The artists picture the space installation as their responses to the aftermath of Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2010. Residents were forced to evacuate from their homes when nuclear radiation spread across the town, abandoning every possession they had. This room captures the moment of emergency, anxiety and fear of the evacuees. Marking its fifth year as an exclusion zone, the time capsule flourishes with nature. Inspired by an installation located right in the prohibited area, Don’t Follow the Wind (2015) will only open to public in years when radiation is completely cleaned up. This artwork aims to resurface the forgotten disaster and provoke discussion between humanity and authority rights.
Creating an installation has expanded my horizons in discovering the possible ways to craft a narration within an art piece. Unlike short films, we had to really dive deep into the essence of our focused story. Why do we want to expand on this topic? How do we tell story in a non-linear way? How can audience relate to your story? It was a nerve wracking start, for just deciding on medium and location. Many ideas were infeasible due to resource constraints. Soon we realized that we were clouded with so many considerations, and it was not going anywhere.
Our installation, Traces, derived from our fundamental interest to revisit someone’s memory/ dream/ experiences (from our first ideation process). Fear was an emotion we would like to explore, and an idea struck when we chanced upon a documentary video called “Don’t Follow the Wind”. It is the juxtaposition between human and nature, a contrast between life (overgrown plants) and death (abandonment home).
I am too amazed by the other groups’ installations, inclusion of performance and interactive art. It was interesting to understand their thought process and execution, that would definitely help me to better plan and express my works in the future installations (hopefully?).
The 2011 Fukushima earthquake led to the world’s biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. It’s been five years, and citizens are still unable to return to their contaminated homes. The radiation levels remain dangerously high, and will probably stay this way for a long time. We were intrigued by the state of homes in the Fukushima prefecture left by citizens who were forced to evacuate. The untouched homes within Fukushima now serve as a time capsule, capturing the moment of anxiety when disaster struck. This is inspired by an installation called “Don’t Follow The Wind” (2015), where a group of artists entered the exclusion zone and placed their works in abandoned homes.
In our installation, the audience steps into a room belonging to a former Fukushima resident, and gets an intimate look into her daily life before she knew what was coming. We invite viewers to think about the power of inanimate objects and the stories they can hold. At the same time, there is a slight nod towards the relationship between man and nature — when man leaves, nature flourishes. Finally, we hope to generate discussion about the nuclear meltdown and its ongoing repercussions.
The idea for TRACES came about when we chanced upon a documentary about an art installation held within the exclusion zone of the Fukushima prefecture, called “Don’t Follow The Wind”. In 2015, a group of 12 artists including Ai Weiwei and Trevor Paglen created works that were placed within three buildings in the exclusion zone (Muñoz-Alonso). The thing is, the works will not be open to the public until the area is free from contamination, possibly in a couple of decades. “In this way it will serve as a monument to the disaster, and its ongoing consequences,” says one of the participating artists, Franco Mattes.
Although the Fukushima Daicii nuclear disaster happened in 2011, citizens are still coping with the effects five years on. Many of the 300,000 people who were displaced are still seeking answers as to when they can return to their homes. Because they weren’t allowed to bring their belongings with them for fear of contamination, their homes are filled with memories, sentimental treasures and daily essentials, a time capsule of their lives before they knew about the tragedy that was to come.
We decided to create an installation space that explored the use of inanimate objects in a room, and how the combination/placement of items could tell a narrative, or paint a picture of emotions when disaster struck. Making use of what we learned in class about characterisation, the idea was to suggest a presence instead of physically having one in the room.
We also implemented the appropriation of videos, piecing together news clips, citizen captured videos, documentaries and interviews as a timeline for the audience to get a sense of how the past five years have been in Fukushima. Appropriation is a useful tool for shedding light on social issues. By extracting the original imagery and rearranging them using pattern, repetition and juxtaposition, artists create new meanings in the work (“A New Order: Appropriation Art In The Digital Age”). The video not only serves as a concise recap and informative source for audience, it also brings about more discussion and awareness of what is going on. For example, the interviews in the video revealed a lot more insightful details, such as how a family of six is squeezing in a child’s room, likely to be even smaller than our installation room size. Another interview then pointed at the government not being truthful towards the locals, not telling them accurate details about the radiation levels as well as being unable to give them an answer as to when they can go back to their homes.
Our appropriated video compresses the five years into a single clip saturated with sadness and fear, further highlighting the severity of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. In the installation, it plays on loop on an old television.
Throughout our execution of the installation, there were countless times our ideas did not turn out as well as we had expected, and were thus improved on or scraped, changing along the way to our finalised installation.
The initial appropriated video was more than 7 minutes long and we felt would be too draggy for audience to view if it was on loop. If they missed the start, they would have to wait for a long time for it to restart, causing it to be a bit boring. We had also intended to add in more thought provoking ideas by localising it, asking what would the audience feel if the nuclear disaster hits Singapore, or even turn into a global disaster.
In the end, we decided to do away with these and cutting it down to 5 minutes, just to bring across the key points of recapping as well as some important details. The clips were clustered based on the similarity of events, just as how we were showed an appropriation artist once clustered clips of gunshots and made this his own installation.
Space and Objects
Our initial set up of the room was also different. While facing the main projection, the bed was initially on the right, the table on the left, which could be seen in our video documentation of the setting up. We later felt that this layout could not bring out the “room” kind of feeling we wanted, together with some concerns on the placement of projectors and projections, we decided to swap it around, ending up with a table against the wall, and the bed along the glass windows on the left. This way, we could also use the projection of a window above the table to provide a light source.
For lighting wise, we felt that the entire setup was nice in very very low light conditions when we tried out our initial setup on Sunday night, where we worked through the entire day to see what problems we might encounter (which turned out we had a lot). This was initially inspired by how The Future World exhibition has everything in darkness such that the main objects are in focus, drawing the full attention of audience.
Nonetheless, there has to be sufficient lighting for everything to be seen, to make sure the objects add value to our installation instead of just being there. We switched the lights on and off multiple times in a dilemma to whether the lights should be on or off, before coming up with the idea of making use of the projections as a source of light, as well as getting fairy lights to highlight certain important areas. This way, the room would be slightly dark to give a haunting feeling or being deserted, yet the lights could help out the original warmth of the room as well.
We invited our audience to enter the room without giving away any details. They were allowed to touch and feel the objects, crafting a story in their own interpretations. Here are the key elements to guide audience in enveloping an intimate understanding of an unidentified persona in her abandoned room.
The door of the room was decorated with caution tapes stuck across the door, together with an emergency notice of the evacuation to give a context and ambience even before the audience steps into the installation. A smaller piece of notice was also partially exposed from beneath the door to seem as if the notice came from inside the room.
Personal items were scattered across the table to reflect the aftermath of Fukushima earthquake. Books relating to life, death and psychology tells us how emotionally affected she was for living within the nuclear zone where natural disaster could easily struck. Also, you could see photos of her with friends hanging right under the window. This portrayed her to be someone who is warm and cherishes her loved ones very much. A childhood photo album laid beside the table, leaving trails of her memories living in this room since young.
We casted a window above the study table, showing a Japanese street view outside. This helped to emphasize on the context, as well as adding more realism to the room. It also provided an alternative light source to bring attention towards the study table.
We decided to scale down the classroom by half, to how a regular bedroom would look like. The use of black cloth darken the room, provoking a sense of mysterious. Due to the limited budget and resources, we dug out wooden planks from the 3D studio and black cloth from the student club storeroom to construct the partition.
Using the fairy lights, we aim to draw attention to the specific areas (mainly the study table and bed) amidst the chaotic room.
To enhance the ambience of a bedroom, we all decided that a bed was necessary. However, we could not find a bed frame and bed that we could easily bring into the room, thus we had to make one by ourselves. Same thing, we gathered wooden planks from the 3D studio and constructed a simple frame that was sturdy enough to hold a quilt as a thin mattress, but definitely not for use. We used a quilt to lay it over, supported by a huge wooden board used as a backing for Foundation Drawing classes.
Pillow and soft toys were added to make it more real and personal, further enhancing the persona of the girl who used to live there together with food wrapping and a book. This also ties in well with the slight messiness of the room. There was also a small broken wooden chair toppled over next to the bed to add on to this.
Wall Projection (television that never stops playing)
The main projection showed a wooden background with a table and a television, where the television displayed our appropriated video on loop. Projection is used to create a homely feel, where the video in the television would seem more realistic as compared to projecting the video on the entire wall. This was also the closest we could achieve to displaying the video on a real television in a room. At the same time, it provided the room with most of its lighting.
We used vines that seem to grown from the entrance and under the bed to show how nature has taken over and flourished with the absence of human. They suggest the overgrowth of nature from outside into the house. Dried leaves are also littered around the floor as a signifier that time has passed and also add to the deserted and disaster theme.
Here is the video documentation to bring you through our process and final installation:
Muñoz-Alonso, Lorena. “Artists Install Works In Fukushima – Artnet News”. artnet News. N.p., 2015. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.
“A New Order: Appropriation Art In The Digital Age”. Montserrat College of Art. N.p., 2004. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.
A man working overtime in the office discovers a mysterious piece of paper. The black circle printed on it has the ability to break dimension of any surfaces. He began to explore within the office and had an idea – the company safe box.
The aesthetic of this film projects a dull office environment with a man doing mundane work. Despite introduction of black hole, it still seems boring without special visual effects (especially if you watch it muted). I decided to enhance the film by injecting more storylines and sound perspectives.
A man listens to the radio news while photocopying papers in the office. The news broadcast gives a backstory of the man’s current life – he has no choice but to continue working in a boring job during an economy downturn.
Even without dialogue, we could still read his inner thoughts through paralanguage (occasional sighs and gasps). Gasps (00:52-01:00) are intently audible to suggest that we are now in the character’s mind studying the paper in awe together.
Perspective of space
The radio playing at the background becomes a measurement of space. Volume turns softer when camera angle is farther from the man, as if the audience is in the space peeping at him from a distance. This heightens obscurity of what is going to happen.
Environment sounds eventually become constant when the man attempts to experiment what he could do with the paper. Unsettling sound engulfs whenever he comes in contact to the paper.
Image frames are upfront and close up as he walks towards the vending machine. We are now right beside the character anticipating for his next move. Foot steps fills from the left audio to both sides when man walks into the frame (01:15).
Adding sound track
I decided to choose classical piece 1812 Overture by Tchaivoksky for its grandeur and triumph music composition (01:40-02:20) to reflect the man’s excitement. More importantly, it gives a quirky twist of mood towards the end, a light hearted sarcasm to look at the consequence of his greed.
Inspiration and references
Kingsman: The Secret Service (head explosion scene)
Attic Panic – Short horror film, use of unsettling abstract sound (eg. howling wind) to build up tension
Reverb effect was applied to most of the foley effects to create more resonance.
Tracks to build thrilling obscure atmosphere for the black holes:
I decided to touch on social inequality in the context of the current Singapore we’re living in right now. It can never be devastating as compared to the book (thankfully), but social stigmas will always be present. How honest are we to be inclusive in our society?
From my personal experiences, I realized how humans tend to categorise and classify ourselves to fit in a certain persona. We feel more included when we recognize as the same trait. Here is my list of relevant fictional and non-fictional characters portrayed as such:
Literature or fictional characters:
To Kill a Mockingbird – Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defended a black man who was accused of raping a woman in the town. He is also stern father of two, instilling righteous moral values to his children throughout the story.
>>Relates to me because: I tend to be interested in the topics of social differences and sometimes feel the need to reach out and help the underprivileged.
The Breakfast Club – Allison Reynolds is a quiet girl with weird habits. She decided to join the weekend detention where she meets other 4 students with very different personality traits. The character gradually becomes comfortable in her own skin as she acknowledges and accepts her flaws.
>>Relates to me because: Like Allison, I identify myself as an introvert in a group of friend. We feel uncomfortable to share our opinions in a new environment, but gradually open up as time goes. I used to contain myself to making friends who share similar background with me. Enlarging my social circle made me realized that it’s okay to be different 🙂
The Black Hen (Kalo Pothi) – During the ceasefire in Northern Nepal, Prakash struggles to find back his sister who joined the Maoist army. He travels out of his village to search for the black hen (gift from his sister) that was sold away by his father. He is convinced that by getting back the hen would encourage his sister to return home.
>>Inspires me because: Prakash’s devotion to protect his family is incredible, knowing that he’s only 12. When he tries his best to gather (or even steal) money to buy back the hen, it resonates with my desire to help ease my family finance.
Wolf of the Wall Street – Jordan Belfort is a wealthy stockbroker who built his company in the Wall Street through the world of fraud and corruption. His success is shown through many trial and errors with perseverance, which allowed him to open his own firm – Stratton Oakmont.
>>Inspires me because: Belfort’s ambitious character in thriving towards his goal, to build wealth in his case. Courage to believe in myself is a thing that I am still coping with.
12 Years A Slave – Solomon Northup was kidnapped by mistake to serve as a slave in the 1800s. After 12 gruelling years working at a cotton plantation, he was finally freed.
>>Inspires me because: He did not give himself up in the 12 years of slavery, working hard to make sure he survives from the abusive owner. Based on the true story, the real Northup became active member of the Abolitionist movement to end slavery. I believe that standing up to my own beliefs would help me to stay rooted to who I am.
Jim Carrey – As a child, he had to quit school and worked as a janitor with his family.
Stephen King – At 16, he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. He eventually quits when it almost took over and ruined his career as a writer.
Jay-Z – He started selling cracks on the streets as a teen. Those tough years later inspired some of his rap songs.
Oprah Winfrey – The philanthropist hosted The Oprah Winfrey Show that rises the awareness self-improvement, LGBT community and helping the underprivileged families.
Keeping Up with the Kardashians – In stark contrast, KUWTK is a reality show that documents the super rich Kardashians family everyday lives. This part of the current pop culture reflects honestly of the privileged group of the social class.
>>Inspires me because: They highlight the fact that everybody has to start from somewhere. It doesn’t matter how and where you begin, as long as you work hard.
People I know and known of:
My parents who moved to Singapore to work and eventually settle down with little saving.
A Malaysian friend who travels up to 4 hours per day to study in Singapore
Children from ABCs and Rice, a Cambodian school that provides students with free education and food.
A Karang Guni from my neighbourhood working for 30 years.
Living Amid Graves and Bones: The Philippines’ Cemetery Slums – documentary about one of the poorest community in the Philippines
>>Inspires me because: They work hard to be who they are now/ to provide the best comfort they could have for their loved ones. Also, these people remind me to be humble and grateful as I work towards my goals in life.
The idea sprouted from the book To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, a modern American literature which talks about social injustice in the 1930s. In a small town called Maycomb, a black man (Tom Robinson) was accused of raping a white woman. The lawyer who defended him was scrutinized by the residents for siding a negro. The book discussed income disparity and racism which were rampant social issues during the 20th century.
I decided to go with the character Atticus Finch, a lawyer who stood up for the defendant Tom Robinson. He is a righteous and loving man, someone who sees equality in everyone – including farmers and domestic helpers who are of lower social class.
The monologue is an excerpt from Atticus’ emotional speech when he attempts to defend Tom in the court:
I thought of this to be an intimate and genuine speech, an encouragement empowered with clips of people with different lives we may relate to.
The title ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is a metaphor as to destroy one’s innocence and purity. They are represented as the green nature. Also, it is a common space for everyone to enjoy, an equality of all humankind should own.
The last clip was filmed during my trip to Cambodia. The students would recite motivational songs every day before school ends, as the school hopes to instil confidence in them to work hard and build a brighter future. One of them is a song called I Know I can by Nas:
I know I can
Be what I wanna be
If I work hard at it
I'll be where I wanna be
I know I can, I know I can
Be what I wanna be, be what I wanna be
If I work hard at it
I'll be where I wanna be, I'll be where I wanna be