Stony Brook art professor Nobuho Nagasawa opened an interactive art exhibition about the cycle of life and the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic at the Westwood Gallery in the Bowery District of New York City on Aug. 19.
Nagasawa, a professor at Stony Brook for 20 years, is a multidisciplinary artist who previously held tenureship at the University of California at Santa Cruz. Her works “explore the politics, ecology, and psychological dimensions of space and people,” according to the gallery’s press release. She has participated in over 100 exhibitions internationally and is a recipient of numerous awards and grants like the Excellence in Design Award and the State University Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities.
The exhibition, called Drawn to Light, combines elements of nature with moths and the hardship that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on New Yorkers with the intertwined “gridlike” nature of several districts within Manhattan. Nagasawa highlights the grid in physical aspects of her exhibition through distinct separations, made with wire and curtain, within the gallery and through voice recordings of hardship from New Yorkers. Every Saturday from 2-5 p.m., Nagasawa welcomes audience participation in her exhibition by giving them stencils of various moths to choose from and allowing them to pick where they want to place it within the installation.
“It’s very moving and intentional,” 60-year-old Meryl Greenblatt, an attendee at the gallery and resident of the East Village, said. “I like the participatory aspect of [the exhibition], and the symbolism of the luna moth.”
Nagasawa’s exhibition and purposeful use of the Westwood Gallery is designed to signify the cycle of life and death using nature as a key element in the installation.
“What we had during COVID, whether you lost your loved one or not, it’s a collective memory of what happened during the pandemic,” Nagasawa, in regards to the inspiration behind her exhibition, said. “It’s all about collecting the voices of the people, and then hopefully you can let go of the anxiety or the loss you had … you carry on, and it’s a collective way of remembering and commemorating.”
Nagasawa’s installation also coincides with the Japanese Obon festival, which is a summer festival meant to commemorate deceased ancestors. Nagasawa believes that the making of the installation was a group effort, which includes Gallery Curator and Co-owner James Cavello, Executive Director and Co-owner Margarite Almeida, Gallery Director Dana Altman and Gallery Manager Matthew McPhillips.
“A lot of this came forward because of [Nagasawa’s] vision,” said Cavello. “She said ‘I want to do this, I want to do it here and I want the message to get out there. I want people to understand.’”
Nagasawa uses light and sound elements in her installation as a nod to the Japanese tradition, in which lanterns are released on the last day of the festival to guide the spirits of lost loved ones back to the other world. In her installation, she uses these elements as a symbol of release to emphasize the lives lost during the pandemic, with the lightbulb pulsating to stories of loss Nagasawa recorded around the Bowery district of Manhattan.
“It’s not about pain and suffering,” Cavello said. “It’s about light. It’s about people realizing they lost a loved one, and losing that loved one because of COVID. And that something came forward [because of it]. People joined together. People became more understanding of how important life really is.”
“You have to know how to deal with [death] in an honorable way, and that’s [Nagasawa’s] method,” Almeida said.
On the last day of the exhibition, Nagasawa will erase the drawings of the moths to symbolize shared release. It will run until Oct. 16, with public participation occurring every Saturday throughout the exhibition’s duration.