The Economist / March 10, 2012

IN JAPAN there is no kudos in going to jail for your art. Bending the rules, let alone breaking them, is largely taboo. That was one reason Toshinori Mizuno was terrified as he worked undercover at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear-power plant, trying to get the shot (pictured) that shows him in front of the mangled third reactor holding up a referee’s red card. He was also terrified of the radiation, which registered its highest reading where he took the photograph. The only reason he did not arouse suspicion, he says, is because he was in regulation radiation kit. And in Japan people rarely challenge a man in uniform.

Mr Mizuno is part of ChimPom, a six-person collective of largely unschooled artists who have spent a lot of time getting into tight spots since the disaster, and are engagingly thoughtful about the results. Twice they have used the off-limits Dai-ichi plant as a canvas for strikingly daring video art or photography. Once, they attached a painting of its smouldering wreckage to a famous Taro Okamoto anti-nuclear mural, “The Myth of Tomorrow”. Vandals they are not; they say they peeled it off a day later.

It is easy to dismiss ChimPom’s work as a publicity stunt. But the artists’ actions speak at least as loudly as their images. There is a logic to their seven years of guerrilla art that has become clearer since the nuclear disaster of March 11th 2011. In fact, Noi Sawaragi, a prominent art critic, says they may be hinting at a new direction in Japanese contemporary art.

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Related: Fukushima forbidden zone photography exhibit

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