At first glance, the Kaitlyn Schwalje sculpture “Unfit for Consumption” appears to tell a parable of some sort. The top of the piece scene seems serene, with grazing boars and a strange liquid form taking shape. Yet, a more ominous narrative forms when one looks below. The truth is that Schwalje’s sculpture has even stranger, yet real-world origins.
In 2011, the 9.0 magnitude earthquake that struck outside of Tokyo, and its accompanying tsunami, brought further disaster to the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. Evacuations followed, yet the boar population, immune to harm from the radiation, flourished. The boar began to threaten farmland, and now, the radioactive creatures are killed and buried in a few mass graves 35 miles from the power plant.
The artist is the daughter of a safety engineer, an expert in disasters. “When a factory worker’s hand is ground into a chicken processing machine or when someone slips down the stairs, he figures out why it happened and who was at fault,” she says. “He is a professional expert witness: he testifies about everything from the lighting codes of stairwells to the material analysis of stress fractures in steel.”
Thus, Schwalje had an “education in disaster” growing up. “I became fascinated by the mechanisms that govern how everything works, from physical architectures to people and their behaviors,” she says. We also see hints of this in “A Stage for the Worst of Times,” a miniature theater set created by the artist. From the Challenger shuttle to Germanwings Flight 9525, the artist’s fascination is on display.
(Photos by Alexander Lewis.)