Takeuchi continued his exploration of the relationship between the stone monument and the digital image. He created ‘Selfie in Sublime’ (2016-) a series of ‘selfies’, of which two were shown on smart phones in his open studio exhibition at the Arts Catalyst (2016). The work was inspired by Takeuchi’s selfie taken in the HADES tunnel and reflects on how images circulate online, reinventing the concept of the authentic image or the original experience over human and technical generations. The work depicts selfies of European masters in front of notable sites or monuments. J.W. Turner infront of Stonehenge, and Gustave Courbet in his cave. Here the painters are embedded within their own painted landscapes, creating an additional archival index to the Stonehenge, made famous through Turner’s paintings; and capturing Courbet’s cavernous sublime leading into the heart of the earth.
Takeuchi’s exploration of the impact of the Fukushima Dai’ichi Nuclear Power Plant meltdown combined with his visit to nuclear sites in Europe has led him to a longer-term interest into the long term waste and contamination issues of nuclear technology. He is an active member of the Don’t Follow the Wind Collective showing at Arts Catalyst, London May–July 2017. He has recently been awarded a grant from the Asian Cultural Council and in October 2017 he will travel to the Hanford nuclear reservation in the USA. •
Nuclear Culture is a curatorial research project run by the London-based curator Ele Carpenter, in partnership with The Arts Catalyst and Goldsmiths, University of London. The project creates a context for the visual arts to play an important role in the investigation of nuclear aesthetics through: organising artists field research to nuclear sites in Europe and Japan, commissioning new artworks, curating exhibitions and roundtable discussions, writing and public lectures. Since 2016, Z33 developed a Belgian program in collaboration with Ele Carpenter, including round table discussions, field trips, artistic research projects and exhibitions.
→ Z33 House for Contemporary Art: Perpetual Uncertainty (17 September–10 December 2017)
→ Arts Catalyst: Nuclear Culture
Dr Ele Carpenter is a curator and writer in politicised art and social networks of making. She is editor of The ‘Nuclear Culture Source Book,’ Black Dog Publishing in partnership with Bildmuseet and Arts Catalyst (2016). Carpenter’s curatorial research into Nuclear Culture began in 2011. This research led to a wider engagement with the contemporary lived experience of the nuclear economy including mining, weapons, energy, accidents and waste management. Working in partnership with arts agencies and museums, and nuclear organisations, the projects brings together visual artists and those working in the nuclear humanities with specific nuclear sites and contexts.
Kota Takeuchi’s artwork Take Stone Monuments Twice is featured in the Perpetual Uncertainty exhibition at Z33 House for Contemporary Art on 16 September–10 December 2017. As part of the Nuclear Culture project, Takeuchi undertook a residency at the Arts Catalyst in partnership with S-Air in 2016. During his time in Europe, he took part in the Z33 House for Contemporary Art’s Nuclear Culture field visit to the HADES underground research laboratory for the storage of high-level radioactive waste in Belgium6, and presented his new works in an open studio exhibition at Arts Catalyst in London. Takeuchi also participated in the Material Nuclear Culture exhibition and roundtable discussion at KARST Gallery, UK, June–August 2016.