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Why Japanese artist Takashi Kuribayashi braved Fukushima’s radiation on a surfboard

He once ventured into devastated Fukushima to enact the ideas behind his works.

He had a nightmare about his mask falling off and inhaling plutonium the night before. But, when the time came, Takashi Kuribayashi donned his customised wetsuit and mask, stood on his specially made surfboard and rode the waves into the devastated Fukushima nuclear zone, a year after the tsunami, hazard warning be damned.

A part of him registered the serene beauty of the seashore, as the plant’s cement barriers had been swept away – that is, until he smashed into debris stirred up by the waves. He knew it was illegal – he scanned the area for police every 30 minutes – and was aware of the danger of radiation exposure, but the Japanese artist had a mission.

BOUND BY LIGHTNING Kuribayashi elaborates on his themes of boundaries and unity in Hermes’ window series titled Resonance Of Nature, on display until March.

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“I have two faces: the human and the artist,” says the 58-year-old Nagasaki native who studied art in Japan and Germany and who has exhibited his installations worldwide. “The human is fearful, but the artist says I have to do it. If I focus on safety, the work wouldn’t be created the way it should be.”

The resulting 14-minute film, Tornado 2012, Fukushima 20km New Border, captures the grittiness and emptiness of the no-go zone, with footage of the artist wandering in the wilderness with his surfboard. He had been fired up to do the project after discovering that a year after the 2011 disaster, Japanese attitude towards nuclear energy had not changed.


We play a word association game with the artist

Cruelty – Human
Climate change – Unnatural
Love – The most important thing
Bird – Desire of flight

“The artist is a medium too,” he says. “If the regular media cannot tell because the topic is sensitive, then the artist has to tell.” From a personal perspective, the venture allowed him, for the first time, to put action to the idea behind his works, which look at nature, boundaries both physical and metaphysical, and the truth being found in invisible places. “Before, the message was hidden in my work. This time, I decided to show my inside outside (sic).”

His work is on display in the windows of the Hermes store in Liat Towers until March. Titled Resonance Of Nature, it consists of three installations, one of which employs neon light twisted to represent lighting connecting four realms: above and below ground; the tropics and a winter scape.

“If the regular media cannot tell because the topic is sensitive, then the artist has to tell.”

Says Kuribayashi: “Lightning is a symbol of power connecting sky and ground. It is energy; it creates fear.” The ragged bolt unites the four realms in an instant, showing no matter where people are, they are connected in that moment in time.

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Kuribayashi says he’s not an activist, but it’s clear that he searches for forces that unite people in his examination of boundaries. For the Yatai Trip Project that he started in 2009, he travelled to the borders of countries – that which divides North from South Korea and San Sebastian from France, for example – with a wooden cart, a yatai, used by typical street vendors. When the shutters of the yatai are closed, it looks like a boring box, but when in use, it “blossoms like a flower”, inviting the outside in. “I use this system to connect people at the country borders. We would buy food, cook, drink, play the guitar, and invite people to join.”

The project was interrupted by the tsunami and is on hold, as Kuribayashi decides how it fits into his progress as an artist.

Perhaps the tumult of world events lately will encourage him to roll out his cart once more.