An atomic war has already occurred, and as you’d expect, it was short: only four days in August, 70 years ago.
That’s Johnes Ruta‘s take on the end of World War II in Asia and why he’s given the 70th anniversary memorial Hiroshima and Nagasaki art exhibition, which he’s assembled at the Ives Main Library, the title “Atomic War I, August 6–9, 1945.” The show consists of 23 works by 11 artists in collage, oil paint, and mixed media, arrayed on movable panels in the business section of the library off the rotunda on the main floor.
There is an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 6, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The quietly disturbing show runs through the end of the month.
The exhibition is also Ruta’s swan song as he steps away from a decade-long tenure curating exhibitions at the library, which is reconceiving how and where to mount visual art in its recently renovated new exhibition space downstairs.
The simplest pieces in the show are also among the most moving. The bomb-shaped collage that greets you as you enter from the rotunda, for example, bears lively fan magazine style images cut from paper. There is a Japanese man playing the saxophone, advertisements — in short, images of the daily life that was being lived in Hiroshima and was instantly cut off. Or is it suggesting the future moments of pleasure, art, and fun that the more than 100,000 people killed by the bomb’s blast and the radiation aftermath never experienced?
Avoiding the obvious is almost always a legitimate aim in art, but with certain subjects — perhaps including memorializing the atomic bombs and its victims — it’s an aim especially hard to achieve. Not all the work is successful. When it is, as with Richmond Jones’s “Proposal for Sandy Hook Memorial,” it works because it makes the past close to the present.
With his digital map print (pictured), its memorial gardens and plinths, all seen through a peace sign in an aerial view that evokes the dizzy and disturbing feeling of looking through a bombardier’s sights, we are there, and we are here at the same time, very close to home.
Is the work suggesting that the death of a score of children is equivalent to the scores of thousands who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki? More likely its point is that an apocalypse is the aggregate of one individual death at a time — and the death of a child especially is the massive erasure of a part of the future.
Local organizations such as the New Haven Peace Council have given Ruta financial support for this exhibition, but the conception was his. He characterized himself as a lifelong pacifist and conceived the show, alone, on August 6 of last year, the 69th anniversary of the bombing.
Other artists not mentioned above whose work is on display include Steven DiGiovanni, Allan Dudek, K. Levni Sinanoylu, Peter Konsterlie, Michael Quirk, Joseph Higgins, Cecilia Whittaker-Doe, and Lisa Seidenberg, who has assembled a video montage called “Cold War Film Clips.”