There's Only One Way to Safely See This Fukushima Art Show

Though an exhibition in Fukushima, Japan features work by Trevor Paglen, Taryn Simon, and Ai Weiwei, no one's allowed to visit.

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May 26 2017, 1:25am

Photos by Andrew Nunes, courtesy of the artists and Art in General.

Somewhere in the desolate, radioactive landscape that resulted from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan, lies an art exhibition featuring work by renowned artists like Trevor Paglen, Taryn Simon, and Ai Weiwei. The catch is that no one can visit.

Don't Follow the Wind, organized by Japanese art collective Chim-Pom, is physically inaccessible to viewers, partly due to the well-concealed anonymity of its location but also because it lies in the restricted access exclusion zone of Fukushima. The show was installed just over 2 years ago, but now, Chim-Pom has devised a way for viewers to immerse themselves in the exhibition without risking hazardous radiation contamination—through a VR experience titled A Walk in Fukushima.

Publicly launched last month at Brooklyn nonprofit Art in General, the VR experience was part 360-degree view of the exhibition, with the artworks amusingly obscured by the bodies of the artists and curators, perhaps to continue the notion of inaccessibility, and part audio recording of an actual ex-resident of Fukushima who was displaced by the nuclear disaster. Due to the hidden nature of the artworks and the inability for the viewer to control the experience, A Walk in Fukushima felt more like an autonomous artwork exploring what life post-Fukushima is like, rather than a virtual exhibition walkthrough.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the presentation were the headsets through which you viewed the VR experience. Rather than your run-of-the-mill, technical Oculus Rift apparatus, each headset was a handcrafted helmet embedded with a hidden VR system. These tall, gangly, assemblages were each made by a different member of artist Bontaro Dokuyama's family, all of whom reside near the exclusion zone and were affected by the 2011 disaster.

Each VR helmet possessed a distinct appearance and were accompanied by handwritten notes shedding light on their backstories. The helmet created by the artist's grandmother incorporated a red cushion on top. The note reveals it's the same cushion she used to protect her head during and after the earthquake that triggered the nuclear spill, as objects fell upon her without warning. Fake persimmons dangled from the bottom of the helmet, which were made by a neighbor who previously grew persimmons, but had to quit after her garden was contaminated in the accident.

Although the VR experience provided a glimpse into the complexities behind Don't Follow the Wind, the future accessibility of the exhibition is ultimately uncertain. Perhaps the area will be deemed safe in the distant future, and people will finally view the artworks in person, but it seems more likely that the works will remain hidden and unseen, blending into the abandoned Fukushima debris. In any case, this is an unorthodox instance of an exhibition that doesn't want to be seen, but certainly wants to be talked about, and Chim-Pom and the rest of the team behind the project are doing a fantastic job at crafting this precise narrative.

More information about Don't Follow the Wind can be found on its equally elusive, blank website. As a narrator on the website says, "What cannot be perceived has an immense power."

Related:

The Radioactive Art Exhibit You Can't See | Don't Follow The Wind

Visualizing Fukushima's Landscape of Radiation

Japanese Photographers Reflect on Fukushima