On Hope and Dread in
Nuclear Times: Ana Vaz’s
Long Voyage Out

Ana Vaz: The Voyage Out
LUX, London
12.09.18 – 07.10.18

Please bear with me while I jog our recent collective memory a little! On 11 March 2011, at exactly 14.46 local time, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook the very depths of the east coast of Japan. Less than an hour later, a massive tsunami started its catastrophic journey across the ocean, claiming lives and devastating entire towns. Towering waves soon overwhelmed the seawall of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, 300 kilometres north of Tokyo, and disabled its cooling mechanisms, triggering in turn three successive nuclear meltdowns from 12 to 15 March. The triple disaster officially killed 18,000 people and displaced over 470,000, 154,000 of whom were evacuated solely on account of the nuclear accident.

We tell ourselves that we know what happened on that exact day, that we have the facts and we have the figures. It’s a controlseeking narrative, aimed at countering the unpredictability and strength of nature. But then, what about the effects, some of them yet to unfold, for human, animal and vegetal life? When do we get to find out about those? Timelines are fuzzy in nuclear spans: the consequences, much like those of climate change, too complicated to envision, and thus all too easy to ignore. These, I feel, are some of the questions haunting the Franco-Brazilian artist Ana Vaz, who began her spiralling project on the Fukushima disaster back in 2014: an expanding constellation, called The Voyage Out, that gathers 16mm films, HD videos, sound works, text and live performances, all oozing a sense of instability and mutability that befits their subject matter. The exact form that The Voyage Out will take in its final incarnation is yet to be seen, although according to Vaz it will assume the guise of a feature film, a medium capacious enough to accommodate its multifarious viewpoints and aspirations. In the meantime, the latest working configuration of this kaleidoscopic endeavour – a teaser of sorts – has recently been unveiled at the London-based moving image non-profit LUX, as part of its BL CK B X series.

‘You continue to doubt your own madness. Radioactive contamination – which is invisible, which has no smell, no taste – does it really exist? The newspapers, the television, my shrink, my parents: they all tell me that the source of my anxiety, might be non-existent. Is it me whose mind is deranged?’ The words of Yoko Hayasuke, a survivor of the disaster who lives in dull fear, become the narrative backbone of the three-channel video installation Mediums ( 2017 ), the centrepiece of the exhibition. This perceptive study on trauma and anxiety combines the diaries of Hayasuke – spelt out on flickering red celluloid backgrounds reminiscent of 1960s structural films – with glimpses into a cathartic massage ritual administered in Sendai, a city on the east coast of Japan whose coastal outskirts were flattened by the tsunami. Shot in 16mm, a medium whose texture manages to be both nostalgic and timeless, the images depict a group of middle-aged Japanese women and men shaking under the touch of deft hands. Their bodies twitch, as if erupting in corporeal micro-earthquakes, tectonic movements of the repressed.

But not Hayasuke. Where others can only utter formless feelings of dread, she puts words. The young Japanese writer is traumatised by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and she says so repeatedly. But the world around her tells her there’s nothing to be afraid of, that she is overreacting, that the problem is in her mind and not in the air and water that she breathes and drinks, quite possibly polluted with noxious radioactive particles. Is this a case of institutional, or institutionalised, gaslighting? ‘It is not serious, I assure you. You are overanxious. The young lady is not seriously ill, and I am a doctor’, sneers the South American physician to Rachel’s fiancé only a few hours before she dies, in Virginia Woolf’s 1915 debut novel, The Voyage Out, which obliquely inspired Vaz’s project. Today, national and international organisations and government bodies continue to release conflicting reports regarding the extent of the contamination generated by the Fukushima disaster and its effect on human beings, earth and oceans. Moreover, because the nuclear incident falls under the State Secrecy Law, which came into force in 2014, independent investigations have been rendered de facto illegal.

The exhibition also includes the sound works The Voyage Out Radio Series: 2222 ∞ 2022 ( 2017 – 18 ), perhaps the most speculative in the constellation, conjuring up science-fiction-like scenarios that explore possible outcomes of the disaster. The three episodes have been produced in collaboration with the Portuguese artist Nuno da Luz, who travelled to Japan with Vaz and crafted an exquisite sound design – an oceanic lattice of field recordings of waves, fireworks, bird calls, bees, drones, rain and drums that transport listeners to shores both real and imagined. The first programme is a faulty transmission from 2222, sent by a time-travelling genderless cyborg stranded on a new island that emerged in the southern archipelago of Ogasawara soon after the major seismic event that started it all. The protagonist begins its transmission with an eerie incantation of radioactive isotopes and their uses in industrial and nuclear products, as well as some of the health hazards they cause. It describes green gradient nights, skies whose former pink and yellow hues have turned a luminous grey because of the radioactive fumes. The voyager tells us that the reason it is reaching out to us via spoken words is to honour the ‘ancient oral traditions that believed that if we voiced the bad dream we arrested it from happening’. This is a warning message, a whisper from a cybernetic Cassandra that has already seen catastrophe come to pass.

Yet, in those evoked landscapes, the carcasses of old factories have formed a bed of earth where mutant beans are growing, thriving in fact, while a handful of surviving bees pollinate new radioactive flowers. Meanwhile, mysterious eggs have been laid on the seashore, a host of unexpected creatures buried in the sand. Where did they come from? That’s quite possibly what the group of diggers in the nearby film So long as the sky is recognized as an association ( 2017 ) – its title quoting William Carlos Williams on the role of the imagination – are trying to find out. In it, we see only the backs and arms of these researchers, their hands and elbows burrowing in. These are images that go beyond the classic dystopia of death and barrenness. New life forms are conjured up, and the eternal cycle of destruction and renewal is enacted once again. In one of the radio programmes, the cyborg describes its inter-temporal voyage from 2022 to 2222 and how, after a period of shock in the face of the expanding nuclear landscape, which was initially seen as ‘maleficent’, it learned to accept it, to ‘live with that trouble’ – a subtle rephrasing of Donna Haraway, the spiritual mother of posthuman cyborgs and proponent of learning to live on a damaged earth.

‘The Fukushima daisies that sprang […] were freaks of nature, a graceful answer to the disaster, a sign of the immutable fact that life lives on, in all forms’, the cyborg says in its transmission, bringing to mind the opening scenes of the film Hiroshima Mon Amour ( 1959 ) – another lyrical take on how to rebuild worlds and affects in the aftermath of nuclear disaster, whose screenplay was penned by Marguerite Duras – in which the female character tells of how the soil in the disaster area is teeming with animals and flowers only a few days after the atomic bombings, even if the images that accompany her assertion are documentary shots of the ravaged faces and bodies of the children caught in them.

This archipelago of conflicting viewpoints and complementary stances is what makes The Voyage Out such a compelling exhibition. Vaz might have skewed a conventional documentary approach, but she’s not shying away from the complicated questions or moral conundrums that should go with it. Her approach is comprehensive, without being exhaustive, or exhausting. She prods at the politics of secrecy versus the cathartic powers of disclosure, while imagining the concrete effects of the disaster on bodies, territories and minds. She indulges in philosophical speculation, but not before having done fieldwork and collected actual testimonies. Her granular strategy is a convincing methodology, a soup of self-sustaining fragments that coalesce under the frequencies of da Luz’s evocative sound work, which brings it all together in a dance of light, voices and drones. What’s most refreshing is that despite working with such loaded subject matter, Vaz has allowed The Voyage Out to be loose, hallucinatory, sensual. She beguiles us into staring at nuclear and ecological collapse in the face: bleak, phantasmagoric, looming… and yet, she dares to say, brimming with possibility.


LUX 艺术中心,英国伦敦
2018 年9 月12 日—2018 年10 月7 日

译 / 顾虔凡

请允许我先回顾一番我们最近的集体记忆:在2011 年3 月11 日,当地时间14:46 时,日本东海岸的深处发生了9 级地震。不到一小时,一场巨大的海啸到处肆虐,夺走许多生命,毁坏大片城镇。高耸如楼的海浪很快就淹没了在东京往北三百公里的福岛第一核电厂的海堤,致使其冷却系统失灵,并在3 月12 日至15 日期间造成了三次后续的核泄漏。这三次灾难中有1.8 万人去世,47 万人流离失所,其中15.4 万人因为核泄漏事故而被撤离原址面临重置。

我们告诉自己,我们很清楚当天到底发生了什么,因为我们知晓事实也收集了数据。这是一种“寻求掌控”的叙事方式,它有助于平衡因为自然灾害带来的不可预测的破坏。但是随之而来的问题是,灾害对人类、动物和植物会带来什么样的后果(其中有些可能的后果至今尚未完全体现)?我们何时能真正了解这些后果?核能扩散蔓延的时间表是模糊的;灾害的结果,就像气候变化的后果一样,因为分析和设想起来太过复杂因而会轻易地遭到忽视。所有这些,在我看来,是一直困扰着法裔巴西籍艺术家安娜·瓦茨的问题,她在2014 年开始了一个有关福岛灾难的项目, 整个项目螺旋状不断深化,它题为“远航”,包括了16 毫米拍摄的影片、高清视频、声音作品、文本和现场表演,所有内容都渗透着一种与它们所表达的主题相匹配的不安定感及可变性。“远航”的最终面貌会采取何种形式还有待观察,不过按照瓦茨的想法来看,它可能会有一部剧情电影的外观,电影媒介能让作品有足够的容量包含各种观点及期待。与此同时,这个放佛万花筒那样千变万化的项目,最近在伦敦的LUX 得到了呈现,这是一家以动态影像为关注点的非盈利机构,展览有点像是最终电影的一次预告,也是这个机构自己题为“BL CK B X”系列的一部分。

“你不断地怀疑你自己的疯狂。放射性污染—看不见、闻不到、没味道—它到底真实存在吗?报纸、电视、我的心理医生、我的父母:他们都告诉我,我焦虑的源头,有可能根本就不存在。我才是那个疯了的人吗?”这些话来自早坂洋子,作为一个灾难的幸存者她一直生活在恐惧中,她的讲述也成为项目中一件核心的三屏录像装置作品《媒介》(2017)的主要内容。有关创伤后焦虑症的研究还结合了早坂的日记,在红色赛璐珞背景上闪烁着出现文字,让人想到1960 年代风行的结构电影,人们还会看到一些位于日本东北海岸的仙台市举行的用于疗愈宣泄的按摩仪式,仙台在海啸中几乎被夷为平地。影片是以16 毫米胶片拍摄的,胶片的质感使得影像既充满着怀旧气息又有一种没有具体时间指向的观感,影像记录了仪式中的一群日本中年人,他们在被灵巧的手的触摸之下不停颤抖。他们的身体抽搐着,就好像肉体在经历微小的地震,是压抑爆发出来的运动。

但这些人中不包括早坂。在其他人只能表达无形的恐惧感时, 早坂则借助于语言的力量。这位年轻的日本作家深受福岛核泄漏事故的打击,她的叙述有大段大段的重复。但是她身边的世界不断告诉她没什么可害怕的,她的反应有些过度了,而且问题存在于她的脑海中而不在于她所呼吸的空气或喝下去的水,尽管空气和水极有可能已经受到了放射性粒子的毒害和污染。这是一种体制性的,或者说是被体制化了的情感操控吗?“没那么严重,我向你保证。是你过度焦虑了。这位女士并没有病得很严重,我是医生我很清楚。”在弗吉尼亚·伍尔夫1915 年的小说《远航》中, 一位南美的医生带着嘲笑的口吻这样对书中人物蕾切尔的未婚夫说,但几个小时后蕾切尔就去世了;也正是伍尔夫的这部小说启发了瓦茨的项目。

今天,日本国内及许多国际性的组织和政府机构都在继续发布有关福岛核事故对人类、地球及海洋所造成影响的报告,这些报告所宣称的灾害程度往往自相矛盾。此外,由于核事故符合2014 年开始生效的《国家保密法》,因此针对事故进行的独立调查事实上是违法的行为。

展览中还包括了声音作品《远航广播系列2022 ∞ 2222》(2017—2018),这或许是项目中最具推理气质的作品了,它让人联想起科幻小说般的场景,探索的是灾难有可能带来的结果。“广播系列”有三集,与葡萄牙艺术家努诺·达·鲁兹合作完成, 鲁兹和瓦茨一起前往日本并且精心地创作了声音设计,他将海浪、烟花、鸟鸣、蜜蜂、无人机、雨声和鼓点的各种田野录音编织成充满海洋质感的声音,好像将听众直接传送到了真实和想象的海岸边。广播系列的第一期节目,是一次从2222 年发送过来的失败的时空穿梭,来自一个搁浅在新岛上的无性赛博机器人,这座新岛出现于地震发生不久之后的小笠原诸南部群岛。通过放射性同位素及其在工业与核能产品中的用途,包括它们引发的健康危害,来自未来的人凭借这些来实现时空穿梭。他们向我们描述了闪烁着绿色渐变光的夜晚,因为放射性烟雾的缘故,原本粉红和黄色色调的天空变成了发着光的灰色。这些时空旅行者还告诉我们,他们之所以要借助口头传播的语言来联络我们是为了致意“古老的口耳相传的传统,他们相信如果我们说出了噩梦就可以阻止 噩梦成真”。这则警告消息,是机器人版的罗马神话人物卡桑德拉所发出的低语,他已经在未来目睹了灾难的发生。

然而,在那些自然中,旧工厂的残留已经形成了新的地床层, 突变后的豆子在其中茂盛地生长,而少数幸存的蜜蜂则在为带放射性物质的花授粉。与此同时,海岸边有许多外形神秘的蛋,不知名的生物将其埋在沙石之中。它们来自何处?这或许恰恰是另一件作品《只要天空仍被认定为一种联结》(2017)中的人想要解决的问题。在影片中,我们只看到研究者们的后背和手臂,他们用双手和肘部发力不停地挖掘。这些图像超越了有关死亡与贫瘠的反乌托邦的经典形象。新的生命体正在被塑造成形,而毁灭与更新的永恒循环再次出现。在广播系列的一期节目中,赛博机器人描述了他们自2022 年到2222 年的时空旅行,在面对核辐射不断扩散带来的震惊之后,他们如何从一开始认定的“毒害” 转变成学会接受它们并最终“与其共同生活”—像是对唐娜·哈拉维“赛博宣言”的重新阐释,哈拉维被视作后人类赛博机器人的精神之母,她倡导人们学习如何在遭到破坏后的地球上生存下去。