FUKUSHIMA | (A)drift

On 11 March 2011, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake - Japan's most powerful since records began - struck the country 400 kms North-East of Tokyo.  Within minutes, an immense surge of water enveloped the North-Eastern coast as a tsumani swept cars, ships and buildings away, crushing coastal communities and leaving 20,000 people dead or missing.
In the Fukushima prefecture, where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is located, the impact of the disaster was particularly acute. Radiation leaked from the plant after a series of fires and explosions damaged four of the plant's six reactor buildings, with serious failures in the plant's cooling system being at the heart of the problem. Thousands of people were evacuated as radiation leaked from the plant. A 20 km (12.5 mile) exclusion zone was put in place leaving many in the community homeless. Radiation means the area surrounding the plant will remain uninhabitable indefinitely. The nuclear crisis revealed serious flaws in the nuclear industry's regulatory systems and safety standards and has sent shock waves of concern around the globe.

The Daiichi plant is in cold shutdown at present and Prime Minister Mr Yoshihiko Noda has promised that over the coming decades it will be decommissioned. In his first speech in office on 2 September, Mr Noda confirmed that the Japanese government will continue to phase out nuclear power, by neither building new nuclear power plants nor extending the life spans of outdated ones; however, nuclear power plants which are currently sitting idle in the wake of the Fuskushima disaster will be restarted in order to help Japan's immediate demands for energy. Mr Noda also pledged to rebuild the devastated towns along the coast. 

What can we - citizens of one global community - possibly do to make a difference in times of crisis like these? I was watching the news on our local television station when the regular broadcast was interrupted as an emergency announcement came in. I watched in horror and disbelief as images of those unstoppable waters streamed onto my screen, live and unedited. Though my body let me know in no uncertain terms that this is really happening, I quite literally could not get my head around it. 

Not knowing what else to do in response to this huge-scale tragedy, I decided to create a meditative film as a prayer for the people of Japan. I had recently completed an installation work titled 'DRIFT' and on the day I went in to the gallery to dismantle it, spontaneously filmed a friend 'hand-dancing' in slow motion in front of the 1000 paper boats I'd mounted onto the wall. The connection between the number of boats I had made and the 1000 origami cranes intended by Sadako Sasaki in the aftermath of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings struck me as particularly poignant. 

Recalling words from Seamus Heaney's Peninsula poem, The Sea is the land's edge also, and my friend Marylinn Kelly's words It is all one water - a finger in a tide pool brings us all together, friends and I gathered together with a box of votive candles and went down to the sea shore. We scooped salt into glass laboratory beakers, placed the candles into these and positioned them on the sand a few feet ahead of the rising tide. As night fell and the tide swirled in, we took turns to light the candles and kept a short vigil of silence.  

drift |drift|verb [ intrans. ]be carried slowly by a current of air or water the cabin cruiser started to drift downstream figurative excited voices drifted down the hall.

adrift |əˈdrift|adjective [ predic. & adverb(of a boat or its passengers) floating without being either moored or steered

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . . . ~ . . ~ ~ ~ ~. . . . ~ ~ ~ . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . . . . . . ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . . . . ~ ~ ~ . . ~ . . ~ . . ~~. . . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ ~ ~ . . . ~ ~ . . . . ~ . . ~ . . . . ~ ~ 

For the installation DRIFT, my task was to produce a thousand paper boats (made in three different sizes to create subtle spatial tensions) and to mount these on the gallery wall. I would then project a silent film over the paper boats showing a bamboo flotilla adrift under the sea ice in Antarctica.

I wanted the film part of this installation to be circular in structure; i.e. looped so there would be a timeless quality to the experience. I wanted no clear beginning, middle or end, nor any familiar points of reference; nothing explicit in terms of 'statements of context' or intent. There would be no narration and no music; nothing more than the play of light and dark and an ocean of static (on the wall) and floating (in the film) boats to draw people into a dreamlike space and keep them buoyant whilst there. 

The paper I use to make most of my boats is 300gsm cotton. For DRIFT, I used sheets left over from the printing, in 2007, of my poetry collection. Piles of proofs would ordinarily have been thrown away, and renegaded to the rubbish tip but thankfully I was present at the time the book went to press and was able to rescue hundreds of beautiful, creamy, acid-free paper for future projects.

In a way, these small boats are messengers, each one carrying a fragment of our common story on its surfaces - a lithographic drawing, a few lines of poetry.

Making paper boats is an excellent steadying exercise. I recommend you try it. It has a similar effect (on the mind, at least) as yoga does. There's something about the repetition and focus and the accompanying head-clearing rhythm that does it, I think. It feels more like meditation than obsessive industry. My intention? To say something about community - that we're a kind of constellation composed of many parts. Alone we are flimsy, fragile, susceptible to life's storms. ALL ONE we become an armada, joined and strengthened in purpose. I'd like to invite people in then to partake and participate for an extended moment. 

147 boats packed together make a mandala, a paper buoy, a kina (sea urchin). . . 


Just a few quick words about my boat-making process, because the exhibition's opening an hour from now. Making these boats has been enormously soothing during these past hectic weeks. I finished mounting the installation in the Blue Oyster gallery yesterday. . . they're in a room of their own, occupy one full wall from North to South and West to East. For many reasons, I have more depth of feeling for this piece than any other I've made in thirty years of art-making - which says something, doesn't it? It has peeled back the shadows and opened up a myriad new spaces; has contained me and taken me traveling in ways no other 'static' piece has. I've come to see myself and my loved ones more clearly as a direct result of my involvement with this work; these are truths to be grateful for. My hope now is that Drift will go on to bring a sense of calm and replenishment to others who come to experience it. 


Blue is vagabond amongst colours.

Reckless, untamed, it disembodies
whatever becomes caught in it.

Once, I brushed the surface 
of a boat blue; within moments 
there were the ocean and sky - 
no longer a boat in view. 

And have you heard? Blue 
has an appetite for monsters.
Stampeding and bellowing 
like shapes fall into themselves
slip down the throat of blue 
into water the inside colour
of glass.

Imagine a slow drunkenness
on vapours of blue. Easy it is 
to spin dizzy just at the thought
of it coupling some distance 
from shore, at sea with rose madder 
or gold. If you close your eyes
tightly, I think you will find blue
coiling a wind rope, coaxing lines 
of water and air from currents 
of emerald and indigo. 


The following response to this work arrived from a friend in the US - 

". . . I've been following with interest and delight your progress with the boats, and not infrequently find myself musing on the project's many meanings. The images you've given us on the blog -- of the boats in ones and twos, arrayed in rank and file, in a nested circle -- have been gorgeously suggestive. I have grown fond of these small paper barques, their grace, their simplicity, their innocence. I'm charmed by the picture of them clamped with clothespins for gluing -- 'watching' them being made like that resonates through the word craft, as boat, as process, as workmanship.

It's when I imagine them installed as you described last week, rising up the wall, that I am most moved by your concept. Despite an undeniable innate dignity, there is also something comic about each boat, poignantly so; a delicacy that becomes almost cartoonish. To consider each unit on its own, it's hardly a boat at all, in a sense, as much the idea of a boat, a boat dream. All alone, there isn't one that could survive a bathtub, much less be seaworthy. And yet, to consider them together, they become mighty, a flotilla, as you've said, or an armada, as one of your blog crew suggested. And herein lies the great power of your poem (for I agree with you, the installation is fundamentally a song) as it reflects on the human condition. 

Like your boats, we too are vessels, noble in our aspirations, but a bit comic as well when we propose our inviolability against the world, or imagine ourselves as self somehow ending at our skin. Our vulnerability belies such a claim.  (Indeed, despite its balletic grandeur, there is something existentially disquieting about the film in this regard, a sense of each boat drifting in its own isolation, at the whim of the currents. To end up belly up under the ice is a grim fate.)  It is not as separate vessels, but together, as a collective, united, ascending soul, that the boats achieve their highest nobility. . . and become something nearly indomitable. " Timothy Cahill

No comments:

Post a Comment