Also included on the back wall of the gallery are selected prints from Ito’s Burning Away series. The work references the bomb releasing a roaring fire ball that matched the temperature of the sun itself, leaving many burns on victims that were not immediately vaporised. With a scarcity of even basic medicine, the survivors treated their burns with honey and various oils such as cooking and motor oil. For decades, few knew of the true horror laying beneath their flesh as the invisible radiation consumed their bodies years after the war.
The exhibition was the result of Ito’s three years as an artist-in-resident at Creative Alliance. On the back wall of the exhibition, he has hung two large pieces from his Burning Away series, “which reference that roaring fire ball released by the bomb that left many of the surviving victims with a massive amount of burns”.
These two large-scale pieces utilise honey and various sun-fused gelatin papers in “a recreation of the numerous stories from the survivors.” The pattern of the print depends on the type of oil used on the paper, creating various microscopic-like images that Ito thinks may remind the viewer of cancer cells.
“I always consider my artwork, especially installation pieces, to be temporal monuments,” claims Ito. The artist explains that whenever a visitor enters the space and walks among the rows, a large shadow is cast onto the piece and the wall, making them part of the installation. “This inclusion reflects the idea that the nuclear issue is not a thing of the past, but rather an ongoing issue that even you might become a part of this monument.”
A challenge to this work, among other challenges such as funding, was if anyone “actually cared”. One of the frustrating parts, as Ito puts it, is that unless nuclear tensions are high and public figures are threatening to release them, the nuclear issue as a whole is shifted into the background, even though it could happen at any time. “To me,” he continues, “the urgency is present. From witnessing my grandfather’s passing to inheriting this nuclear legacy, the idea and reality of nuclear arsenals either being used or falling into disrepair is not an imaginary scenario.” The artist’s main aim with this exhibition is to get people to contemplate the nuclear question and to start the conversation of: “What can we do?”
Kei Ito: Our Looming Ground Zero is at Creative Alliance, Baltimore until 18 September.