EXPOSED IN A HUNDRED SUNS
Arai Takashi is contemporary daguerreotypist, working in one of the earliest camera-based photographic techniques. Perfected in the 1830s, it laid claim to fixing camera obscura images with relatively short exposure times, popularising photography as a means of producing images with astonishing fidelity to life. Though aspects of the daguerreotype process were superseded soon after its invention, to consider it anachronistic or fashionably ‘retro’ is perhaps to miss the point. The daguerreotype can, of course, be both of these things but it is also a medium with an enduring history whose persistence has seen it accumulate a catalogue of associations and possible meanings.
In his work, Arai brings the conceptual elements of daguerreotypy to the fore, emphasizing the technique’s fundamental properties as a means of fixing light, its still unsurpassed resolution, its remarkable tonal stability even as it shifts from positive to negative depiction, its introduction of the mirror into modern art, so that the viewer would always be aware of their position in relation to the object. Arai’s chosen means of representation may be older than some of those applied by his peers, but his use of it is utterly contemporary.
Most recently Arai has employed the daguerreotype process in a trans-historical investigation, operating on the uneasy territory created by the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Central to the work he presents in Out of Doubt is the eerie relevance that existing monuments take on in the presence of a new tragedy. Here, the Hibaku Piano, heavily exposed to radiation in the bombing of Hiroshima joins recent images of Fukushima. Accompanying these are daguerreotypes of the Lucky Dragon, the fishing boat whose crew were exposed to the fallout of US nuclear tests in 1954, and the Trinity site in New Mexico, where the first nuclear device was detonated 16 July 1945. A Geiger counter installed above the work triggers a blast of ultra-bright light.
In this context, the connection between exposure to light and exposure to radiation becomes all too clear – daguerreotypy is proposed as a means of registering the silent apocalypse haunting Japan. Also clear – painfully so – is that we need new tragedies to make existing monuments relevant.
Curator of Asian art at Brisbane’s Queensland Art Gallery