Out of Tokyo

228: Quakes and Arts III
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: July 01, 2011

I learned about the fact that a picture of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was added to Okamoto Taro’s mural painting "Asu no Shinwa" ("Myth of Tomorrow") at Shibuya station still on the same day, May 1st. Producer Ozawa Yasuo sent me a picture via SMS, along with the comment, "I bet that’s Chim Pom!?" I had the feeling that it was Chim Pom’s work as well, and when asking their leader, Ushiro Ryuta, he emailed me back, "I thought it was Banksy! (LOL)" Well the "LOL" at the end convinced me that it WAS Chim Pom’s work (LOL).


"LEVEL7feat. 'Asu no Shinwa'" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo | REALTOKYO "LEVEL7feat. 'Asu no Shinwa'" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo | REALTOKYO
"LEVEL7feat. 'Asu no Shinwa'" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo

As you will know, an exhibition at the end of May then revealed who was behind the work with the title "LEVEL7 feat. 'Asu no Shinwa'" (See also Oyama Enrico Isamu’s sharp-witted analysis). The mass media first called it "malicious mischief", whereas I think it would have been a more appropriate expression without the "malicious" part. Besides the facts that he participated in Georges Bataille’s mysterious rites, and made approaches to Jomon culture, I am not particularly interested in Okamoto’s work as an artist, but I'm sure that it must be a greatly amusing incident for an artist who engaged in dialogue with the All-Japan Federation of Students' Self-Governing Associations (aka "Zengakuren") and subsequently wrote the "Hanzaishaseishun-ron (Theory of criminal youth)", and commented something along the lines of "How cool is that!" when his "Tower of the Sun" was "eye-jacked".


What dumbfounded visitors to the May exhibition at SNAC even more than this piece, however, was surely the work that the entire event was named after, "Real Times". This one is a video that was shot on 4/11, one month after the earthquake, on the observation tower of the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant. The film shows two men wearing white protective suits. They park their car near the plant’s main gate, run inside and up the tower, where they spray a radiation warning symbol onto a flag that they brought with them. In the background one can see smoke rising from the Reactor 4 building…


Radiation that day was reportedly around 199 microsieverts per hour. While it is unclear whether this is an amount that immediately affects health, the location was only a few hundred meters from the smoke-emitting reactor building, so it is quite clear that the "40 minute round-trip trekking" (from handout) in protective gear was highly physical affair. I'm pretty sure that Okamoto, who claimed that "we have to motivate ourselves anew to throw our own flesh and blood into society and face reality without protective gear" ("Kompei to shui") will turn a blind eye to the "protective gear" used in this case.


"REAL TIMES" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo | REALTOKYO
"REAL TIMES" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo

Many of Chim Pom’s works are complete nonsense, whereas their better works have one thing in common thematically. They all aim to "bring hidden/forgotten things out into the open." In their controversial early work "Super Rat" (2006), for example, the artists caught black rats in the Shibuya underground, and turned them into stuffed "Pikachus". (See "Out of Tokyo 179"). Underneath the flamboyant and frivolous superficial layer of the city exists a deeper infrastructural layer of chaos and pollution. We are normally not aware of it, but "it" is undeniably there. Like the "it" in Stephen King’s novel of the same title.


In the even more controversial "Pika" (2008), Chim Pom wrote just that one little word expressing the flash of the atomic bomb in the form of an airplane’s condensation trail in the sky above Hiroshima. You can read more about this in "Out of Tokyo 198". Leader Ushiro called the work "an attempt to inspire the people in the world to think about the reality of peace, and mirror the state of today’s society with its vague and blurred memories of peace and things past, " adding that "the plane’s gradually vanishing condensation trail symbolized the 'laid-back peaceful views' of contemporary Japan." I think this can be interpreted as saying that they wanted to remind the peace-addicted Japanese society of the "danger that exists (or may come back) at any time."


Just like the above-mentioned works, "REAL TIMES" seems to me like an attempt to reveal "what is definitely there but tends to be pushed to the back of the conscious mind." The meltdown in Fukushima is something that exists for real, and so do the radioactive substances that continue to be released into the air, soil and sea. Even re-criticality cannot be ruled out. But we are so busy with our daily matters that we prefer to avoid facing the fear and stress by blocking the facts from our consciousness, aided also by the lack of detailed information. Forgetting and pretending that there isn't (or wasn't) anything is much easier.


"Kiai 100 renpatsu" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo | REALTOKYO
"Kiai 100 renpatsu" (C) 2011 Chim↑Pom Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo

Nonetheless, it is there, and that’s not only here and now, but it is going to stick around for decades. Disposal is going to cost vast amounts of money, and the number of tourists will decrease. Japanese products no longer sell, and in the long run the yen will weaken, as a result of which we are going to end up in poverty. We will have to be careful with everything from drinking water to food and going outside, and a considerable number of people will be prone to illness. The birthrate will drop, and the average life span will shorten. Even though the "massive leakage" may be stopped, nuclear waste materials will remain for tens of thousands of years. While it is understandable that we don't want to think about this, but that won't render the whole thing non-existent. While 3.11 seemed to mark the end of one "endless daily routine", it marked at once the beginning of another.


In the 1960s, it was Mishima Yukio who rebelled against such forms of "forgetting", and who "threw his own flesh and blood into society and faced reality without protective gear" even more than Okamoto Taro. With the exception of a few plays, short stories and essays, I'm not a big fan of Mishima’s work, but his writings and other statements expressing anxiety about the situation in the late 1960s were eye-opening. Four months and a half before committing suicide in 1970, the year of the Osaka Expo for which Okamoto had made the "Tower of the Sun", Mishima wrote the following.


"I cannot hold much hope for the future of Japan. I have a feeling, and it only gets stronger by the day, that Japan will be no more if it continues on its present path. Japan will disappear, and in its stead, an impersonal, empty, neutrally colored, opulent, shrewd, economic giant will be left standing in a corner of the Far East. Frankly, I don't even feel like talking to people who couldn't care less about this situation." (Sankei Newspaper, July 7, 1970)


Chim Pom’s "master" Aida Makoto is much more influenced by Mishima than any other artist. Even though not as fierce as Aida, who "predicted" the events of 9.11 in "Picture of an Air Raid on New York City" (1996), and painted a literal "heap of corpses" of what appear to be office workers in "Grey Mountain" (2010-11), Chim Pom as well exhibit a sense of discomfort (if not disgust) toward the "impersonal, empty, neutrally colored…" nation.


Chim Pom members Ellie and Ushiro Ryuta | REALTOKYO
Chim Pom members Ellie and Ushiro Ryuta

Chim Pom (and Aida) stress that they pursue no specific political intention, such as promoting "antinuclear" positions for example. While it is of course unverifiable whether or not this is true, both "master" and "pupils" can perhaps be labeled as anti-establishment artists comparable to the likes of Hans Haacke, Antoni Muntadas, Krzysztof Wodiczko, or Ai Weiwei. The establishment, after all, is a machinery that aims to make us "empty" by covering up "things that are there" with neutral colors, and promoting the techniques of oblivion. Both Aida and Chim Pom don't exactly scream out loud, but they do stand up against concealment and forgetting.


(June 16, 2011)

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO