Descrizione Opera / Biografia
”A Human Desert, Made By Human”
About the Fukushima Cycle by Hana Usui
by Konrad Paul Liessmann
Philosopher Günther Anders, who, unlike any other thinker of the 20th century radically made the “nuclear threat” the centre of his philosophy, once noted in this context that there are events of such magnitude that they cannot be reached by art. [...] The so-called peaceful use of atomic energy is not excluded from this supraliminality. Of course: the atomic bomb is a weapon of mass destruction, the obliteration of all life on this planet is part of its innermost logic. The disasters in nuclear power plants are rare accidents, that yet owe their monstrous dimension to the same source as the bomb: an unleashed chain reaction, which will elude humanity’s controlling grip for all time. [...]
The works of Japanese artist Hana Usui show in a haunting manner what it means to use the sparest means of fine art to approach phenomena that in every way touch the fundamental aporias and conflicts of a self-endangering technological civilisation.
In 2014 the artist had dealt with the subject of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in 2019 she dedicates a series of works to the reactor accident of Fukushima. What is surprising about these art pieces is their delicateness that feels strangely inappropriate considering the subject. Hana Usui, who has gone through the strict school of classical Japanese calligraphy, the “way of writing”, might have left that approach behind, the precision, mysteriousness and poignancy, however, has remained. Only when looking more closely, the traces of horror, of destruction, of obliteration will be recognised.
In the Fukushima series the artist overlays photos of the contaminated place with a semi-transparent sheet of paper. On it, delicate lines strangely overlap the picture, trembling and bold, dominant and yet restrained: the implied and broken nerve fibres of an energy current that has been abruptly disrupted by the disaster. In contrast, in the half-hidden, in the interplay of photograph and drawing, in the hinted-at, in that which is schematically thrown on paper is revealed the artist’s mastery of a subject that has desertion at its centre. Radioactively contaminated areas must be evacuated and cleared, for humans it is dangerous, eventually deadly to remain there – warning signs everywhere. And yet the documentation of such a contaminated area must not be reminiscent of landscape photography or simple industrial ruins. This can be avoided only through a stretching of the media and materials, the methods and the forms; only through the renunciation of all that is spectacular and dramatic the terror can, literally, show through.
Nothing about these works is straightforward, and the series is not to be seen as a direct political or ecological statement. This is not committed art that wants to warn against a technology that, paradoxically, is being rediscovered by many ecologically conscious consumers in the fight against climate change: nuclear power plants do not emit CO2. In their restrained intensity, the Fukushima works by Hana Usui function more as a contemplative commentary on the current debates; nothing about them is shrill or alarmist, but in their precise restraint, in their melancholy beauty they pave the way for a reflectiveness that is maybe more necessary than ever.
And so – with a sad beauty – in these works the contours of hills and trees, industrial buildings and warning signs, utility poles and naked trees emerge, and the artist’s delicate alignement gives them not only an accent, but a drastic counterpart. The lineament in the foreground gives the underlying photos their beautifully terrible significance: they are documentations of a human desert, made by humans.
Hana Usui (born 1974, Tokyo/Japan) studied art history at Waseda University and calligraphy in Tokyo. Her abstract drawings are made with white or black oil paint, which she overlays onto inkwash or photographs. Since 2014 she has been using her artistic vocabulary mainly to address injustices in the environmental, political and social fields. Exhibitions (selected): ”Japan Unlimited”, freiraum Q21 exhibition space MuseumsQuartier Wien, ”Show Me Your Wound”, Dom Museum Wien, Vienna (2018-19), ”Profili del Mondo”, Drawing Biennal Rimini (2016), ”Black Rain”, Bildraum 01, Vienna (2015), ”Hans Hartung, Informel and Its Impact”, the National Museums in Berlin (2010), ”Sensai”, Museum Residenzgalerie Salzburg (2009), ”Works on Paper”, Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, Krakow, Poland (solo, 2009). Collections (selected): Albertina, Vienna, Berlinische Galerie, Dom Museum Vienna (Otto Mauer Collection), Kunsthalle Bremen, Kunstpalast Düsseldorf, Musei di Rimini, Museum of Prints and Drawings - The National Museums in Berlin, Collection of Prints, Drawings and Photographs - Dresden State Art Collections. She has been living and working in Vienna since 2010.