LONDON – A controversial performance artist whose work explores the safety of food from Fukushima Prefecture is attracting media interest at one of London’s most prestigious contemporary art shows.
New York-based Ei Arakawa is offering free soup to visitors at the Frieze Art Fair made from mushrooms and radishes grown in Iwaki, a city about 60 km south of the nuclear plant that suffered meltdowns following the tsunami in 2011.
His performance art is titled, “Does This Soup Taste Ambivalent?” and has been picked up by British newspapers with sensationalist references to “radioactive soup” and “poison.”
Arakawa says he wants to capture the “dilemma” and “ambivalence” felt by many people who are torn between government assurances and their own “psychological anxieties” over the safety of the food.
He said the decision on whether to accept the soup means visitors can “reflect on their image of Fukushima” even though the vegetables are safe and have been checked by a local radiation monitoring group.
The artist argues that he is not trying to make any political statement but wants his work to stimulate a debate about food safety.
In his booth at the London art fair, visitors are able to learn more about the issues with official pronouncements and information from the anti-nuclear lobby.
Speaking to Kyodo News Wednesday, Arakawa said: “Lots of people have been eating the soup but the art audience tends to be curious and carefree. It has created a dilemma for some people who decide not to eat it.
“Visitors are starting to ask questions about food safety and I have told them to go and research the issue,” he added.
Arakawa says his performance in London has already generated many positive and negative comments on Japanese social media outlets.
Arakawa’s mother, Miwako, who lives in Iwaki, is making the soup and they are handing out about 100 cups per day.
Lucy Dustgate, who tried some soup, said: “I didn’t have any worries, really. There was a little doubt but then I thought it is at the Frieze Art Fair so it has to be okay. It’s an exchange of trust.”
Another consumer, Ali Steventon, said: “The soup is great. Why not! There’s enough pollution everywhere. It’s a game and a free lunch. I’m a student. Life on the edge!”
But not everyone was persuaded.
Daphne Rosentahl said: “I don’t always trust what the media says about safety. You often hear 10 years later that things have turned out differently.
“I got excited when I read free soup but I didn’t know about the contents until I arrived. Now, I’m thinking I could eat some, but I would prefer not.”
Speaking at an event on Monday to promote Arakawa’s work, a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in London said Japan’s food safety regulations are stricter than those found in the European Union.
He added that none of the samples of vegetables taken from Fukushima Prefecture has exceeded safe radioactivity limits.
The spokesman claimed there have been no reports of health problems relating to food from Fukushima Prefecture, referring to the triple nuclear meltdowns sparked by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Arakawa’s food event is scheduled to run through Saturday.