Noi Sawaragi: Notes on Art and Current Events 62

A Restatement: The Art of ‘Ground Zero’ (Part 29)
‘Tanesashi Decontamination 2016’ (III)

Installation view (third floor gallery) of “Shuji Akagi + Kio Kuroda – Tanesashi Decontamination 2016” at Hachinohe City Museum of Art. © ICANO, photo courtesy ICANOF.

So, just where are these temporary storage depots for radioactive material located? As the name suggests, in theory these storage depots are “temporary.” At the same time, because they are “temporary,” they are also extremely dynamic. The radioactive contaminated soil from Akagi’s own house has for the time being been buried in his garden, while at homes that selected a different option such material has been placed in a corner of their property like a tumulus. But if the administrative procedures for dealing with the nuclear disaster in Fukushima proceed smoothly, all this material should gradually be moved to the next location. In fact, the contaminated soil buried at Akagi’s home has already been dug up and transported elsewhere.

These other locations are collective temporary storage depots scattered around Fukushima city, and with Akagi as my guide I made a tour of a number of these depots that are located in places either out of eyeshot or within eyeshot but no longer attracting attention due to their having become everyday “scenes.” Why does Akagi, “tsuchibo” in hand, persist in so tenaciously pursuing these collective temporary storage depots, which are not regarded as particularly problematic, or perhaps semi-unconsciously ignored, by other people? Perhaps this is a result of Akagi having torn himself away from Fukushima city and lived as “an evacuee” – after the nuclear accident, Akagi fled with his family to Aizu where he rented an apartment and lived “temporarily,” commuting every morning in his own car to his workplace in Fukushima city and returning alone to his home on weekends only to concentrate on taking photographs – thereby periodically distancing himself from his home and the surrounding area where temporary storage depots had become everyday scenes. Or perhaps it is attributable to something else, something etched more deeply in Akagi’s mind. Now that he has finished his lengthy period of evacuation and returned with his family to his home in Fukushima city, one imagines this will gradually become clear. Might it further hasten the kind of transformation of Akagi into a figure like Kio Kuroda, mentioned in the previous installment of this column? That we do not know. What we can say at the least is that, even though Akagi has returned home, the problem of the temporary storage depots remains unresolved.

Above: Shuji Akagi – “June 8, 2013.” Below: “November 9, 2014.” Both: © Shuji Akagi, courtesy ICANOF.

Properly speaking, the radioactive material transferred from home temporary storage depots to collective temporary storage depots should next be gradually gathered together at a super-collective temporary storage depot called an interim storage facility, which is designed to store contaminated soil and debris from a wider area. This facility is the responsibility of the state and is supposed to be built on a stretch of land in the “difficult-to-return zone” in Futaba district in the Hama-dori area of Fukushima prefecture where the nuclear accident occurred. However, it would be difficult to say the work surrounding this is proceeding according to plan. In order to build the interim storage facility, the state needs to purchase or lease the land owned by the heads of the households that were forcibly removed from their homes when the area was designated a “difficult-to-return zone,” but this process is proceeding slowly. I attended one of the construction plan briefing sessions in Tokyo (mainly for people who have evacuated to the metropolitan area) and many attendees expressed serious concerns that once they relinquished their land, this interim storage facility would become not a temporary facility as suggested by the term “interim storage,” but a final disposal site, or in other words an immobile landing place.

Notwithstanding its size, the interim storage facility is still only a temporary storage depot for radioactive material with a time limit of 30 years. In other words, the source of the complications surrounding this problem, too, is the question of “temporariness,” in which sense it is essentially no different from the temporary storage depot that was buried in Akagi’s yard. Until a decision is made on a final disposal site, the dynamic mode of the temporary storage depots arising from their temporariness will not start working smoothly. Furthermore, Fukushima prefecture and the municipality in which the interim storage facility is due to be located agreed to its construction on the condition that the final disposal site would not be built in Fukushima prefecture. As for the decision on where in the Japanese archipelago this crucial final disposal site will be built, even an announcement on the candidate sites has yet to be made. In other words, even the “temporary temporary” storage depots that were built due to the fact that the temporariness of the interim storage facility, the super-collective temporary storage depots serving each district, and the temporary storage depots could not be guaranteed are still buried in their original locations because it has not been possible for their contents to be transferred to the next temporary storage depot.

This endless temporary retention naturally gives rise to a kind of “state of constipation” in the temporary storage depots. The dynamic nature of temporary storage depots is essentially guaranteed on the assumption of forward movement. However, with no final disposal site in existence, this distinguishing characteristic has been reversed, and must now move backwards further and further. The temporary storage depots inevitably give rise to temporary temporary storage depots, which in turn give rise to temporary temporary temporary storage depots. If this “temporary temporariness” retreats without end, then ultimately our own bodies will probably end up having to be the final storage facility for this radioactive material. Because unless there is forward movement, the temporary storage depots must inevitably retreat closer and closer to our immediate vicinity. Which means none other than closer and closer to our physical bodies. Compared to the grandiose national project that is the final disposal site, this is something that is alarmingly routine, even familiar, within touching distance whenever and wherever we reach out our hands. Or rather, as if our extended arms themselves are parts of these “facilities,” it represents the very ubiquitization and sharing of temporary storage depots. To put it in extreme terms, when this happens, each and every one of us becomes a moving temporary storage depot.

Only once in the video documenting Akagi’s activities played at the exhibition at the Hachinohe City Museum of Art does Akagi, who travels by bicycle from one temporary storage depot to another without uttering a word the whole time, contact his family on his mobile phone. In the tone of his voice when he responds to a question by saying, “I’m riding my bicycle now” (using the colloquial term “charichari“), I sensed a temporariness very similar to the above-mentioned state of “temporary temporary” (karikari). Could it be that Akagi’s activities of constantly moving around and measuring radiation dosages and continually recording the temporariness of temporary storage depots as if chasing after them have themselves taken on the “temporary temporariness” (karikari-sei) of temporary storage depots?

This strange maneuverability surrounding the fragmentation of temporary storage depots is something the likes of which was completely absent at Chernobyl, despite its similarities to Fukushima as a major nuclear disaster. The Chernobyl disaster, in which radioactive material spread over a wide area as a result of an explosion and fire at a nuclear power plant, contaminated a large area of land and gave rise to an uninhabited landmass that extended over the horizon. The Fukushima disaster, however, has given rise to an unusual contaminated area due to Japan’s small landmass and its status as an archipelago in which, despite the continued presence of slight contamination, people continue to go about their daily lives while conducting decontamination work. The peculiar temporary temporariness of the temporary storage depots scattered about this area has in fact brought about an unusual state of affairs that could best be described as “Japanese-style decontamination.”

Shuji Akagi – “February 13, 2014, Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art.” © Shuji Akagi.

I am reminded of the time in 2013 when I was invited by Akagi to observe a decontamination operation at the Japanese garden at the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art. The people doing the decontamination work were slightly different from normal decontamination workers. Perhaps it was because it was a Japanese garden. Anyway, the people contracted to do this work were local gardeners. We watched as they lifted up the stones, plants and other objects with complex surfaces and without uttering a single word proceeded to scrape moss, dirt and other material from the porous, complicated rounded surfaces covered with hollows and grooves. All the while producing scratching noises (karikari) with the tiny implements they used to clean plants and garden rocks.

Hi Red Center – “Street Cleaning Event” (1964). © Minoru Hirata.

Watching them work, I could even sense a mysterious condition that could only be described as “Zen-like.” And in that place, where the meaning of the activity itself had turned into something akin to a vacuum, I was reminded of the happening, now regarded as historic, in which members of Hi Red Center set about thoroughly cleaning a tree-lined street in Ginza. At the same time I was astonished at the gap between this activity and the fact that it was actually an obvious contaminated area. There was something about it that made me think it could only be described as Japanese-style decontamination. Amid the stasis arising from the inevitable, endless movement back towards our “immediate vicinity,” the temporariness of temporary storage depots has resulted in nothing but “decontamination” that produces nothing but scratching noises, giving rise to “ownerless action” for dealing with the “ownerless property” that is radioactive material.

“Shuji Akagi + Kio Kuroda – Tanesashi Decontamination 2016” was held from August 26 through September 11, 2016 at Hachinohe City Museum of Art.

Noi Sawaragi: Notes on Art and Current Events 1-6

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