Spare, spooky and, in its rigorous way, spectacular, Etsuko Ichikawa’s “Echo at Satsop” (on show at Davidson Galleries through Sept. 28) has a nightmare beauty to it.
Its drawings, wall sculptures, sound installation and short film were triggered, in part, by the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011. Ichikawa, born in Tokyo and residing in Seattle since 1993, is especially concerned by the meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
“This incident,” she notes in her artist’s statement, “caused substantial radiation leakage that has had an immeasurable impact on people’s health and the environment, and will continue to do so for generations to come.”
Ichikawa found an “echo” of the Fukushima catastrophe in Washington state’s Satsop nuclear facility, which was abandoned in mid-construction in 1983. Satsop’s colossal Cooling Tower #3 provides the set for a short film, also titled “Echo at Satsop,” that’s part of the exhibit.
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The tower, close to 500 feet tall, is a literal echo chamber as well as a thematic echo of the Fukushima plant, and Ichikawa’s film makes eerie use of it. Nearby is a sound installation composed of 115 hanging glass spheres, arranged in a towering spiral pattern (Ichikawa is a former Dale Chihuly studio assistant). The small spheres hover above an 8-foot-wide wood platform with speakers beneath it. Lie down on it, and you can feel a 73-minute sound loop making the wood vibrate.
The majority of the show consists of “aquagraphs”: drawings created with water and soot on hand-embossed paper. These intuitive abstractions build spontaneously on the way water stains and smoke spread across the scored paper surface. Their spiraling/radiating forms have something both liquid and incendiary about them. Their patterns seep, streak and zigzag, and it’s difficult to look at them without thinking of the inexorable way radioactive material spreads — whether at Fukushima or Hanford.
Several wall sculptures, all titled “Memory of Echoes,” blend “aquagraph” and “pyrograph” technique. Ichikawa’s “pyrographs” — until now her best-known work — are drawings created with dripping molten glass: her way, she says, of investigating “what lies between the ephemeral and the eternal. (You can see her making them in a video on her website: www.etsukoichikawa.com.)
Taken together, the works of “Echo at Satsop” shine a pale, ghostly light on the damage humankind has done its world. This is a powerful show.
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com