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Visitors view the orbs made from glass and a low level of uranium.

Exhibit makes beauty out of nuclear waste

Etsuko Ichikawa: Broken Poems of Fireflies open to view virtually, in person; artist will lead talk September 30

September 24, 2020

The Broken Poem of Fireflies exhibition is shown in two parts. The first is a video room with three films created by artist Etsuko Ichikawa. The second part is a room-sized table holding glowing glass orbs made with a low level of uranium.

The films are described as “meditations on simple gestures made in these extraordinary settings,” said Ryan Hardesty, Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art curator of exhibitions and collections and interim executive director.

The orbs, he said, represent multiple things in Ichikawa’s life, from the fireflies Ichikawa would see growing up in Japan, to the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II; they even represent the swirling planets in the solar system.


“It’s a stunning exhibit if you get the chance to see it. In [Ichikawa’s] case, she grew up with the aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and what do you do with that? That’s your legacy growing up,” said Debby Stinson, museum marketing and public relations manager. “With this threat of nuclear war and all the horror it can hold, she chose to make something really, really beautiful from the radioactive waste in order to raise people’s awareness about the problem around the world.”

The exhibition was installed and put online on May 26, after the museum had to close following COVID-19 restrictions. Hardesty said he first found Ichikawa’s work through a public art project she was commissioned to do in Seattle through the Art in Public Places Program.

He said after seeing her work, he approached her and discussed her making an exhibit for the museum over time.

“We’re really committed to exhibiting artists that demonstrate innovation, progressive thinking, non-traditional approaches to art-making,” Hardesty said. “I think Etsuko exemplifies all those traits.”

Hardesty said Ichikawa is the fourth artist in a series of exhibitions where the museum commissions an artist to create new work and gives them enough financial support to achieve projects of larger scales.

Previous exhibits include Jeffry Mitchell’s “The Death Of Buddha,” Marie Watt’s “Companion Species (Underbelly)” and Michael Schultheis’ “Venn Pirouettes.”

Stinson said while the exhibition has been in the museum gallery, Ichikawa won the 2020 Artists Trust Innovator Award for her glasswork, and the exhibit was among the work shown that won Ichikawa the prize.

Ichikawa will also be leading two events on Sept. 30, the first being an in-person Open Gallery from 1-4 p.m. Ichikawa will walk viewers through the gallery and answer any questions they have. The second event will be a live-streamed artist’s talk from 5-6 p.m., where Ichikawa will go more in-depth into the process of creating the exhibit.

“We really look to art to be critics of our world,” Hardesty said. “I think about artists as being almost the best kind of optimist in that through their criticism, their response to the world, they’re asking the questions that we need to entertain to think about the world we want to live in.”

Stinson said although the exhibit is available on the museum’s website, if people can come to see it in person, they should.

“If you have the opportunity to actually get inside this dark room with this gorgeous exhibition of art and to see these really thought-provoking films … do it,” Stinson said. “When you’re in there and it’s huge and it’s glowing and it’s gorgeous, you’re transported.”

The exhibit is available to view online and in-person at the museum from 1-4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Visitors must complete an attestation form, wear a mask and comply with social distancing rules inside. There is a maximum of ten people inside at all times.

About the Contributor
JOEL KEMEGUE, Evergreen mint editor

Joel Kemegue is the current editor of the Mint section and a sophomore creative writing major from Bellevue, Washington. He enjoys reading, writing and...

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