Artist in residence: Una B. Sigurðardóttir (Iceland)

I came to Japan 9th of February, winter was realising its last grip on the land. Still it was beautiful to me, shapes in plants and landscape that I have not seen before. As my stay here unfolds and the warm blowing winds of spring are heating up the land, blossoms are appearing on the trees and the grass and the leafs are gaining its green. I desire to see this country in high summer, it must be intensively green.

I’m not entirely driven by a romantic haze to talk about the nature here. The thing is, that it has become frightening. The nature in large area of land is polluted by nuclear radiation. The water, the plants, the ground, the air.

“Being here, Japan” (2012) by Una B. Sigurðardóttir

You remember the Fukushima accident caused by the tsunami and the earthquake on the 11th of March last year? It makes you think about things from a completely new perspective. You wonder if what you touch, eat, breath or drink is polluted by radiation or not. And the government is not a helpful hand either when it comes to food control or deciding what is a livable area or not. Their solution to the problem was to raise the maximum level of radiation standards up.

People here disagree on how to perceive this new reality. Some take it very seriously and are afraid, want to move away or have already moved more south, while other prefer to keep on going with their lives, as normally as they can. But everybody seem to have it in mind, all the time.

The strange thing about living in radiation is that you do not feel or see it.  You just know it.

“Being here, Japan” (2012) by Una B. Sigurðardóttir

When I first arrived this thought was almost suffocating for me. But in less than 2 weeks, my fear had transformed from being a real feeling into a knowledge that I amazingly adopt to as a part of my reality. Normality.

It’s strange. I can imagine that living with this concept of reality for a year will quickly make you numb to the severity of it. It’s easy to forget and keep everything the same as before, even though nothing is. The real battle that seems to be going on inside of the people,  is the fact that most of them love their live as it is and do not really want to change it. Changes are difficult and nothing will be the same again. So as long as the threat is invisible it is easy to ignore it.

Perhaps it is possible to call the overall state of mind concerning radiation a normalised abnormality.

This issue is a big part of staying here. This huge problem.

“Being here, Japan” (2012) by Una B. Sigurðardóttir

Photographs belong to the artist

It saddens me that the Japanese people are faced with this long-term environmental disaster. I wish no one to live on a land who has been polluted so greatly that it is endangering their health and future. But the thing is, that many many places are being or are already ruined because of industrial and corporation power.  Please note this.



Una Björk Sigurðardóttir (b. 1983) was recently an artist in residence in Tocido, Japan. In Una’s works there are underlying narratives, and although she critically examines serious subject matter, her work is liberally spiked with humor. Una seeks to process her personal vision of society and environment in the context of the ideological assumptions and global realities that modern man is faced with. Therefore many images of consumerism and popular culture, as well as symbols of dominant ideologies, have become motifs in her work.

Between 9th of February – 11th of April 2012, Una has been writing diary notes which she has been kind enough to share with us. This post is the first of three letters, so stay tuned!

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Filed under Art, Artist in residence, Japan, Konsthopp, Political Art

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