Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Iodine-131 and the winds of change

Iodine-131: winds of change, oil on paper, 76x56 cm

Iodine is a mysterious element. At room temperature it appears to have no liquid state. It's dark crystals sublimate directly into violet fumes (watch it do that here). That is why this latest 'portrait' is not only a representation of a hazmat-suited Fukushima worker but also a personification of airborne iodine vapour. Hence the purple curling fumes and haze in the painting. This is a companion piece in a trilogy along with Cesium-137: bitter harvest and Strontium-90: poisoned earth. This series can be seen as a form of Neo Arte Nucleare (a French art movement of 1950's Art Informel).

We need trace amounts of iodine in our diet to keep thyroid growth normal. Maybe that's because we once came from the ocean (our blood serum is basically seawater) and ocean is the greatest source of iodine compounds. Countries far from the ocean experience the most iodine deficiencies for it seems iodine compounds are wind born in ocean spray and deposit on our crops, get ingested by cows, get concentrated in milk.

All good for us - until you substitute good old home-brand iodine for radio-active Iodine -131 that gets taken up by the thyroid in the usual way. But it leaves unusual results in its train - cancer.

As the American Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) explains, "The primary risk of concern with iodine-131 is thyroid cancer, with children more at risk than adults. A high enough intake of iodine-131 by children can also cause developmental problems and other thyroid diseases. Young girls are at greater risk than boys. Female infants have a risk of thyroid cancer 70 times greater than adult males for the same radiation exposure. Some iodine-131 deposits on land, including pastures. When contaminated grass is eaten by cows and goats, iodine-131 concentrates in milk. It has a half-life of about eight days, meaning that appreciable amounts will remain in the environment for a few months after large releases." One blogger has declared himself radiolactoseintollerant.

So in Fukushima prefecture during May there were restrictions on the distribution and consumption of fish, milk, turnips, bamboo shoots, spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. But it's contamination has spread well outside of Japan.

Too late for Nagasaki staffers exposed to Fukushima radiation while on a mission there to assist. Blogger Gabi Greve in Japan reports that Nagasaki University Hospital says that at least 40% of the Nagasaki helpers sent to Fukushima Prefecture returned suffering internal radiation exposure from iodine-131 and cesium-137.

The Fukushima-meltdown dispersion cloud has deposited Iodine-131 onto Michigan and California. In Hawaii boron is being feed to cows and sprayed on crops to absorb radioactive iodine. Berkley has radioactive strawberries. It was reported that on 9 April iodine-131 had been found, albeit in levels well below the EPA's maximum contaminant level, in the milk of Oak Ridge, Chatanooga, Helena,  Columbia, Cincinatti, Pittsburgh, Painesville, Denver, Detroit, Trenton, Waretown NJ and Muscle Shoals, AL.

Meanwhile,  Réseau "Sortir du nucléaire" has asked permission to publish a painting or two in their tri-monthly magazine from my Fukushima series. I have agreed and have forwarded Fukushima Future, Fukushima Samurai I, Fukushima Samurai II, and Fukushima Samurai in the nuclear fires for them to choose from. My work is expected to appear in the July edition of the magazine.

Sortir du nucléaire is an anti-nuclear alliance of 874 organisations based in France. Their charter is to rid the world of nuclear weapons and power plants. With a membership of 50,251 individuals, Sortir du nucléaire publishes a monthly newsletter with a circulation of 20,000. You can visit their website here and see clips of some of their anti-nuclear activities here, herehere and here. Or follow them on Faceook here. One can subscribe to their monthly digital newsletter by emailing this web address.

But the last word today i will give i to French rappeur Duval Mc, his rap rage made chic by the seductive sibilants, exquisite edgy vowels, and cultured charm of French language on the attack. The spirit of Rousseau lives: "Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains."


  1. Hi Harry,
    See? I knew the world would notice this series--as it should!! This is what art is supposed to be and what it can do. And this may just be the most ominous spectre of your series to date. Erie, terrifyingly to the point and poignant beyond anything words can communicate. No translation is required to know and understand it's warning to us all.
    Congrats on the first of what will, no-doubt be world-wide recognition of this wonderful work.

  2. no words .
    wonderful painting.
    this is it.

  3. You have such faith me, Gary. You are such a tonic. If only i could share your conviction, lol. But it is gratifying that those particularly troubled by the events in Fukushima should find relevance in my art.

    Cheers, friend.

  4. Caio, the maestro of the intense self-portrait, thanks for your encouragement. I think this recent work has turned off a few people and the journey has felt a bit more lonely. So your encouraging words are much appreciated.

  5. This series is extraordinary. I have been away for a week and have not seen the last four pieces. They are beautifully soft and atmospheric; seductive. Yet the arrogant violence of the situation is never obscured. I am very pleased that your work has been noticed by a wider audience. It should be.

  6. each more powerful it seems than the last. To bad a tragedy has brought these into being but how else could they have been born?

  7. Hi Harry, I agree with Gary, "Erie, terrifyingly to the point and poignant beyond anything words can communicate. " Deserving of recognition. Needed to express what words cannot.

    You're not alone. I think most people are made speechless by the grisly reality. On a hopeful note Germany is phasing out all their nuclear power plants and have already closed down a few.

  8. I just looked through all the Fukushima portraits--they seem imbued with acceptance and resignation. Keep howling, Harry.

  9. Thank you so much, Davida. I have the greatest respect for your experience as an artist and art teacher and so i find your kind comments particularly encouraging.

  10. True John. As an artist I feel a bit like a vampire, feeding off these tragic events and my reactions to them.

    But its sort of part of the discipline of expressive painting, i believe, to burrow down into your feelings, give them some understandable artistic form, and offer them as a communication to any who will pause to look and ponder.

  11. Yes, Elizabeth, an extraordinary decision by Germany, really. Their 17 reactors represent a very sizable proportion of Germany's energy production. But where there is a will, there is way. Maybe nuclear power will turn out not to have be a 'clean' alternative to fossil fuels but a bridge on the way to developing alternative clean and sustainable energy source. We won't know if we don't try.

  12. Thanks, Dav. Great to have you visit.

  13. Thanks so much for your interest Hallie. But i know these issues are close to your heart too and neither of us is going quietly, lol.

  14. Another great addition to the series, Harry, and so very happy to know that your work will be seen by a wider audience as it surely deserves!

  15. Harry, this is an excellent piece of art. I wrote about your arts in my blog so that people in Japan would appreciate your art as well.

  16. Hi Gabriella. Sorry for the delay in responding but i had lost track of where a bag of comments went! Thanks for the confidence in me. It certainly seems to speak to many, but my greatest satisfaction would be if these works actually spoke to the people and workers of Fukushima.

  17. Satoshi, thank you so much. I painted these works with great sincerity, great anger at the failure of industry and government leaders, great sorrow for the villagers, farmers and fishermen of Fukushima. Thank you for including me in your blog. Much appreciated.