“A sense of the unnatural is portrayed …”
FUKUSHIMA → CYMRU
Science meets Art in an Exposé of Nuclear Meltdown
Bright yellow AA roadsigns around the village of Newborough in Anglesey direct you to FUKUSHIMA → CYMRU. Against the backdrop of hazy Snowdonia ranges and lush farmland, these might seem incongruous. But when you realise that plans are in place for a vast new Hitachi nuclear power station to be built a mere twenty miles away, the idea of mounting a local exhibition that documents the Fukushima experience might suddenly appear timely. ‘20 millisieverts per year’, the exhibition by artist Lis Fields, shown at the Pritchard Jones Institute in Newborough through August, 2017, is an exploration of the effects of the earthquake and tsunami which caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in 2011. The title of the exhibition refers to the maximum dose of radiation to which the citizens of Fukushima can now be exposed to in a year. (Worldwide, the maximum permitted non-occupational dose per citizen is 1 millisievert per year.)
Lis Fields travelled into the heart of Fukushima with Green Cross, an international organisation dedicated to assisting people affected by the environmental consequences of wars, conflicts and industrial calamities. Six years after the tsunami, the area is still a radioactive nightmare. Fields’ approach is objective, scientific, her extensive research underpinned by interviews with those affected. Her photographs document the nature of the disaster in epic and understated images. There are deserted urban landscapes, farmlands of radioactive topsoil, bagged up but with nowhere to go. The human tragedy is communicated through the mundane – abandoned bicycles, shattered windows and domestic debris. The testimonies of displaced communities expose the complex, disturbing and unresolved issues, described by Fields in the accompanying articles.
In an adjoining room is an audiovisual installation, where we are compelled to watch the explosions again and again. In a collaborative piece with Fields, musicians Cian Ciarán (Super Furry Animals) and Meilyr Tomos and multidisciplinary arts collective ffloc, original film footage is interleaved with newsreel and interviews from multiple sources, in eleven discrete five-minute sequences which form a whole, through slow-mo, repetition and abstractions, bound by the tidal rise and fall of Ciarán and Tomos’ soundscape. The horror communicates itself through the sublime; pink cherry blossom sways in the breeze as we begin to understand that the changes wrought by the radiation at an organic level mean that cellular structures have been fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Cinematic, inorganic geometric forms are laid over natural landscapes, a graphic mayhem on acid orange, binding and contorting, linking us in a global web in which everything is connected.
Fukushima is an oingoing nuclear disaster of the highest level, ranked at number 7 on the international scale with Chernobyl. Former Prime Minister Naoto Kan declared the need for Japan to end its reliance on nuclear power and to promote renewable sources of energy, such as solar – a philosophy shared by other forward-thinking European countries. This exhibition provides a context for reflection and debate, on the fragile ecology of our global society in both scientific and human terms.
Jane Parry, 2017
Jane Parry is an Author, Designer and Academic
‘Fukushima→Cyrmru’: a review of the photographic exhibition held at the Pritchard Jones Institute, Ynys Môn (Anglesey), 5 – 31 August 2017
This exhibition by the artist Lis Fields was first drawn to my attention by Shigeo Kobayashi when it was shown at the Conway Hall in London in April 2017.
Following a visit to Fukushima by Lis under the auspices of Green Cross Switzerland in 2016, she has been able to portray, through a series of powerful images and text, the pain and suffering of many tens of thousands of residents in the prefecture following the explosions at three of the Daiichi nuclear reactors in 2011.
My initial impression was that the exhibition conveyed an important message for those communities living with nuclear power and that it had a relevance for the people of Ynys Môn (Anglesey) where Horizon, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hitachi, propose to develop two new reactors at Wylfa.
Lis agreed to a joint venture with PAWB, and to hold the exhibition in the Prichard Jones Institute at Niwbwrch/Newborough, an iconic building established in 1905 by Sir John Prichard Jones [Dickens & Jones]to help educate the local people of his home area, a rural and deprived corner of north-west Wales. The exhibition ran for the month of August, its onset coinciding with the National Eisteddfod of Wales, held this year at Bodedern to the north of the island.
Here, the original exhibition was adapted with the addition of a video based on film footage from Lis. This involved input by Joel from the collective Ffloc, a `soundscape` from Cian Ciarán of the Super Furry Animals and the help of a close colleague Meilyr Tomos.
The main thrust of the original exhibition was the threat posed by the Japanese Government in withdrawing support for the many tens of thousands of evacuees who had been forced to flee their homes because of the high radiation levels encountered in 2011. In 2017 the Japanese Government re-defined the level of radiation regarded as `safe`, thereby coercing the evacuees to move back to previously restricted areas – and all of this in the name of showing to the outside world that normality had returned to Fukushima with the pending Olympics in Japan in 2020. A promise had been made to this effect by Shinzo Abe, the Prime Minister to the International Olympic Committee at the time their bid was considered in 2013.
Uncertain as to the likely outcome at the outset, the exhibition proved to be an interesting `experiment` in communication by PAWB attracting some 700 people during its duration. It was also, I believe, a great success challenging many pre-conceptions and advancing the debate around nuclear energy on Ynys Môn.
The nature of the audience was varied. A mix of the local population, visitors to the National Eisteddfod, tourists and casual callers stimulated by the AA signage, all showed a real interest in the work. Many described it as very professional, others that it was very educational and informative. A number of local children visited and became involved in discussion.
Most attendees expressed surprise at the lack of publicity for the situation in Fukushima today, the media having lost interest over time, over six years having passed since the original ordeal. Many visitors expressed shock at what they witnessed and some were clearly moved by the experience, even to the point of having to leave, finding it too traumatic.
No mention was made of Wylfa anywhere in the exhibition. Interestingly, however, a very high percentage of attendees raised the question, primarily seeking a response as to whether Wylfa B would be going ahead. Many asked was it a `done deal` believing, as they read and hear regularly in the press and media, that it was inevitable. In the same breath they invariably expressed concerns should that prove to be the case. The concerns related to radioactive waste on the site, the scale of the operation, in-migration of thousands of migrant workers, the impact on the language and culture of the area, social cohesion and the impact it would have on housing, tourism and the environment. Fears of terrorism, cyber attacks and the potential for disastrous human and mechanical error were also raised.
People also expressed strong views about the cost, and the related opportunity costs, of new nuclear with its inevitable impact on the capacity to develop alternative renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Many pointed to the natural resources inherent to the region and the wish to see those as being the main focus for employment in the future.
The rest of this review can be read here
Dr Carl Iwan Clowes OBE, 2017
Dr Carl Iwan Clowes OBE is a Physician, Diplomat and Social Entrepreneur