Tohoku Electric Power kicks up a stink about art display at publicity hall via The Asahi Shimbun

SENDAI–A solitary bulging black sandbag, a sprinkling of dirt on a solar panel and a dosimeter: As art installations go, the work on display at a venue here smacked more of a statement than anything else.

And it got the attention of Tohoku Electric Power Co., operator of the Green Plaza hall where the exhibit could be seen by passers-by.

The utility uses the hall to publicize its activities, as well as providing a venue for the public to mount exhibitions.

Tohoku Electric asked for the work to be temporarily removed on grounds that people looking in from the street might regard it as suspicious.

The dirt is from Fukushima Prefecture, site of the 2011 nuclear disaster. It has already been decontaminated of radiation. The installation was created by Takashi Murakami, who is also an associate professor of art education at Miyagi University of Education.

He should not be confused with the pop artist of the same name, who is internationally famous and has also been involved in charity efforts to assist victims of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Artists from Japan and Canada organized an exhibition titled “Power To The People” to be held at the Green Plaza from Oct. 7 to 19. Murakami and the other artists said they wanted the exhibition to make visitors think about the future of energy from a neutral standpoint.

The artists chose the Green Plaza for their venue for the simple reason it is operated by an electric power company in the area most severely affected by the 2011 natural disasters.

“I tried to express the current situation in Fukushima where sand bags filled with dirt from decontamination work are stacked up everywhere,” Murakami said.

According to Daisuke Takeya, an artist based in Toronto who helped organize the exhibition, Green Plaza officials asked that Murakami’s work be removed because “people who pass by the front of the hall will think it was something suspicious.” The request was made as soon as the installation was set up on the evening of Oct. 6. His account was verified by Tatsuya Minamihaba, the head of Green Plaza.

Takeya and others refused, citing their freedom of expression.

Takeya proposed placing fence-like equipment around the work, but Green Plaza officials insisted that it be moved to another room and the door to the new site be kept closed. They also said no notice of what was on display would be placed outside of the room.

Further discussions followed. To compromise, it was finally decided to place a curtain over the entrance to the other room so the work would not be visible from the street, but to allow for the display of a label of the artist and work name in the main hall.

The exhibition finally was opened to the public on Oct. 10, three days behind schedule.

In response to an inquiry from The Asahi Shimbun, Minamihaba explained why the work was moved and said, “It did not match the policy of managing the Green Plaza in order to provide citizens with a place for enrichment and relaxation.”

He denied any connection between the decision and the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

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