“Fire that Doesn’t Go Out” Sheds Light on Nuclear Issues

Joelle Lingat, Staff Writer

Ignorance is bliss. Or is it? The recent installation of “The Fire that Doesn’t Go Out” engages directly with this question. The exhibit opened to the public March 1, drawing a crowd of approximately 80 patrons to the Baron Gallery. The exhibition, which was co-curated by Nanette Yannuzzi-Macias, associate professor of Art, and Sylvia Watanabe, associate professor and co-director of Creative Writing, represents one part of a multi-level event comprised of a symposium, a mini-course and a design and writing competition.

First proposed by Professor Watanabe late last spring, the symposium itself, titled “Fukushima: Lessons Learned,” will take place March 9-10, and the exhibition will remain on view through March 30.

“During the early weeks of the nuclear crisis at Fukushima, it became clear in comparing Japanese and foreign news sources that there wasn’t a lot of good information available from either,” said Watanabe. “The American sources — even the venerable New York Times — seemed to play up the disaster angle, while the Japanese sources repeated what they were being told by government and Tokyo Electric Power Company sources. Ordinary people, in Japan and the U.S. and elsewhere, who understood that we are regularly lied to or deliberately not informed about nuclear issues, generated rumor and panic to fill the gap.”

Watanabe also made it clear that the decision to include an art exhibit in addition to the symposium was made at the very beginning of the process. Through a network of connections, recommendations and friends, the organizers were able to recruit Oberlin grads, high school students and professional artists to be involved in the exhibit. The pieces feature a variety of media, ranging from the more traditional ink on paper, to telephones, original scores and videos. The diversity of representations speaks to the far-reaching, global implications of the issues addressed by the show.

“For me, it is very hard to be here in the U.S., so far away from Japan, when my friends in Japan are organizing, protesting, discussing about the issue of nuclear energy and their future,” said Migiwa Orimo, one of the artists. “Having the event like this brings the issue here in the U.S., right where we live, as something we have to embrace; as something that is our issue, not somebody else’s problem oversea[s]. We need to educate ourselves — science, history of U.S./Japan nuclear energy policy, etc.”

As noted in Orimo’s artist statement, her work is the third installment of a series that delves into the “notions of ‘slippage’ (or the points of disjunctions): interrupted continuity of land and time; the fragility of connection; mistakes and failures.” Her featured work reflects this theme in the context of the Great Tohõku Earthquake in Japan on March of last year.

Yuichiro Nishizawa, another artist, gave a talk on Thursday, March 8 at the gallery. Nishizawa designs and builds furniture, teaches college level art and technology courses, and works for museums and galleries in New York City. “I was compelled because something in me needed to be expressed,” he said. “For me, often creating a physical form and the process of that itself transcend the speech and the writing.”

Later on that same day, elin o’Hara slavick also gave an artist talk titled, “After Aftermath” which was held in Hallock Auditorium. Slavick is a distinguished term professor of art at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although her drawings were created before the Fukushima incident, they still revolve around the idea of nuclear energy and its repercussions. Her husband, epidemiologist David Richardson, will be on one of the symposium’s panels as well.

“Art and science have always intersected/overlapped/informed each other,” she said in an e-mail interview. “Nothing changes the world alone. We all need each other. I place my faith in humanity because it is all we have and we need everyone.”

Both slavick and Watanabe emphasized the importance of art in bringing a relatively human perspective to global disasters.

“The arts are not a panacea, but they can help us to live with large uncertainties; to find a way of imagining our way through them,” said Watanabe. “The arts give a human face to the numbers. They remind us that statistical populations are communities of human beings. By opening the door of empathy, they show that ‘over there’ is not so very far away. That ‘them’ is us.”

“The Fire That Doesn’t Go Out” will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays except for March 25) until Friday, March 30, 2012, although it is open for additional hours during the week of March 4.