Elongated Shadows, an apexart exhibition, reflects on the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Selected from an open call, the group show includes artists from the US and Japan — specifically, artists related to the people who dropped the bombs, and to those forced to absorb their wrath.
The show was initially only viewable online, but apexart has recently reopened for viewings in person — one person at a time — and I took the opportunity to experience it both ways.
It’s a fraught collaboration for artists on both sides, overlaid with trauma and guilt and questions of accountability and justice, but neither the small space nor even the online viewing room can quite contain all of those layers, or show how these works, and their twinned histories, might be in conversation with each other. Still, the in-person viewing demands deeper contemplation and offers more rewards, especially when you can’t so quickly click away.
When I first saw it online, Suzanne Hodes’s “Hiroshima Mother” (1982), despite the best efforts of the 3-D rendering, seemed oddly flat. Hodes renders in charcoal a woman cradling a baby atop a mountain of ash, threaded with pastel bones and blood. Hodes’s husband, Henry Linschitz, was a lead scientist behind the design of the atomic bomb.
I couldn’t parse the texture of Hodes’s drawing, or tell how it clashed with, complemented or was otherwise in conversation with works by the Japanese artists, or even other American artists. In person, the textures came through much more clearly, the bodies still faceless, but their mangled forms are more viscerally impactful.
Online one can click back and forth between a press release and the curator’s essay, but in person there is no wall text or other curatorial rationale, aside from printed copies of the essay, along with a checklist, available next to the front desk. Fortunately, some pieces remain striking with or without those backstories.
These includes Kei Ito’s “Sungazing” (2015), a series of 108 chromegenic prints featuring glowing, concentric orange, yellow, and brown rectangles, like gradations of burnt toast, with a black hole in the middle, ringed in red — created when the artist exposed light-sensitive paper to the sun. In person, the black holes invite the viewer’s speculation, a natural desire to look for meaning and clues where there is simply darkness. Ito’s grandfather survived the Hiroshima bombing, but his mysterious, glowing squares are intriguing all on their own.
Another piece that doesn’t require an introduction is Migiwa Orimio’s, “Fūin (sealed)” (2019). Ormio wraps toy B-29 bomber planes and miniature atomic bombs in white linen, their numbers sewn through with silk embroidery floss. The pieces are laid flat against a white background, like items in a jewelry store. It’s a matryoshka doll of a work, a weapon posing as a toy, which, with the silk and linen display, is reminiscent of trendy jewelry. The shrapnel could be a pair of silver earrings, the plane parts pendants for statement necklace.
Equally compelling, backstory or not, is “Afterimage Requiem,” (2016), a collaboration between Ito and Andrew Paul Keiper. Keiper’s sound installation plays alongside Ito’s photograms, producing an eerie effect. Glowing red and yellow outlines of Ito’s body reference nuclear shadows, the only remnants of the Japanese civilians whose bodies were burned into the ground. The bodies look almost fetal, if sonograms were orange. According to the press materials, Keiper’s engineer grandfather worked on the Manhattan Project, which produced the first nuclear weapons. I had to read the curator’s essay online to find that out, and while it’s fascinating to know that, the knowledge didn’t add to the experience of viewing the work.
For this show about guilt and ghosts, responsibility and reckoning, the psychic weight is best expressed and viewed in person. Individual pieces are compelling, but online the show doesn’t quite cohere.
Elongated Shadows continues through October 24 online and in-person at apexart (191 Church Street, TriBeCa, Manhattan). The exhibition was curated by Elizabeth Faust.