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  • I've been thinking about Japan. The one year anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and the resulting Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster is tomorrow, Sunday March 11.

    It so happened that last year when I heard the news of the disaster, I was researching the Cold War and the early years of nuclear tests in Nevada. It seemed like, once again, it was not only one world, but one nuclear world, past and present, and not in a timeline so much as in a nuclear mandala. The power of tides and faults combined with safety lapses and tunnel vision and science gone insane seemed to belong to no one country, no one decade.

    Like everybody, I was tied to the news in those early days, absorbing images (the brave workers at the Fukushima plant in their hazmat gear, or in none, stalwart, too brave to even accept what was coming in their own eyes and pores, toiling in what looked like a nuclear dream, suited and goggled visions down into the core of the reactor, burning glowing...) and the towns, the fisherfolk, the houses (always the houses, the homes), boats on dry crumpled land, the emptiness of homeland hamlets. The blues ain't got nothing on the crossroads of tsunamis.

    In the horror and feeling so helpless in the face of it, I turned to Tomatsu.

    Shomei Tomatsu, one of my favourite Japanese photographers. He has documented so many things, he documented the after-horror of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he did books on the marginalized, the sexually outcast, he did a book on life in Okinawa. He makes a quiet place with his pictures, which just quietly, quite nonchalantly shred your heart.

    I went back, tandem with watching the Fukushima news (the water, the toxic vegetables, the dire in diaspora..), to a book of Tomatsu's photographs I keep handy, "Skin of The Nation." I looked at the faces of the nuclear after-days in Japan. I had nothing to say.

    You work with words, and then images leave you wordless.

    I had to have a conversation, somehow. So I began to sketch. The only way I knew how at that moment to talk to the pictures of what nuclear bombs can do was with my arm, but not the part of my forearm which carries the story words in syllables and speech meaning, but the part which was more image to image, a tete-a-tete between film and drawing.

    Every day, I started my morning in the lucid dreaming talking to Tomatsu's photographs of Japan.

    This is one of the pictures I drew. It had a lot to do with skin, and faces, things in the shadows, the way hurt puts a population into the shadows, and the camera eye with its cold compassion draws the shape of the hurt out.

    It was a small conversation every day for many weeks, putting small shreds of my own heart into some gesture. A small gesture to Japan.

    (Sketch by Susan)
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