The idea of vulnerability—felt by the audience—as a criterion for an experience of art provokes me to review past experience. I could choose to refract many artistic encounters this way, but the work that first comes to mind is The Radiant, a film by the Otolith Group, made in Japan during the year following the Fukushima catastrophe on March 11, 2011. The film integrates archival material with interviews and other original footage shot in Japan. Although some of the ingredients might once have been packaged as documentary, here nothing is patently tendentious. There is no voice-over driving a narrative of the real. While the earthquake and nuclear destruction at Fukushima were like a bomb going off, one whose consequences continue to unfold, The Radiant roams from ground zero; the film itself comes to us on the order of a delicate radiance. This is a soft-bodied creature whose force, like that of radiation, is cumulative.
A woman takes the megaphone in a crowd of demonstrators who know their government is not keeping pace with the scale of the disaster. A white sanitary mask covers her mouth and nose. I feel for a few seconds what it would be like if my entire environment was toxic: breathing, eating, touching, contacting the earth under my feet, expose me to a death force.
This is vulnerability, no? But it’s not only these vicarious and literal moments of ubiquitous, palpable danger that disarm me. In a dark auditorium under flickering light, we enter a dream, the dream of our lives, the one that implicates us all. I remember visual passages of leaves, trees—were there raindrops? Delivering the toxins of the skies? Panoramic views of the city at night, the dense constellations of electric lights diagramming the bargain we have made. Wires against the bright sky, wires everywhere, the lines of our dependency on a force we can conjure but not control. The film never scolds, alarms, or seeks to persuade. It softly pulses observations, radiating the breakdown of a possibility: the relationship we might have had with life and the planet that sustains it. A field of receptivity is created. I am free to leave.