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Comprising Ryuta Ushiro, Yasutaka Hayashi, Ellie, Masataka Okada, Motomu Inaoka, and Toshinori Mizuno, Chim↑Pom’s work includes interventions through performance, video, painting, installation, curating and organising events. Sharp social critique underpins the group’s work, and the collective is unafraid to cause controversy in the service of their message. As Christopher Y. Lew, Associate Curator at the Whitney Museum, New York, has stated: ‘the group negotiates a difficult line – they do not make the direct assertions of activists but rather offer an ambiguous voice that is both complicit and critical.’
To date, some of the collective’s actions have included: in 2008, skywriting the word ‘PIKA’ – a mimetic word in Japanese for ‘flash’ – over Hiroshima where the atomic bomb was dropped; in 2011, a guerrilla style ‘updating’ of Taro Okamoto’s mural depicting the history of nuclear exposure in Japan, in order to better reflect Japan’s post-Fukushima nuclear reality; in 2012, as part of the collective Don’t Follow The Wind, the group entered the Fukushima Nuclear Zone and installed an exhibition across abandoned properties in the area – the exhibition remains inaccessible while radiation levels remain.
In recent years, the group has realised projects in cities around the world, reflecting on the role of public space and borders. Why Open? brings together a selection of work from projects in the Fukushima Nuclear Zone, the U.S.– Mexico border and in Taiwan.
White Rainbow’s doorbell hosts the first work in the exhibition: Silent Bells (2017) is activated when a visitor presses the entry buzzer, which connects directly to an abandoned house in Fukushima, still unsafe to visit due to radiation. Pushing White Rainbow’s doorbell causes the inaccessible doorbell in Fukushima to ring, reverberating in the galler y space.
Barely visible in the darkened main gallery is a plaster cast of Chim↑Pom member Ellie’s footprints, which she planted in a hole that the group had dug beneath the Mexican side of the U.S.-Mexico border. This work is part of Chim↑Pom’s project The Other Side (2016). In response to Ellie being denied entry to the U.S., the collective built a tree house in the garden of a local Tijuana family. The group humorously titled the house USA Visitor Center, which only served to highlight how inaccessible the country is to many.
More recently, the group opened up their studio in Tokyo to the public, removing the doors to create a new kind of public space. They called the project Chim↑Pom Street (2017). This work led to one of their most ambitious projects to date, 道 (Street) (2018) at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts. Inspired by the Sunflower Movement in 2014 – a student movement in which participants took over the Taiwanese parliament for one month – Chim↑Pom constructed a new 200m long street, which extended from the museum entrance out in to a public street.
Chim↑Pom conducted interviews with these students, and were struck by one person’s story. The student in question simply tried to open a door in the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s Parliament building) and was stunned to find it unlocked. They asked: ‘Why was it open?’ The rest of the students flooded in and occupied the building. This account gave rise to Chim↑Pom’s project at the Museum.
Chim↑Pom’s new street asked: ‘Who owns national institutions?’ ‘What is the public?’ The work functioned as an alternative public space – the group invited people to contribute ideas for how the space was used. They held a block party on the street, using this to subvert the rules of assembly and public protest. White Rainbow’s cinema space becomes an installation archive of this project, incorporating pieces of the asphalt the group laid, alongside documentation of a speech inaugurating the street, banners, objects and photographs.
Why Open? testifies to the group’s openness to the world around them – in their 12 years as a collective, Chim↑Pom have continually placed themselves in complex situations and contested territories, in order to ask those difficult questions that others might not.