The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art invited artist Eiko Otake to stage a performance in Philadelphia's busy Amtrack Station in 2014. This opportunity prompted Eiko and long-time collaborator William Johnston to develop a complementary and contrasting project exploring abandoned train stations in Fukushima, Japan. Their initiative was a response to the horror of the environmental disaster unleashed by damage to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor caused by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. So much radioactive poison was released into the environment that the entire population (more than 56,000 residents) had to evacuate the area and has not been allowed to return.
Eiko and Johnston followed overgrown train tracks, arriving at train stations that only a few years before were crowded with busy people leading ordinary lives. In this surreal setting, Johnson created extraordinary images of Eiko's poetic movements, her body rendering the tragic story of this empty landscape. They created a memorial to destroyed communities and a lost way of life.
Eiko's website states:
In these locations, Eiko embodies bitter grief, anger and remorse, sometimes in vulnerable gestures and at other times dancing fiercely. The photographs by Johnston capture Eiko’s evanescent gestures as well as the evolving landscape. As Eiko explains, “By placing my body in these places, I thought of the generations of people who used to live there. Now desolate, only time and wind continue to move”
I wonder if Eiko and Johnston met another Fukushima hero, Naoto Matsumura, a farmer who courageously returned to the toxic area to care for pets and livestock left behind when residents had to leave. I'd like to think so.