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Japan Syndrome—Kansai

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Tadasu Takemine, Japan Syndrome–Kansai, 2011, still from Full HD video, 30 min 39 sec. © Tadasu Takamine / Courtesy ANOMALY

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In an Australian premiere, fine print present Tadasu Takamine’s Japan Syndrome–Kansai, the first in a series of films and expansive installations which have travelled the world.

Tadasu Takamine is one of the most controversial, thought provoking, and irreverent media, video and installation artist working in Japan. He began as a member of the influential Japanese multimedia-performance group Dumb Type, which has existed since the 1980s and investigated contemporary biopolitics.

The consequences for Fukushima, and Japan as a whole, remain as invisible as they are immeasurable, but they nevertheless encroach on everyday life. The expansive video work Japan Syndrome is a continuation of his research into biopolitics, taking post-Fukushima Japan as a case study. The work constructs a theatrical space in which the conflict-filled domestic sphere of post-Fukushima Japan, and perhaps beyond it, is re-enacted in a minimal yet condensed fashion.

To conceive this work, the performers recorded real conversations with shop employees in Kyoto, Yamaguchi and Mito from 2011 to 2013, which have been then re-enacted as performances in a studio, and recorded as the final form of this piece. In each re-enactment a protagonist subtly asks a shopkeeper or waiter probing questions regarding the origins of certain products: where fish were sourced, whether fruit has been tested and what is deemed safe to eat. With always an extraordinary politeness, the protagonists discuss radiation level check system, government responsibility, and decline of the region. In a very minimal and simple way, Japan Syndrome examines the consequences of the radiation for Fukushima, and Japan as a whole, which remain invisible as immeasurable, but they nevertheless encroach on everyday life. It also reveals the constant changes in the social conditions of the country and the population’s consciousness after Fukushima disaster, addressing how individuals resist to the growing collective consciousness and social oppression, towards the spectre of an uncertain future and the unquantifiable damage that has been caused.

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The impetus behind this series was a conversation I had with staff at an aquarium I visited in September 2011 to ask about nuclear contamination in the ocean. I was concerned about fish being contaminated and figured that I might be able to learn something about this at the aquarium, so I went. But as soon as I mentioned the words ‘nuclear radiation,’ they openly treated me as a suspicious character. I guess they were being honest when they said, ‘We don’t have any information regarding pollution’ – that can’t be helped. But, why did they have to put up a wall? For me, this incident seemed to symbolise nuclear radiation, which can’t be seen with the naked eye.

I admit that these videos will appear a little violent. I wanted to make sure that the responses were natural, not guided, and also that we didn’t aid in spreading any harmful rumours. When we went to the Oarai, a fishing port on the east coast near Mito, I thought it might not work so well with a Japanese person, so I asked a foreigner to help instead. Naturally the dialogues were edited and practiced in advance, but basically these are the exchanges that took place in situ. However, these are not simply videos of the actual exchanges. They are restaged because I wanted to get rid of any superfluous information. Also, by making the format uniform, I thought this would make the dialogues’ content and unexpected nuances even clearer. This work is simply a sample investigation, so it can’t be used to contemplate something concrete, such as the fate of Japan. Then again, neither can I say that it is totally arbitrary. What one must remember is that all the people who appear in the video, and everyone around the world, are victims of a nuclear accident. Nobody wants to consciously eat contaminated food, or to make others eat it. But because there is no clear information, the interpretation of the information we do have is simply left up to each individual. I wanted to see how one’s confrontation with such information might manifest itself differently from person to person, through their behaviour.

Tadasu Takamine