Radioactive Dishes Made From Fukushima's Soil

By Jacob Kleinman June 27, 2012 1:59 PM EDT
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It's been over a year since the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan and the area remains uninhabitable and abandoned. But dangerous levels of radiation were exactly what brought Hilda Hellström, a recent graduate of the master's product-design program at Royal Academy of Arts (RCA), to the area. She collected earth from the rice farm of Naoto Matsumura, a farmer who refused to leave his home after disaster struck last year, and used the soil to build clay pots.

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Together they extracted soil from three inches below the ground, which Hellström says is safe to be around but probably too radioactive to eat off of. She talked to iDesign about her reasons for visiting Japan and the experience of visiting the radioactive area.

Jacob Kleinman: What was your inspiration for creating these pieces?

Hilda Hellström: I am interested in objects that people can relate to. We are surrounded with so much stuff so in a way I tried to make objects that creates meaning (that makes us understand an event or a situation) instead of creating more chaos through more consumerism. In my press text I write about how a small piece of the Berlin wall can help us understand a large event in history but people relate differently to this event.

JK: What message are you trying to convey?

HH: It wasn't a certain message I wanted to convey with the vessels (even though I very much sympathize with the frustration Mr. Matsumura feels toward the japanese government for not taking responsibility) but instead highlight this event in history through the objects. Then it's up to everyone of us to relate to the objects differently.

JK: Do you have a personal connection to Japan or Fukushima and the nuclear disaster?

HH: Now I definitely have a personal relationship to the zone! At the RCA, and in London in general, you have friends from all over the world and we raised money for Japan last year. Just because I'm Scandinavian doesn't stop me from relating to the accident. I think everyone can relate to natural disasters because that's something that goes beyond borders and politics. Especially in these times when they seem to be constantly reoccurring.

JK: Can you describe the experience of traveling to Fukushima to collect the earth you used for the pieces?

HH:. I felt very alive in there to be honest and when the Geiger counter was off I didn't really think of the radiation as it is completely invisible. The first day I forgot to eat, drink and go to the toilet for 11 hours, as it was such an overwhelming experience. As you know, no workers are allowed in the zone due to the radiation so the areas affected by the tsunami looks the same now as a year ago. The towns are completely deserted. You really get the feeling that time has stopped.

JK: What is your focus of study within the design program at RCA and how did you become interested in design?

HH: I have a foundation in art. The course at the RCA is divided into 6 different platforms with different aims. My platform is led by an artist and the aim is to push the boundaries of what can be called design. For me the discussion about what is art and what is design is extremely boring. Before the modern era you didn't label yourself like that. You could easily be a poet and a painter. Bauhaus changed all of that but I think everything is pointing towards going back to that direction again. It's a stupid term but they call us the "slash/slash generation."

I have north american friends that have told me their design education is focused on the industry. In Sweden it is quite similar even though it is starting to get better. We really need to rethink industry and consumption. When I came to the RCA I had an amazing revelation about what I was allowed to do. The idea about design is very open minded in general in London. But to answer your question I like the process and the aim of design. I like that it is for people and not as esoteric and chaotic as art

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