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Hiroshima, Japan on August 7th, all images this post FOP, 2015
It was an odd sensation to walk with through the streets of an unfamiliar city. To feel one’s awareness constantly being pulled upward, away from the ground plane — away from the buildings, the gardens, the traffic, people, bikes, rivers and bridges. An invisible weight from above and followed me everywhere I walked. I was in Japan — so much to take in right in front of me — yet the empty sky held tremendous force. For two and half days the feeling did not lift. It was from “up there” that it came — the force of the first atomic bomb used on civilians in the history of the planet. I found myself repeating the facts in my head like a mantra, in order to accept that they could possibly be true:
There were three planes up there. It was a morning, 70 years ago. August 6th, 1945. One plane was filled with scientific equipment. One plane was filled with photography equipment. And one plane, with the name Enola Gay painted on its nose, flown by General Paul Tibbets, held an atomic bomb nicknamed “Little Boy.” The bomb was conceived of on the plateaus of New Mexico. The people in the planes that day were Americans. Right now, I am on the ground in Japan, about 6000 miles from Los Alamos. These Americans didn’t set foot in the city that I am presently walking through. They did not see what I am seeing (they missed the Itsukushima Shrine, dating to around 600 AD, they missed the gardens at Shukkein, they missed the constant roar of the cicadas, which are near deafening here in August). They did not look anyone in the eye, here, on the ground. They flew high over this city that morning. They actually dropped an atomic bomb. They really actually did this. The bomb exploded in the sky over this city — right here. Surface temperatures were over 7000 F and instantly killed tens of thousands of people. The people in the planes didn’t see the strange colors that people on the ground describe witnessing after the flash of light — green, blue, yellow — just before everything went black with rain and fire. The beautiful meandering rivers around me today, they soon held the dead and dying. Before stopping over on Tinian, the plane carrying the bomb came from Wendover, Utah. Which, oddly enough, is a place I have spent several weeks of life over the past decade. I can picture the hangar the Enola Gay departed from, I’ve stood inside its crumbling infrastructure. I am now in Hiroshima.
The event of 8:16am (Japan Time), August 6th, 1945 unleashed nonsensical scales of madness: three planes, hundreds of thousands of lives. Earth materials that took billions of years were deployed by humans in a way that shifted the course of humanity and planetary materiality irrevocably within microseconds. The Anthropocene grew strong wings that day.
For the entire time I was in Hiroshima it was as though three tiny planes were flying overhead.
Enola Gay hangar, from the Limit Case postcard series, smudge studio 2007
On day two in Hiroshima, at the exhibition The 70th Anniversary of the Atomic Bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki: War and Peace, the work of artist Ikuo Hirayama, a Hiroshima survivor, brought me to a standstill. It was as if his piece, Enola Gay (エノアゲイ) had read my mind. Hirayama is perhaps best known for his large, multi-panel painting, The Holocaust at Hiroshima, which was also on view. But here was a small work that showed exactly what I had been imagining rendered in simple watercolor: three B29 bombers suspended in transparent air. The plane in the foreground was delicately painted with “Enola Gay.” The work was so matter of fact. It appeared to be a humble attempt at making sense of how these planes could be the catalyst for setting into motion events so immense and inconceivable.
Today Hiroshima is a lively city that has been entirely rebuilt. It’s filled with real people, parks, gardens, architecture and art (some of the best in the world). Even when taking public transportation around the city, a visitor doesn’t pass out of the range of areas affected by the blast. But this fact is difficult to hold in mind. Yet, when one encounters the iconic, disfigured wreckage of the Atomic Bomb Dome building, deep material realities rise to awareness: at human body scale, there was no escape.
Memorials and markers can be encountered far beyond the Memorial Park area, in alleys and in gardens, distant from the city center.
Rather than attempt to describe in detail the intimately personal artifacts, ephemera and stories housed by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and surrounding Park, we invite readers to experience this place on their own time and terms. For many years we’ve appreciated the phrase “feel it for yourself,” which we perhaps ironically, gleaned from nuclear physicist Freeman Dyson. These words ask for a slowing down and require a “being there” with all senses — even as we know that the “there” we are feeling is not the “there” of that day in 1945.
For a decade FOP has been devoted to creating “aesthetic prostheses” as provocations for public audiences to expand their capacities for imagining and acting in relation to deep geologic time. The nuclear has been central to this work, because of its entanglement with profound and vast geologic time scales (past and future). We have “felt it for ourselves” at the open house of the first atomic test, Trinity, and alongside the craters from subsequent tests that will reverberate in perpetuity in the exclusion zones of the Nevada Test Site. We have also stood before a model of “Little Boy” (nearly identical to one found inside the Hiroshima Peace Museum) at a small local museum in Wendover, Utah. Recently, we spent weeks of our lives traveling U.S Interstate/highway shipping routes for nuclear materials destined for deep geologic storage — a process that became necessary only post-1945 and will remain a pressing necessity for all remaining human history.
These experiences paved the way for and framed my arrival in Hiroshima, under a sweltering summer sun.
Atomic Bomb Memorial Mound (ashes of tens of thousand of people are interred here).
After touring the Peace Memorial Museum and Park, I sought refuge from the afternoon heat in the Hiroshima Museum of Contemporary Art at the top of a beautiful hill. Several important shows are on view in honor of the 70 year anniversary. One exhibition is aptly named Teach Us to Outgrow Our Madness. Another, Life = Work, includes work that artists have dedicated nearly their entire lives to creating in response to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
I was struck by my near total unfamiliarity with the artists being shown. I felt it as a deep loss.
The exhibitions I saw in Hiroshima that weekend weren’t offered as context for debating whether dropping the bomb was right or wrong, ended the war early or saved lives (American or Japanese). They were apolitical, and simply offered room after room of deep, human expression of what it was like to actually be on the ground, living through an atomic explosion and its aftermath. I was left wondering what might result if more people everywhere had the chance to encounter and spend time with these works, to simply stop and be with what actually happened to the humans living in Hiroshima on that day.
I offer the following list of works for consideration and personal research: Chimei Hamada, Elegy for a New Conscript: A Flabby Sun Rises, Toshi and Iri Maruki, The Hiroshima Panel, 6th August, Yasuo Kazuki, Stars (Barbed Wire) Summer, Yoshiro Fukui, Hiroshima Atomic Bomb, Ikuo Hirayama, Enola Gay, Ihei Kimura, Living Hiroshima, Hisashi Akutagawa, Child Drinking Water (Water Ota River 4), Shomei Tomatsu, Ms. Urakawa Shizuka and her daughters: Chika, Tomoyo and Mika (from left) ART EYE, Sadanobu Otsu, Black Rain, Miyako Ishiuchi’s Hiroshima series, Masahiro Usami, Hayashi Yuriko Hiroshima 2014.
The last exhibition I saw before leaving Hiroshima concluded with museum staff gently urging me to enter a small, final gallery. I was greatly relieved to be met with small cases of ceramic works, including many beautiful tea bowls.
The creators of this culminating exhibition share incredibly insightful words in their curatorial statement — offering a reminder that how we practice daily life, including seemingly mundane exchanges between humans that are culture — are actually at the core of the world we continuously co-create together. And I feel this statement offers a start toward fashioning a reply to the question that I brought with me to Japan : “What does it take to be with what is right now disappearing, or perhaps is already gone?”
Commemorations of the Exhibition “War and Peace” The Craftwork of Japan and Asia — Connected Hearts, Foundation of Peace:
“We have made “Craftwork of Japan and Asia” as one of the pillars of our collection in order to deepen the understanding toward Asia through craftwork familiar in our daily lives. Craftwork enriches a variety of situations in our daily lives and connects the hearts of assembled people. It has been observed that hopes for peace and prosperity are shared among craftwork’s designs even when the place and time are far away. Moreover, craftwork has encouraged the exchange of people, culture, economy and technology by circulating as commodities and gifts. Positive measures have been taken to build a peaceful world without war based on the principle of “creating peace” in Hiroshima Prefecture. Under these circumstances, exchanges through culture can be effective for the formation of a fundamental undercurrent in fostering mutual understanding and respect. The world is connected by culture and there is a force that connects the world vividly appears in craftwork that reflects the hopes of people intimately and had been circulated across national borders [my bold]. We would like to make this an opportunity to consider maintaining and building peace with culture through the “Craftwork of Japan and Asia.”
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