[Clearly define your character by type so the reader will be able to relate it to real life experience.]
You are an artist. At your art school were some older staff – frumpy women who still wear Cyndi Lauper glasses, and stodgy bearded oafs dressed as if they work outdoors. If the police asked you to pick them out in a line-up, you’d have difficulty sighting them because they were never there much. They were out on ‘professional practice’, even though they had exhibited maybe twice in the last decade. In Richmond. You were mostly taught by sessional staff who weren’t much older than you.
You went to art school because you didn’t know any better. Your parents supported your choice. They were ‘cool’ with the idea. They subscribed to Arts Hub and knew that art was part of the culture industry. Friends of your parents who worked somewhere in the bowels of Arts Victoria wised them up to this at a BBQ. The main reason you went to Art School though is because you were a teenage narcissist. (Your other friends were in edgy indie bands. Duos actually, formed after seeing LCD and Sigur Ros live, and somehow melding the two.)
At 15, this was kinda OK, but you weren’t savvy to the fact that now everyone is a narcissist, so really you’re not that special. You specialised in installation art (duh) without realising that no matter much you were told about relational aesthetics, you weren’t doing much else but create pretty clutter or cluttered prettiness (same diff) like chic boutique design concepts for franchises at refurbished airports.
Oh, yeah: relational aesthetics. You did some theory when you were at art school. Some of it stuck with you. Some of it you liked, but of course you had no idea of how to relate it to what you were doing. But you had some friends doing a curatorial course at a real university. (Your art school ‘became’ a university – which is as dumb as saying Peter Carey is a world class author.) Actually, they were a lot sharper than anyone in your class. They were smarter, savvy and weren’t as slacker as you and your grungy friends. Maybe that’s why ‘curators’ are the new ‘artists’. But you haven’t worked that out yet. That comes later.
[Introduce a momentarily disorientating shift in time so as to elaborate a dramatic change in your character.]
You’ve been exhibiting for some time now. You are mostly known for your quotative video work based on scenes from Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). You haven’t watched many movies. They’re all too narrative for you. You prefer to read anything by Don Delillo. (It helps you understand reviews of your work that start by discussing a scene from a Don Delillo novel.) But Stalker ‘resonated’ with you. That’s what one curatorial essay said, and you figured it was good, even though it’s a meaningless phrase.
The great thing about Stalker is – well, actually, you never watched it all the way through. But you’re pretty sure that over 5 years, you’ve watched enough excerpts on ubuweb to get what’s going on. Plus it’s the only film that everyone in contemporary art seems to know, so you figured it’s good to stick with it. It’s European (Russian, to boot); it presages the nuclear fission meltdown at Chernobyl in 1986; and it has lots of ‘art-cinema’ still extended-takes of real-life toxic areas near chemical plants in Estonia. It really made you think about toxic responsibility and one’s relation to the planet. (A quote from another curatorial essay.)
But just as you might have got stuck in a creative rut, the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima happened. Nuclear gold. It was in Japan; it was exotic enough to not worry about the 24,000 dead (who died from the tsunami, not the nuclear meltdown); and it was rated 7 on the Nuclear Incident chart just like Chernobyl. It was like science fiction, but for real. You watched a Four Corners report on it that told you all about it. They didn’t interview a single Japanese person, but they did interview three heads of anti-nuclear organizations in Australia. It finished with an American economist specialising in Asia who compared the workers undertaking the clean-up in the Dainichi NPR at Fukushima as ‘kamikaze’ fighters. That was real dramatic and appealed to you. Yeah, nuclear energy still is bad shit. Best of all, a slew of people are now scared about it because they have children or are on IVF programmes trying. You’re not being cynical though. You figure that maybe you’d like to have kids soon enough. You are genuinely concerned about the future of the planet. (You said that in an interview.)
And so you make your most ‘edgy’ work: you restage scenes from Stalker with a bunch of Japanese back-packers in Australia who answered an internet ad you posted for your new ‘art project’. You told people they represented a ‘community’ of young people in Japan opposed to their country’s nuclear policies. (Right on, man.) You haven’t been to Japan but you do know some good Japanese restaurants in Melbourne. And you read Peter Carey’s book on Japan which you found very informative. You especially liked the bit where he questioned a master sword-maker on the ethics of making instruments designed to kill human beings. It felt real ‘interventionist’. You’ve filed that away as an idea for a future ‘art project’.
This new work was a smash for you. Everyone loved the title: Fukushima Is The New Chernobyl. It’s been in a trail of national and international group exhibitions with themes dealing with how an artist responsibly engages with the future of society. You met lots of cool artists from Poland, Dubai, the US and Russia – some of who you first met online signing petitions to have Ai Wei released from Chinese prison. You all make similar work critiquing global power structures. You often think back at your foolish friends in bands trying to get lower rung slots on The Big Day Out. You were right all along: art was the new rock. They read books on Oasis; you’re friends with people who’ve been Turner-shortlisted.
[Introduce a death of some kind to make the story feel momentous and powerful.]
But you’ll never get Turner-shortlisted. I killed you about 2 years ago. I stumbled into your Fukushima video in San Francisco. I was writing an article for Frieze on the post-3/11 situation in Japan and thought I’d check out your work.
I spent 3 months in Tokyo just after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and the resulting tsunami. I had contacted The Monthly back in Melbourne about doing an article on Japan after I had read a slew of lazy, ill-informed, knee-jerk, humanist drivel from Australia’s ‘intelligentsia’ waffling on about global issues, international responsibility and how nuclear energy still is bad shit. Plus they were shitting themselves that somehow Australia would one day go nuclear, and here was their pro-active chance to make a stand.
The Monthly declined my proposal saying their next issue already had a “mini-symposium on Japan”. I read it online while in Japan. One article was an economist waffling on about how important China is in the new global economy (duh) and how Australia needed to be savvy about connecting to its emerging and converging industries. It occasionally mentioned Japan, only in terms of how Australia should decide carefully whether to be aligned with Japan in case we offend China, our utopian cash-cow to exploit as if we’re a colonial power. It was one of those laughably obsequious ‘Canberra white paper’ screeds The Monthly trades in. Actually, your dad wrote it. The other article was a whining poetic text about how ‘dreadful’ nuclear devastation is (duh) and – well actually the article made no sense. It was written by your mother, who has made a career from writing ‘historical novels set in the rich past of traditional Japan’. She’s like James A. Michener in drag. I guess she has real ‘insight’ into ‘the Japanese’ even though she doesn’t know what the letters AKB48 stand for.
I made a note to kill your parents when I got back to Australia. They both teach at Melbourne University, so all I have to do is wait until they do another tedious panel at the Wheeler Centre (“Books. Writing. Ideas”) and gun them down on stage.
Your death wasn’t so spectacular. But I wasn’t planning it, so it kinda lacked a sense of theatre. You were on a panel a week after the opening. There was a guy from a university over there who was the main speaker. I couldn’t believe the name of his department: “Global Cities Research Institute”. The only word missing was “Ethics”. He cited how important Tarkovsky’s Stalker was; the whole panel nodded in unsubstantiated agreement. It sounded like everyone had memorised passages from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock. Their collective Green Scare has replaced the Red Scare from half a century ago.
At question time, I pointed out there was no connection whatsoever between Chernobyl and Fukushima, save for the imaginary fear in the minds of ill-informed liberals whose notion of nuclear energy ramifications is on par with Regan-era Hollywood movies like War Games. (That’s the Mathew Broderick one – not the turgidly righteous one directed by Peter Walker.) Responding to how this guy – typical of the ethical ‘international community’ of the time – admonished the Japanese for using nuclear energy, I said that if there’s one nation in the world who has the right to decide what they want to do with nuclear energy, it surely has to be the only nation in the world that disproves the neurotic myth that nothing exists beyond the ‘nuclear holocaust’: Japan, where wheat grew at ground zero in Hiroshima one month after the A-bomb blast.
I guess I shouldn't have been so shocked by how the panel and the audience ridiculed my comments. Americans – like Australians – still respond to the Japanese with bad hang-ups because someone in their family past was involved in WWII in the Pacific. I keep forgetting that Anzac Day is still a big deal in Australia, and that while we’re still nothing more than a dumb British colony farming lamb in a desert, our deeper ties with America come from us both being attacked by the Japanese back then.
After the panel finished I was waiting for a bus and you were nearby with some friends. They looked like curators, actually. All dressed in greys and black, wearing ‘90s designer glasses like the people you see waiting in transit at Helsinki airport. You were laughing loudly. Now, I know you probably had already forgotten about me, but the tone and pitch of your voice really irritated me. I walked up to you and stared at your face. Everyone went quiet.
You didn’t look like an art student anymore. You looked like a sessional staff working at an art school somewhere. You looked so Anglo it was frightening. A real Aussie. Your face was like a flag. Your nose an Anzac Shrine, ungainly sticking out like a heritage-listed edifice, kept erect for no good reason. Your hair a vineyard designed by an architect and run by a development group comprised of lawyers and doctors who hung indigenous paintings in their office foyers. Your eyes looked like Coffin Bay oysters. Your cornea looked like folds of Kraft cheddar cheese slices. Your skin was a desert of Canberra white papers, slightly cream in hue due to the recycled paper. You smelt like The Body Shop.
But I hadn’t walked up to you. I had run into you full-on, thrusting a Japanese short sword into your heart. In that second, the dumb look on your face seemed to go into an extended still shot – just like those scenes in Stalker you so loved. When you restaged that shot for your Fukushima video, you filmed Uluru in real time as the sun set. Me? I felt like I was restaging the famous photo of Yamaguchi Otoya assassinating Japanese Socialist Party politician Asanuma Inejrio on live TV. I think I got a hard-on. As your eyes glazed over, I thought of those blades of wheat growing in Hiroshima. I bet you were gluten intolerant.
Your parents are on a panel next week at The Wheeler Centre. They’ve written a book about ‘their son’ which is being launched at the Writers’ Festival. The panel is on violence in society. I’ve marked the date in my calendar.
Philip Brophy – January 17th 2013Text © Philip Brophy. Images © Nagayo Yasushi.