Sunday, July 6, 2008

July Glitches

Harper with a fever

A-bombed glass bottle on cyanotype paper

Man walking outside of Peace Museum

She can not believe they are leaving in 3 weeks already. She wants another month to make more work because she has run into several obstacles. There are A-bombed objects - split and burned bamboo, a tree knot, a roof tile and others - sitting on x-ray film in light-tight bags in the basement of the Peace Museum where they keep over 19,000 artifacts in a 3 large storage rooms with sliding cedar doors. She finally got a box of medical x-ray film from Guthrie's best friend at school, Kenta's mother, Yuko. Unfortunately, she still has found no one to process the film. She and David think that most radiologists and doctors here either do not want to be involved in such an experiment that may indicate higher levels of residual radiation than anyone admits or they don't want to participate in a failed experiment, "to ruin her work". She can not take the film with her because it would no doubt be x-rayed several times on the trip home. Te objects have been sitting there for a week. She is supposed to pick the film up tomorrow but she will leave it there until she has a processing place. She is not sure any of it will work. She and her sister Madeleine loaded the envelopes with the film and objects in not such a light-tight room. They noticed the light leaks around the door after the first 2 envelopes and fixed the leaks. But there might not be any exposure at all and even if there is, it COULD be background radiation, radiation from the table the objects are sitting on. It is not a very controlled or scientific experiment. Saying it is "art" seems like a lame explanation.

She has also been struggling with the cyanotypes of A-bombed objects at the Peace Museum - a marbelized-satin-pink strapless watch, melted bottles, a hair comb with one tooth missing. The ocyanotpyes she did on the flat roof of their apartment on the top of Hijiyama Hill are perfect - deep blue explosions of dead flower heads, ghostly characters made from eucalyptus bark. At the museum, she placed the paper and objects next to a window with thick glass and watched the paper change. When she removed the objects there was the yellow-whitish shadow of the object but when she washed the paper at home, there was close to nothing - a blurry orb in an uneven sea of ugly blue. So she bought a daylight bulb at a photo store because the salesman told her it was ultraviolet. She made 3 test strips and placed them under the light with household objects upon the paper. She and Madeleine kept hearing a POP! and when she finally went to check, the bulb was smoking and the plastic fixture melting. She quickly turned the light off and again, when she washed the paper after a 15 minute exposure, there was close to nothing - a barely white fork in a barely blue field and only one hot spot of blue from the light's reflection through the anise liquor bottle that Madeleine brought her from Hong Kong. She is hoping the UV bulbs - reptile or grow lights - arrive tomorrow from Lucy, her trusted mother-in-law, along with ceramic fixtures so she does not cause chaos at the museum. She will do another test and if it fails, the lovely ladies working at the museum will let her do the prints in the "sunshine garden" - a small U-shaped loading deck space at the lowest point in all of Peace Park. She will have to watch when the sun is directly overhead or the space will mostly be in shadow. They would much prefer NOT to take any of the objects outside and if I must, they must be with me at all times. They are very busy this time of year, preparing for Hiroshima Day August 6, which she is very sad they will miss with their July 30 departure.

Several museum workers have family who were "exposed to the A-bomb," which is how everyone here says it. She finds the language disturbing - that she is once again "exposing" these objects to something. Guthrie gets very upset every time she says she is going to shoot the trees. He wants her to say, "going to make photographs of the trees." He is right of course and she has known that ever since she read Susan Sontag's On Photography in high school. There is an implicit violence to photography, actually and linguistically. Kahori always knew she wanted to do something for peace and about the A-bomb. They are 2 of the nicest women she has ever met and she can not believe she has access to such haunted and holy and eternally tragic objects. She considers herself lucky to be working in the same exact spaces as Isisuchi Miyako did for Strings of Time, but she guesses she is far less prepared than Miyako was. She feels like an amateur. She hadn't thought through a lot of this clearly and fully. She should have brought more light-tight bags, a lead box, UV lightkit/lightbox, but she did not have all these ideas before she came here and finding things in Hiroshima without speaking Japanese when they involve radiation or the A-bomb, is quite difficult as an American.

She still is waiting for permission to do rubbings of many sites. Tomorrow morning she goes to fill out an application to make rubbings of the basement where one man survived - right across the river from the hypocenter. She wants to rub many more A-bombed trees and take black and white photographs with her Mimaya of all the bays at the old clothing depot - an old gargantuan red brick building that survived the A-bomb and where people have planted gardens - both flower and vegetable, and of the trees, the stone steps leading up to the Rio Sanyo memorial...

Meanwhile, Harper has had a hard time overall and it makes her feel guilty and sad. She has been to the doctor three times already, with conjunctivitis last week and bacterial tonsillitis this week. She is on antibiotics and last night woke up every 30 minutes moaning in pain, poor thing. She is homesick for her Nana and dog and friends at school, where she will not be returning. She had to miss the YMCA family picnic today but Guthrie went with David and they both got sunburned. Elin took Harper by tram down to Ujina Port and they took an air-conditioned indoor ferry ride to Etajima Island and back, not even getting off the boat and then a taxi home. Harper had a good long nap and woke up to her lunch request of bacon.

She has read so much since she has been here: Into the Wild; Fire from the Ashes- Stories from Hiroshima and Nagasaki; 36 Views of Mt. Fuji; About a Boy; John Hersey's Hiroshima (which is just about the most amazing book she has ever read); Goodbye Madame Butterfly. She wants to read Embracing Defeat - Japan After World War II before they leave.

Scattered but inspired, she is not ready to go. Maybe she will be in 3 weeks. She is looking forward to being "home" in their comfortable bed with their own pillows. Her bug-bitten body's theory now is that the little biting insects live in the barley that is in the underside of all their pillows. She longs for fresh food from the farmer's market, although every piece of fruit and vegetable she has bought here has been perfect, even peaches and tomatoes. And she longs for their kitchen and pets, their friends and family, all of them. But she will miss this great distance - being half-way around the world and the divine sushi and noodles, the long long walks and crazy taxi rides, the loud and frightening crows and stray cats, the space to be a stranger and an artist and a foreigner and a professional and mother all at once without the petty misery of her department. Most of all she will miss being completely and utterly inspired and overwhelmed by this city, this historical event, the absence that has been made present by itself.