Art in General is proud to present a major solo exhibition in New York by Tokyo-based collective Chim↑Pom (Ryuta Ushiro, Ellie, Yasutaka Hayashi, Masataka Okada, Toshinori Mizuno, and Motomu Inaoka), whose work traverses geographies to engage trans-historical moments that shape our conflicted present.
The summer of 1945 brought a new geologic age to the planet. A migratory material body consisting of 141 pounds of Uranium extracted from Belgian colonial mines in Congo was shipped to New York City, processed in Tennessee, transformed into a bomb in New Mexico, sent to the North Mariana Island under American colonial rule in the Pacific Ocean where the atomic weapon was loaded onto a plane. This 141 pound nuclear corpus detonated over Hiroshima, its immense force destroying the entire city, killing at least 140,000 inhabitants, contaminating the environment, and mutating genes of many tens of thousands more. From the bomb’s ‘hypocenter’ over what is now a parking garage in Hiroshima, the body of invisible radioactive particles dispersed covering the entire planet with a thin destructive film of human-made isotopes⏤carried through the atmosphere returning to settle back to North America and Africa. This distinct military-colonial-industrial sediment enveloped the world and has materially marked our current necropolitical geologic period, in which a similar nexus of forces are presently producing irreversible climatic alterations.
Chim↑Pom intervened in 2008, sending another plane into the air near this ‘hypocenter’ in Hiroshima. Injecting oil into its hot engine exhaust, a dense white smoke spelled out in skywriting, ピカッ[Pika!], the onomatopoeic Japanese word for the atomic bomb. This gesture re-inscribed this linguistic, forensic trace over the site of the original explosion. The writing—akin to an almost a life-size manga drawing—re-positioned the disaster for a different generation and became an ephemeral anti-monument over the city. Its sudden appearance without warning caused confusion, prompting newspapers articles and phone calls to the municipal government from residents. Caught off guard by the renegade action, the city of Hiroshima asked Chim↑Pom to apologize. After much deliberation, the artists agreed to apologize for not giving any advance notice, but not for the work itself, and later published a book on the controversy with differing perspectives.
At the apology press conference the artists met the head of the Atomic Bomb Survivors organization, Sunao Tsuboi, who came to understand that they both shared the obstacle of wanting to overcome the temporal gap between World War II and the present in order to foster an inter-generational knowledge. Chim↑Pom and Tsuboi later collaborated on an artwork. After the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in 2011, Tsuboi sent Chim↑Pom a fax with the words “Never Give Up.” The collective almost immediately went to the affected area in Fukushima and has continued to work there ever since. The fax has been encased in a picture frame torn off the wall of a home destroyed by the tsunami and found in a field, marking two important bookends of the nuclear project.
Through this affinity with Tsuboi and other inhabitants in Hiroshima, Chim↑Pom has continually returned to the city as a point of trans-historical reference for their critical practice. Including a large-scale exhibition in the irradiated former National Bank building in Hiroshima that survived the nuclear blast. While preparing for this exhibition the artists became fascinated with a modern ritual of nuclear culture specific to the city, the folding of origami paper cranes. This ritual is based on the account of Sadako Sasaki who was two years old when the bomb fell only a mile away from her house, she was thrown out of the window by its force but survived with no injuries. Ten years later she was diagnosed with leukemia and started making small paper cranes following a tradition whereby the folding of 1,000 cranes would grant the bearer a wish. She was in the process of making her second thousand cranes when she died in 1955. Her classmates raised money to build a monument to her in Hiroshima as a symbol of all of the children who had died. This story spread through children’s books and to this day in classrooms all over the world children fold paper cranes by the thousands that are sent to Hiroshima as a memorial of the bombing.
Working on their 2013 exhibition in Hiroshima which was organized by local residents who invited Chim↑Pom back after the ピカッ[Pika!] controversy, the artists learned that the city had an unusual problem. They receive millions of these paper cranes from all over the world, but as they have a ritual significance they can not be simply disposed of. Mountains of cranes are stored in a large municipal building and Chim↑Pom was able to gain access to this warehouse which is marked on the front as “Non-Burnable Trash.” For the exhibition at Art in General they have shot a new film inside this warehouse where one of Chim↑Pom’s members unfolds the cranes, reading the messages inside. This undoing of ritual calls into question the significance and utility of these and other acts of memorial in the face of catastrophe. Chim↑Pom has transported hundreds of thousands of these cranes from the warehouse in Hiroshima to Art in General to form a large-scale immersive environment inside the exhibition.
With recent nuclear tensions surfacing once again, Chim↑Pom sent Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un instructions on how to fold cranes along with a piece of origami paper, mailed from a post box in front of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Presently, under autocratic regimes North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Brazil are all seeking to develop weapons of mass and long-term destruction. Ongoing armed conflict persists in South Asia between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan. The U.S. breaking of nuclear treaties with Russia has the potential to spark a new arms race. This increasing geopolitical precarity and historical amnesia combine to produce the possibility of a nuclear threat in the coming years, with its untold environmental damage and loss of human and non-human life. Can art practices expand the horizon of the past, shattering ossified forms of knowledge that we think we know, into shards that refract a different future of what is possible? Chim↑Pom smuggles these dormant urgencies through the prism of the present, casting new light on the urgency of our nuclear realities as they must be understood today.