James Carman: Grasshopper Lies heavy: A Remembrance of Hiroshima 70 Years On
August 6–September 11, 2015
The nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were unprecedented in human history. Preceding today’s drone warfare, they marked the first time that the push of a button reduced entire cities to rubble and people to shadows. The blasts, combined with the radiation sickness and burns in the months after the bombs, would kill more than 200,000 people and scar the Japanese people and culture for decades to come. James Carman’s current exhibition, The Grasshopper Lies heavy: A Remembrance of Hiroshima 70 Years On, seeks to explore these scars, make something beautiful from the tragedy, and hopefully help us move toward peace.
The exhibition features seven digital prints and a video installation entitled Song Series. The images feature a man painted white—Butoh dance master Katsura Kan—representing Japan, and four men painted black, representing World War II’s Allied powers as well as our current national security state. Upon entering the gallery, one first encounters a black-and-white image of rubble with Kan standing in the foreground screaming, a tori (the iconic Japanese gate resembling a pi symbol) behind him, while the four men loom in front of a pink mushroom cloud watching him. In another image, Kan crouches on the ground, his face contorted as if he is crying, as the men surround him and aim toy guns at him. While the images are compelling, they are presented without wall text or an artist statement, and without the background provided by Carman in the press release and description of the exhibition featured on PointB’s website, the viewer loses a layer of context. Butoh dance was invented in the 1950s when many artists felt traditional forms of Japanese dance and theater no longer represented the turmoil and spirit of postwar Japan. Carman’s photographs, however, largely lack a sense of motion. It is only when viewers are able to see Kan and the men in black move in the video that the true spirit of the dance and images comes to life.
The gallery space itself interfered with the viewing experience as three smaller format photos are tucked around corners and are thus easy to miss. One such image—to me the most powerful of the series—is a close-up of Kan looking over his shoulder defiantly into the camera, a shadow of discoloration around his neck. Upon closer look, one realizes the shadowy mark is a handprint. This image, more than the rest, conveys a sense that despite the destruction, racism, and oppression suffered by the Japanese people in the wake of World War II, they will nevertheless continue to survive, recreate themselves, and thrive.
ALYEA CANADA is a writer and recent graduate from the New School with a master’s in Liberal Studies.