Anyone who watched news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 saw an unforgettable sight: ships being sucked into a huge whirlpool. The ensuing accident at the Fukushima nuclear reactor was invisible but also deadly. “The Radiants,” a trenchant show about radiation, was organized by Ei Arakawa and his brother Tomoo, who were born and raised in Fukushima. They make art under the moniker UNITED BROTHERS and curate in borrowed spaces as Green Tea Gallery Worldwide. This exhibition marked the catastrophe’s fourth anniversary.
Erika Kobayashi’s Half-Life Calendar Radium 226 (2014) traces the radioactive isotope from Marie Curie’s discovery to the year 3503, when the radiation from Fukushima will finally dissipate. The collective Chim↑Pom “added” without permission to Taro Okamoto’s 1968 Hiroshima mural, Myth of Tomorrow, in Tokyo’s Shibuya station. Anicka Yi offered an inedible stockpot whose contents included shredded fiberglass, pickled roses, honeycomb, bat virus, and broken fingernails. UNITED BROTHERS’ conceptual soup (made by their mother) from vegetables grown at Fukushima caused concern in London: newspaper reports of it were on view here.
There were well-chosen earlier works in the show, such as Robert Barry’s 0.5 Microcurie Radiation Installation from 1969, Michael Smith’s 1985 DIY fallout-shelter video, and Sigmar Polke’s prints made by exposing photo-sensitive paper to uranium ore (1992). Specially made pieces included Sergei Tcherepnin’s sound installation with a Geiger counter and Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda’s March Painting (2015) using radiation-absorbing Nano Prussian Blue pigment. Kerstin Brätsch’s “Unstable Talismanic Renderings” (2014) radiated visibly. But the standout was Kobayashi’s Jewels (2015), a multipart conceptual narrative connecting the artist’s grandmother Fumiko (a jeweler’s daughter and radiologist’s wife) and a Japanese nuclear scientist, Satoyasu Limori, who spent the war years researching radioactive ore near Fukushima—and went on to invent synthetic jewels.
A version of this story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 102.