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May 14, 2008
Living Images: Etsuko Ichikawa’s Ephemeral Eternal
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By Rachel Chambers | ArtCulture

Smoke unfurling from an unseen source. A jellyfish-like sea creature bending itself under the waves. A restless spirit caught in a photograph. These are all images that come to mind when looking at the works of Etsuko Ichikawa and images that convinced me there is a definite energy and life in her work. In perusing the pieces in her latest exhibition at the Davidson Contemporary gallery in Seattle one feels a continual flow of movement and energy from one piece to the next. The images are all made using the same basic method but Ichikawa manages to mix different elements and ideas in order to create three very different kinds of art.

All of her works are essentially glass pyrographs—images burned onto wood or paper using heated molten glass. This process is almost as interesting to watch as seeing the pieces themselves. A popular stop at the Davidson Contemporary was a small DVD player on a stand that plays a video created by Ian Lucero of Ichikawa at work. This is a great supplement to the pieces in that it shows the artist’s intense control over her craft. She has to deliberately wrangle fire with nothing but her own breath in order to create powerful images. The idea of breath is also important because it offers a great explanation as to why her pieces seem to be ever moving. Breath is constant within her work. An ever-present bubble of orange glass is necessary for the creation process, the use of her own exhalations burning art onto the page.

The series of pyrographs are beautiful and almost haunting. They seem to flow across the page with a similar lightness of movement, yet each work is unique from the others in its final image. The pieces evoke images of floating in water, dancers, or music as one would imagine it to appear before the human eye. On her website, etsukoichikawa.com, the artist states that she wishes to “capture and eternalize the immediacy of a moment” and she seems to do so brilliantly with these images. The exhibition is titled Ephemeral Eternal because it is these two states that she wishes to explore. Her unique pyrograph technique manages to bring to mind both ideas.

In her Tsurezuregusa series Ichikawa combines her pyrographs with essays stamped into the center of the burns using a letterpress. This combination is especially interesting because they both seem to be what would be referred to as out-dated occupations. Glass blowing is still practiced as is letterpress, but they are viewed through a certain scope of nostalgia and timely appreciation. Using these ideas as the medium to create images that are so present, so completely “of the moment” is an anachronism of sorts. These ideas also fit well into the idea of “ephemeral” and “eternal” in that they are both ways of creating something permanent. Smoke itself is impermanence, but the art of making something out of glass has a certain completeness to it. Once it cools, it will stay as it is. Sure it can be broken or melted down again, but it will cease to be in its original form. Likewise letterpress is used to create a permanent record of something. The fact that Ichikawa always presses the words directly on top of the burnt image gives the impression that she may be using the words to hold the smoky images to the page.

In the room farthest back in the exhibit one will find the series entitled Ephemeral Eternal which consists of 3-D sculptures of sorts created by the pyrograph technique covered in glass bubbles. These pieces are striking and at first they are reminiscent of fossils. The living image has been frozen underneath a solid covering of glass much like a mosquito in amber. The glass too seems to have been affected by the movement of the image below in that the surface has ripples and bumps that make it far more than a simple covering, but a testament to the movement that has been captured forever. The fact that these are the pieces that raise themselves off of the page makes them striking to see, but also makes them more like beings or creatures on display.

In these works Ichikawa creates a visual reenactment of something that we are continually trying to do –to retain something that is fleeting. Instead of taking photographs of a moment, which always seems to have a frozen quality, her pyrographs retain their breath, their life. We will never be able to hold onto an exact moment-to keep a wave upon the sand-but Ichikawa’s images show us what it might look like if we could.

Etsuko Ichikawa is a Seattle-based visual artist who is originally from Japan. Ephemeral Eternal will be on display at the Davidson Contemporary through May 31.

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