You Saw Nothing in Fukushima

Digital Video

2012, 2014, and 2018


“I fell asleep in the car on the way to Tokyo from the disaster sites. I must have slept for a few hours at least; when I opened my eyes the car was in heavy traffic on a highway driving between skyscrapers. It was twilight. The megalopolis, expanding its reach to the furthest and highest point in the sky, dizzying vertical lines of the dense concrete forest. An empty horizontal line of tsunami-affected areas, and loose even lines of the mountains contaminated by radioactive substances. All the other flat landscapes seemed distant already. You saw nothing.


The forward movement of digital video, a significant characteristic of the aesthetic language of You Saw Nothing in Fukushima, ties automotive and nuclear technologies together in an affinity of advancedness culturally projected in the twentieth century. Closely associated with aspirations, hopes, and dreams, transcending its function as a means of commuting, automotive technology represented the arrival of the bright and hopeful future as much as nuclear technology did in the material flux of high technology. Capitalism, on the other hand, favors speed, too. The capitalist imperative of ‘the annihilation of space by time’ is accomplished by the acceleration of speed. As the creation of global markets requires the compression of space by time with accelerated means of transportation and communication technology, the apotheosis of speed is a shared aspiration between automotive technology and capitalism.


The automobile, in the particular context of the grand narrative of growth in Japan, in which a dream of a prosperous future emerged from the ashes and memories of World War II, embodied national sentiments reflecting such national history and cultural projection of high technology. As a driver of trade and the economy, cars and vehicle parts are the top two exports from Japan today. Within these cultural and economic social backgrounds, the automobile tied to the forward movement of digital video symbolises the economic state of growth, progress, and development.


However, as we know, speed has been replaced by slow-down. The high-growth period ended due to the oil crisis in the 1970s for Japan. This is generally understood as the end of the post-war growth. Japan slowly moved to become a neoliberal state in the 1980s, conducting privatisation in the belief that so doing would lead to a resurgence of growth. You Saw Nothing in Fukushima embodies slow-down with fragmentation of the forward movement of digital video by rendering still images of photography in a slide show. In this aesthetics of slow-down, an accelerating and intensifying drive for growth is stalled.


The slide show transmutes those digital photographs of the disaster sites into the duration of a second of visual information. This systematic reconfiguration into a second of visual information brings the irreducible difference of kinds and degrees of pain and damage of the disasters onto the terrain of commensurability operating the equivalation of specificity in Jean-Luc Nacy’s sense.*  You Saw Nothing in Fukushima encompasses the opposite states of movement, the forward movement and the stillness, in which those images of the pain of the other are rendered. Eyes cannot fully grasp them as they slip away from sight.


What did you see and understand about the pain of the other?


The eyes grasp nothing as the title, You Saw Nothing, suggests; the images slip into the distance that sight cannot fully compress.


* Jean-Luc Nancy, After Fukushima: The Equivalence of Catastrophes, New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2014
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