Only visible at sundown, Shock Waves from artist Daniel Oliva is a memorial to the victims of the tsunami that devastated Japan last spring. While the inside of Pentimenti Gallery is currently empty, the installation in the gallery’s front windows is visible from its sidewalk through August 24.
For Oliva, the most regrettable part of the tragedy is the havoc caused by nuclear power. With a death toll of over 15,000 people, the destruction and loss of life was not solely the result of an unavoidable, natural disaster. Instead, human activities were partially to blame.
Paintings on acetate made of translucent latex and acrylic paint fill the gallery’s two front windows with their colors reaching their full brilliance when the sun sets. In the window on the left, a satellite image of Japan is shown. Markings plot the tsunami’s location and the nuclear evacuation zones. The names of the forty towns that were most affected by the tsunami are written in Japanese in the window to the right. Their English translations appear nearby and reinforce the disaster’s widespread impact. On the gallery’s brick façade, a red nuclear symbol in what looks like reflective tape notes the ever-present threat of nuclear meltdown. The surrounding circle indicates the area threatened by potential contamination in the event of nuclear fallout.
As a time-specific installation, the exhibition is dynamic. In order to see its colors at their most vibrant, viewers must be active participants arriving at the right time and waiting for the colors to reach their peak. The exhibition becomes an experience requiring an investment of time and contemplation (around ten minutes at sunset will do). During this time, thoughts inevitably turn to the magnitude of the natural and man-made disasters and to Japan’s changed landscape.
By making the installation visible from the street, the gallery is able to reach new audiences. Passersby I saw were in awe of each painting’s glowing richness, and several were curious and interested enough to stop and read the press release hung on the front door. Besides each painting’s brilliant color, each is also highly textural. The thick impasto layers of paint help suggest Japan’s topography, and the golden characters of Japanese script seem to pulsate against their black background. The work’s striking beauty draws viewers, and the work’s fleeting nature compels them to stop and watch the change unfold.
Daniel Oliva has created several other site-specific installations that incorporate satellite images and translucent paint to achieve a brilliance of color and a similar message concerned with topography, mapping, and environmental issues. Although Pentimenti Gallery is closed through August 17, Shock Waves provides an opportunity for the gallery to help realize the artist’s project. As a memorial to the victims of the tsunami, it is fitting that the installation reaches beyond the confines of the gallery and becomes accessible to the general public.