The Atomic Artists

Activist Art Challenges a Post-Disaster Japan

In the weeks and months after March 2011's devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown, the Tokyo-based art collective Chim↑Pom created a variety of pieces, from installation art to videos, representing a country in transition. "There's no way we can continue living like before," says Chim↑Pom member Ellie. "So many more young people are trying to tell the truth to the public. We should work to provide opportunities to reflect on what's happened."

Here are several pieces from their March 2011 Real Times exhibit in Tokyo.

Slideshow: Real Times

The Real Times exhibit space.photo 1
Erokitel A libido electricity-generating machine, symbolizing how alternative energy can be powered by sexual desire. Chim↑Pom placed a fake advertisement in a tabloid newspaper for a call girl; the machine lights up every time someone calls the number in the ad.photo 2
Never Give Up A tribute to Sunao Tsuboi, a Hiroshima survivor who has been spreading the "Never Give Up" message as the chair of the Japan Confederation of Atomic and Hydrogen Bomb Sufferers Organization.photo 3
Japanese Dog A dog Chim↑Pom found at a house that partially collapsed during the earthquake.photo 4
Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap The title was originally derived from a AC/DC song, which then became known in Japan through a charismatic cartoon character who possessed the power to manipulate his enemies. Chim↑Pom's piece represents the idea that people can conduct brutal acts with great ease, as represented by the nuclear crisis.photo 5
Without Say Goodbye A scarecrow wearing a protective suit and gas mask in the field closest to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. A homage to the plant's workers.photo 6
Level7 A painting about Fukushima designed to fit in seamlessly with Taro Okamoto's Myth of Tomorrow, a mural about Japan's atomic history exhibited at the Shibuya train station in Tokyo.photo 7
Radiated Flower Harmony A collaboration with flower artist Junichi Kakizaki. Chim↑Pom gathered irradiated plants on a trip to Fukushima, decontaminated the materials and worked with Kakizaki to create an arrangement.photo 8
A different view of the exhibit space; enter through the "Warning!! Radiation Area" doorway to watch video.photo 9
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The Real Times exhibit also included the following video pieces:

100 Cheers

A few weeks after the tsunami, the Chim↑Pom collective traveled to a fishing village in Fukushima. Hand in hand with some young locals from the community, they created a video piece that became an expression of solidarity. Anyone in the circle could ad-lib lines, and they ranged from talk of the meltdown -- "Radiation won't defeat us!" -- to non sequiturs like "I want a girlfriend!"

Real Times

On April 11, 2011, the one-month anniversary of the earthquake, Chim↑Pom artists traveled to the Fukushima Daiichi plant wearing Hazmat suits. Collective leader Ryuta Ushiro describes the scene: "We parked our car at the main gate of the plant, and there is an overlook within the premises of the plant. That overlook was built to gain the residents' understanding for the nuclear power plant, and it had become a place where people see the first sunrise of the year. … We walked to the overlook and got out our white flag, and painted in red the rising sun of the flag, which comes from the sunrise. And then we altered the flag ... in the image of the radiation symbol."

Level7

Chim↑Pom rogue-installed Level7, an addition to the mural Myth of Tomorrow, a famous '60's-era painting by artist Taro Okamoto that's located in Tokyo's Shibuya subway station.

Myth of Tomorrow is Okamoto's depiction of devastation caused by nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the U.S. in 1945. After going missing for almost 40 years, the mural was discovered in Mexico in 2003. Chim↑Pom's addition, which fit into a missing corner of the mural, represented the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Within an hour of its installation, according to Chim↑Pom artist Ryuta Ushiro, "there was the first post about it on Twitter. The tweet was about whether Myth of Tomorrow foretold Fukushima. So this prediction myth spread like crazy."

Level7 was taken down by authorities a day after it was installed.

All art © Chim↑Pom · Courtesy of Mujin-to Production, Tokyo

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Posted July 26, 2011

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