“Bikini Lines” Is the New World’s Largest Painting
By Zachariah Weaver | English major
Executive Director and artist for the Bikini Lines art project, Christian Forestell, unravels the reasons behind trying to make the world’s largest painting.
When you hear of a proposal to paint on a canvas that covers 96.6 thousand square feet, the one thing you could assume is that its intentions are to be the world’s largest painting—and you’d be right. However, Bikini Lines, a project that is taking place southeast of Japan on the Pacific Ocean’s remote islands, Bikini Atoll, has a list of other purposes behind it, according to the Tokyo-based Executive Producer Christian Forestell.
“When it comes down to it, the thought process was simple. We wanted to help Japan,” said Forestell. And Forestell wants to make that happen by revealing some truths through documented footage about the radioactivity numbers the media may have misused during the Japan disasters.
But going into the project, he knew it would be difficult to make that relationship understandable for many people.
He explained that he learned a lot about building a “thick skin” for entrepreneurship when he studied architecture during his time at university in Canada. “We have to have this thick skin going in because it’s a difficult project,” said Forestell. “It’s slow moving, but we gave ourselves a lot of time.” At times, the low amounts of web traffic on the project’s website have gotten disheartening for Forestell.
Forestell said that architect professors have a job to be as harsh and critical as possible in order to give students like himself the thickest skin in times of failure. Forestell said that lesson is one reason he’s gotten Bikini Lines this far. But the important message Forestell remains focused on are the truths the project is meant to reveal, and those keeps him moving.
The project has largely been in response to the earthquake and tsunami disasters that hit Japan in March 2011. Its location, Bikini Atoll, is a group of 23 islands and part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Until “Bikini Lines” is painted, the current record holder for the largest painting in the world is David Aberg’s, “Mother Earth,” which sits on the grounds of what used to be an aircraft hanger in Angelholm, southern Sweden. “Bikini Lines” would exceed the size of “Mother Earth” by 10,000 square miles. But it will have more to communicate to the world than just its superior size.
“Japan is quite good at helping themselves in a lot of different ways. They’ve put up with a lot of earthquakes and rebuilt after a lot of disasters,” said Forestell. “They’re people who are more experienced and older and they work hard.”
But Forestell also believed that when it comes to helping children in disasters, like in the one that hit the country in March last year, Japan isn’t as experienced.
During the weeks that followed the disasters in Japan, the country’s Ministry of Health stated it was aware of at least 82 orphaned children.
Bikini Lines is a multi-artist collaboration that is trying to raise funds through a self-promotional website called Kickstarter. They give away what Forestell explains as “free incentives” for people who promote the project the most. For example, if anyone gets a celebrity to tweet about the project, they will get an expense-free trip out to the site. The final project will have documented footage for sale and those proceeds will all go to the Ashinaga Foundation, a group that helps children orphaned in natural disasters.
“The painting element of the project actually came second and the first element we wanted to do was just film,” said Forestell. “There was a thematic tie between the project and mine and my friend’s experiences in Tokyo after the Earthquake and tsunami last year.”
The canvas is the Cactus Dome that was built by the U.S. military between 1977-1980, according to Forestell. It was built in order to trap radiation levels that U.S. nuclear bomb testing caused in years prior.
Forestell explained that making a documentary would show how closely related the scare of nuclear radiation in Japan last March and the construction of the Cactus Dome were.
“The biggest danger [in Japan] was the question if we were going to be alright and is there really all this radiation?” said Forestell. He said there were journalists that were fear mongering and were not explaining how radiation works, throwing around numbers to communicate “danger.”
The Cactus Dome had this same stigma attached to it, according to Forestell. Initially, he thought that if he could film a documentary at the Cactus Dome with local people, he could allow scientists to show journalists how to read and use these numbers, hopefully dispelling a lot of the fear.
“Making the documentary could allow everyone to see that the local people who live on Bikini Atoll and Ailinginae Atoll [the dome’s location] have lived generally healthy lives for quite a long time,” Forestell said.
However, he explained that the documentary idea slowly turned into making more of a community-driven project based on the positives of the situation. Therefore, he and his friends decided to go ahead and make the Cactus Dome more of a monument or a piece of art to reflect upon. The community aspect comes in when artists enter in their ideas for what should be painted on the canvas.
But they had to get permission from the locals before thinking about what to paint.
Forestell first discussed the project with the Marshall Island’s Ambassador Jiba B. Kabua. Mr. Kabua was excited about the project and went back to get permission respectively from the island’s locals and elders.
“As he explained it to us, the island elders sort of grinned about the project and said it was a fantastic idea,” Forestell said. “And then they said, ‘do we get to be on camera?’ So, you know, I was quite happy with the results and their permission.”
Despite the great feeling Forestell had gotten from getting the okay on the site, there is still plenty of work and one more Kickstarter fundraiser in June to go.