It starts with three films replete with images of the nuclear plant cooling tower at Satsop, of a woman dressed in a radiation suit and gas mask in a forest and on the beach, and of breaking glass. Moving to another room, numerous glass orbs swirling with color evoke peaceful fireflies in a field, but with a slightly eerie edge.
Broken Poems of Fireflies by multimedia artist Etsuko Ichikawa is an immersive installation at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU, a visual poem formed after the devastating 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan. The globes, while telling of a summer firefly festival that Ichikawa remembers fondly, glow with uranium.
“You can see there’s an inner world,” Ichikawa says about the pulsating blue and green glass orbs she created for the exhibit. “I can see an association with the world and the ocean. The uranium and radioactive material react to UV light. If you don’t have UV light, you don’t really see it.
“After the Fukushima nuclear disaster, I researched so much about what it is to have nuclear particles like cesium in the air or in the ocean. You don’t smell it, you don’t see it, you don’t feel it, but it’s there.”
Born in Tokyo and based in Seattle, Ichikawa has had works exhibited all over the world. She was a studio assistant with Dale Chihuly for eight years before starting her own studio in 2003. She cofounded Artists for Japan, a Seattle-based grassroots group to support the relief efforts of the Great East Japan earthquake and aftermath. Ichikawa is also a member of NOddIN, a Tokyo-based collective of filmmakers who are paying attention to various social, political, and environmental issues.
The exhibition runs until March 19, 2021. Visit museum.wsu.edu to find hours and how to visit.
Watch Ichikawa’s presentation about Broken Poems of Fireflies.
Listen to a podcast with Ichikawa and WSU Fine Arts professor Squeak Meisel.