HD video, sound, 14' 08''
Introduced by Nick Currie
A young girl and her father travel to Hiroshima, visiting its gardens, shops, museums, cafes. Across this journey, their family’s past—and its overwhelming intertwinement with the history of the city’s atomic bombing—unfolds at the alternated pace of apocalyptic Manga imagery and serene images of father and daughter’s wanders.
Nick Currie: The word “incommensurability” comes to mind when I watch Child of the Atom: there are these radically different—and largely unresolved—tenors and textures: anime versus video, the dramatic versus the domestic, the personal versus the historical, a child’s view versus something incomprehensibly adult. Was this sense of incommensurability at the root of the project, and did you deliberately keep it central as a kind of dramatic irony, an alienation device?
David Blandy: I make work to try to think through irresolvable problems, the central problem of this work being “how do we reconcile our lives with the events of history?” It’s not a choice any of us make. We are just subjects of previous events. It’s something I have continued to explore around race and colonial history with Larry Achiampong in our “Finding Fanon” series.
NC: “Sometimes I wonder how many died so I could live?” There’s almost a sense that this is a guilt which has been rummaged for, constructed, contrived. Why would someone want to go out of their way to feel guilty about something that happened long before they were born, something based on a tenuous family legend? Is it something to do with the consoling satisfaction of writing oneself into the great narrative of history? Is the feeling of being included in that dramatic sweep worth the price of the guilt?
DB: Soon after my grandfather died, when I was in my teens, I read a short memoir he had written (he was always a man of letters), where he states that he owed his life to the bomb. This ran so contrary to my understanding of the world, and of our place in the world, that it stuck with me my whole life, trying to make sense of that belief he held. He really did survive because of the end of the war. My family has talked about it so much over the years, and his time in the concentration camp; they haven't moved past those events, and there is a collective family trauma that you can't help but inherit. This sentiment clashed with my love of Japanese culture, of manga, anime, and video games. Hiroshima itself is a complex place, one that doesn’t let you forget its horrific past, but is very much a symbol of hope, of rebirth, a real city getting on with everyday living.
NC: Was the trip to Hiroshima undertaken with the film in mind, or was the film an unexpected afterthought?
DB: The idea for the film was formed on my first visit to Hiroshima, years before my daughter was born. So when we returned to make the film, we worked with the Hiroshima Film Commission to secure permits for the locations. Although the film feels quite natural, we were actually there for ten days with a very tight schedule. My daughter was just under two years old, so we planned the locations carefully, going to the Peace Museum, sitting near the Dome, visiting the island shrine. Claire Barrett (camera and also my partner) kept her distance with the camera in order not to interfere with the spontaneity of our interactions.
NC: I wonder if Chris Marker’s Sunless (1983) and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) were in your mind as you made Child of the Atom, and to what extent their modes and narratives influenced you?
DB: Sunless is a beautiful film and the essay structure has informed a lot of my work. I also looked at Hiroshima Mon Amour, but the main point of reference were Yasujiro Ozu's films. They are deceptively simple, with contemplative pacing, low camera angles, and observe the everyday family crises formed through generational conflict. The other major influence was Kozure Ōkami’s Shogun Assassin (1980), a complicated cross-cultural mess of a film—much of the script takes its tone from the child’s voiceover in it.
NC: Child of the Atom is a gallery installation, an environment: how do you feel about the film standing alone?
DB: The installation of Child of the Atom is an ornate frame, bringing the viewer further into the film’s psychological space. The film can function without it.
NC: Can you describe the process of working with Inko on the animation sequences?
DB: I had created several alter-egos for previous works, and the Child of the Atom figure was made for this one, hinting at the anti-hero in Akira, Tetsuo, with the red blanket/cape (turning into the red backpack in the filmed sequences). I gave this design to Inko, and described a series of different simple actions, borrowing from video game animation sequences. Inko drew these in her own style, and I laid these over the appropriated animation sequences.
Child of the Atom was presented on the occasion of David Blandy’s solo exhibition “The End of the World” at Seventeen, London
Manga Artwork: InkoCamera: Claire BarrettVoiceover: Rachel Piper
With thanks to Tomoko Nishizaki of Hiroshima Film Commission
Realized with the generous support of the Daiwa Foundation and Arts Council England
Courtesy of the artist and Seventeen, London