Hunter Levinsohn

The Evolution of an Installation

Unforgettable Fire: 8:15 am, August 6, 1945 - Part of Looking Through Time’s Window “Looking Through Time’s Window” centers around the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, and on my uncle who was an American POW of the Japanese in the Philippines. One is a defining moment in history that has affected every life on the planet and the other was a tragedy in my family that put a human face on war.

My original intent was to do a piece of art about Hiroshima for the 50th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb but one piece of art work turned into an installation and took years longer to do than I ever imagined. As I read, thought about and worked on this piece, my goal became to figure out how this event happened and how it could have happened. I realized that I could not with the advantage of 50 years of hindsight just make judgments; I had to try to go back through time’s window and try to understand what people knew and didn’t know, what life was like, what people’s fears, hopes and aspirations were, how they got information, what information they got, etc.

Home Front - Part of Looking Through Time’s Window
I went down avenues I’d never traveled. My sources were classics written about Hiroshima, WWII and the atomic bomb; personal memoirs, both well known and little published works; conversations and correspondence with close family friends on topics we’d never before touched; and, finally, the Department of the Army United States of America Individual Deceased Personnel Form on my uncle which I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from the US Total Army Personnel Command.

Part of Looking Through Time’s Window There were magic moments in the search among them finding a copy of the News and Observer from August 16, 1945 (August 15,1945 was the day the Japanese signed the formal surrender), coming upon a war ration book issued to me (I was born in December of 1943) and the letter I received from an Australian friend who was stationed in Japan near Hiroshima right after the War. And there were moments of terrible anger and pain in reading accounts of survivors of Japanese POW camps and finding out that the reception these men received in returning to the US was very similar to that of Vietnam vets in our day. There are horrible stories from citizens of Hiroshima who had felt that their city was to be miraculously spared from the ravages of war. For me the most painful accounts are those of the eight survivors (out of 1805 prisoners) on board the Arisan Maru telling of their escapes from the Japanese transport ship which was sunk by American forces. My uncle, who was one of the 1805, died in the South China Sea on October 24, 1944, the day MacArthur returned to the Leyte and began the campaign to liberate the Philippines.

In addition to the work in the installation there was a participation element: for each Sunday the show was open I asked a friend to come and make origami cranes for people who came to the show. People could either be shown how to make their own or take a crane that was already made. The paper cranes which are associated with the children’s peace monument in Hiroshima have become a symbol of peace and long life. For me they are also a symbol of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.

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