Japanese-born entrepreneur Masaru Emoto believes that if you speak kindly to water just before it freezes, its crystal formations will be more beautiful. You need only say something like, "I'm sorry. Thank you. I love you." Those words are the title of Rumi Koshino's new installation, created in the aftermath of the Japanese tsunami.
Koshino grew up in Japan. Her parents are still there (they live in the west and were unhurt), but she lives in Seattle now; in 2010, she earned her master of fine arts degree from the University of Washington, and she has shown quiet installations since, including a series of whispery, echoing photographs of domestic interiors at the Living Room this spring. That show, titled then (drawing on the word's ability to refer both to the past and the future), opened the night of the earthquake. Like I'm Sorry. Thank You. I Love You., and like all Koshino's drawings, sculptures, and videos (including a 10-minute film in which a museum seems to breathe because the camera is resting on her body), then was a self-portrait, picturing glimpses of her own various living spaces set in found frames. In I'm Sorry. Thank You. I Love You., Koshino goes outdoors, all the way to the Washington Coast, to press her face up against the watery distance between here and there.
A video pictures the artist on a beach facing the Pacific Ocean. It plays on a monitor set on the floor, on top of a great wave of dark, mottled linoleum. The artist isn't moving except for her hair whipping hard over her face. The wave of linoleum—just a large raw strip you might buy at a home-improvement store—begins on the far side of the room. It rises over a low wooden armature (with fluorescent tube lights underneath), sinks back to the floor, then climbs as if with terrifying renewed strength all the way up a wall until it reaches the ceiling.
The artist's body stands, unmoving on the screen, between these two crests. One crest is small, the other seemingly limitless. The small crest is beautiful, as if someone had spoken to it before it froze. Little triangular cuts meant to evoke whitecaps have been carved into its surface. They jut out like fingers and teeth (reminiscent of the famous great waves of classic Japanese woodblock prints). The fluorescents shine through the cutouts, turning them into playful shadow puppets.
But the wall of linoleum that rises behind the monitor—that rises at the artist's back—is ominously solid. Its mottle is as ugly as a gloomy drip-painting pattern mass-manufactured for oceans of kitchen floors.
The artist is pinned between receding events—or is she their source? She chants her wishes either way.
This article has been updated since its original publication.