Today in the annals of head-scratching design provocation: Hilda Hellström, a recent graduate of the master’s product-design program at RCA, has fashioned a set of dishes from the contaminated earth around the Fukushima nuclear disaster site. Who wants a bowl of radioactive ice cream?!
Okay, obviously these assorted bowls, plates, and vases are not meant to be functional. But you wouldn’t really want them in your living room as sculptures, either. So what’s the point? Hellström says she wanted to create food vessels, “which are just as useless for their purpose as the land and the farmers of Fukushima”--in other words, to make something as cosmically absurd, albeit on a much smaller scale, as the disaster itself.
Hellström flew to Fukushima to gather soil from the rice farm of Naoto Matsumura, the last known person still living inside the evacuation zone. (In a heart-wrenching video, Matsumura admits he wanted to stick around to tend to his animals. We also find out that he tried to flee to his extended family’s house, but they turned him away because they thought he was radioactive.)
Together, Hellström and Matsumura extracted soil from 3 inches beneath the surface of Matsumura’s fields, where the earth contains 2,500 becquerel/kilogram (units of radioactivity). That was “the right amount of radiation,” Hellström tells us in an email. “It is safe to be around, but … I wouldn’t advise people to eat from the plates." Then she placed them into thick glass jars ("The radiation is low enough so I didn’t need any special casings."), threw the jars in her suitcase (DEFRA, the U.K.'s quarantine organization, okayed this), and returned to the U.K. to mold the soil into what she calls “slightly radioactive” dishes.
"The aim with the project is to … construct an object that speaks of a much larger event than the object itself and inhabits a narrative that goes far beyond its form or function,” she writes. Mission accomplished. I just hope her roommates don’t mistake one of those things for a cereal bowl.