Art exhibit in Fukushima gazes toward the future

September 07, 2012


The artwork at this year's Fukushima Biennale exhibition, the first to be held since the northeastern prefecture was devastated by nuclear disaster, reflects both the heartbreak and the hope of the accident's aftermath.

With its main venue at the Fukushima Airport in Tamakawa, the Fukushima Biennale 2012 showcases works by major contemporary artists from Japan and abroad. This year marks the fifth in the series of biennial events, whose organizers include students from Fukushima University.

A number of prominent artists, including Yoko Ono, asked to be represented in this year's exhibition to share their hopes and visions for the future.

A six-meter-high statue of a boy that stands in the airport lobby powerfully captures the exhibition's message of overcoming hardships and stepping forward.

The boy, dressed in radiation protective gear, holds his helmet in one hand and looks up at the sky. A dosimeter on the boy's chest is set at zero.

Titled "Sun Child," the work by Kenji Yanobe was inspired by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011.

The Fukushima Biennale events were started in 2004 to help provide hands-on education to students of Fukushima University and to invigorate local communities.

Fukushima Airport is hosting the current event because the venue used for earlier events, a cultural facility in Fukushima, the capital of Fukushima Prefecture, was devastated by the quake.

Koichi Watanabe, an associate professor of drawing and painting at Fukushima University, heads the administrative committee of the biennale.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, he helped organize a project to have children paint carp streamers. Word of that project spread widely, which helped attract public attention to the Fukushima Biennale.

Many artists in Japan and abroad came forward and asked to be represented in this year's event. About 70 artist groups and individuals, including some from the United States, Germany, France and Mexico, are presenting their works, and that number rises to 150 when students and other presenters are included.

This official theme of this year's exhibition is "Sora" (the sky).

" 'Sora' not only refers to the beautiful sky over Fukushima but also provides links to the rest of the world," Watanabe said. "The theme befits a biennale that is held in Fukushima following the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear crisis."

Artists of the world lived up to the organizers' expectations.

Ono's works on display include "Sky Piece for Fukushima," in which she called on people to paint pictures of the sky. Children's paintings of the sky are hung aloft in the airport lobby.

U.S.-based Nobuho Nagasawa is presenting kites that show images of the Earth held in human hands. She also oversaw a project displaying pairs of objects created by U.S. and Fukushima students.

Other works on display reflect more directly the reality of the disastrous events of March 11.

Shigenobu Yoshida installed a large number of children's shoes in a park next to Fukushima Airport and simulated rainbows using mirrors sunken in water. The work alludes to those who perished in the disaster and the children who were evacuated from their own communities over fears of radiation.

Shimpei Takeda is presenting photos developed from film that was kept in a light-tight box together with soil collected from 12 locations, including historic battlefields in the Tohoku and Kanto regions. While the resulting images may look like those of a starlit sky, they are, in fact, traces of radiation made visible.

The Fukushima Biennale has had to overcome a number of hurdles. Fukushima Airport, the main venue, was not designed to host exhibitions and is far from urbanized areas. The budget for the event is a fraction of that for other international art exhibitions.

But the enthusiasm of artists and supporters provided a major drive for the event. Donations from the public, for example, covered the cost of transportation for Yanobe's "Sun Child" statue.

"This is an opportunity to speak out from Fukushima on the problems facing humankind," Yanobe said. "I am happy to be represented here."

The Fukushima Biennale 2012 runs through Sept. 23.

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"Sun Child" (2011), a statue by Kenji Yanobe, stands at Fukushima Airport as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012. (Tatsuya Sasaki)

"Sun Child" (2011), a statue by Kenji Yanobe, stands at Fukushima Airport as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012. (Tatsuya Sasaki)

  • "Sun Child" (2011), a statue by Kenji Yanobe, stands at Fukushima Airport as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012. (Tatsuya Sasaki)
  • "Kokoro no Niji" (The spirit of rainbow) (2012), an installation by Shigenobu Yoshida, is shown in Fukushima Airport Park as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012. (Kazumasa Nishioka)
  • Children painted these pictures of the sky, shown at Fukushima Airport as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012, in an answer to a call by Yoko Ono. In the left background are pieces of "carp streamer art." (Kazumasa Nishioka)
  • "Ki to Sora" (Trees and the sky), an installation by the International Art and Design College, is shown as part of the Fukushima Biennale 2012. (Tatsuya Sasaki)

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