Artist commissioned to create hanging installation of salmon and suckers for Oregon Tech’s Boivin Hall

Artist commissioned to create hanging installation of salmon and suckers for Oregon Tech’s Boivin Hall

Kana Tanaka is an artist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is creating a public art display of glass-made fish, specifically salmon and suckers, to be on display at the Oregon Institute of Technology campus in the 44,000-square-foot Boivin Hall.

The “Shoal of Returning Hope” project was commissioned by the Oregon Arts Commission for the “Art in Public Places Opportunity.” The installation will consist of numerous shining salmon and suckers as glass pieces suspended in midair of the Boivin Hall. She visited the Klamath Tribes to research the fish and understand the ecology around the Klamath Basin and Klamath River as four dams are removed. The goal of the artwork, Tanaka stated in her proposal, is to add warmth and color to the building with suggestive movement and respect for the natural light of the building.

She summarized the concept of the project, stating, “I would like to visually represent the hope the community surrounding the Klamath Basin has been holding for many years. The installation will consist of an abundant amount of shining salmon-like glass pieces suspended in the midair of the Boivin Hall. The color and shape of the school of glass-made fish installed in the air will give us a future image of how the ecology around Klamath River will recover and flourish after the removal of the dams that have impacted it catastrophically by our human civilization.”

The installation will use a two-story-high open space as a 3D canvas to tell the story of salmon as they return to the upper Klamath River and tributaries in the Basin. Tanaka described the project installation in her submission for proposals, stating, “I interpreted the big gray beam, which exists in the middle of the space, to represent a dam for salmon to be jumping over. Adding eight extra braces between existing trusses and adding stainless cable across the large area will create approximately two ‘20 feet by 15 feet (joined above the stairway) for a suspended sculpture area.”

Tanaka was inspired by Coho and Chinook salmon, which change their body color while swimming their upriver journey. To capture the changing colors of the fish, she used dichroic glass that produces a wide variety of colors in its reflected and transmitted light. For the upper part of the installation, the dichroic glass will produce red in the transmitted color and silvery blue in the reflection. For the lower part of the installation, she will use dichroic glass that reflects light red-orange, and transmitted color to be light cyan.

A rendering of Kana Tanaka’s art installation in Boivin Hall at Oregon Tech.

The dichroic glass shards will be cut by a waterjet cutter, etched for detail patterns, and fired (slumped) to create a curved shape and ‘fish scale-like’ fragmented texture. The number of fish on display will be more than 800, suspended on 250 vertical cable lines. Each wire with fish will be further stabilized and accentuated with a ball of light-orange glass inspired by a piece of salmon roe, the “seed or our hope for the thriving ecology of the region.”

Tanaka, who is originally from Japan, visited the Klamath Tribes to gain an understanding of the Tribe’s history in the area and see firsthand the ecology of the Upper Klamath Basin. She visited the Ambodat fish rearing facility for c’waam and koptu suckers and toured the local area, including a trip to the Wood River Wetland and surrounding creeks and rivers. She spoke with the Klamath Tribes News during her visit to discuss the project and her work as an artist.

“This particular project was asking artists to give suggestions or themes to include mostly Klamath Basin,” she said. “Regional, culture history, people, maybe it can be indigenous people or a story of what’s happening now or in the past and nature… So, I started with the Klamath Basin and found that sort of overarching California and Oregon, southern Oregon border area, and then I learned about the Klamath River, and then the dam removal project.”

When Tanaka made the art proposal, she did not know about the water issues of the Upper Klamath Lake area with the Klamath Tribes. One of the art selection committee members was the local artist, Natalie Ball (Klamath Tribe Council Member), who introduced Tanaka to the specific stories about the Upper Klamath Lake area. She invited Tanaka to visit the Tribes in December. After the site visit and learning about the Tribes, Tanaka decided to incorporate the c’waam and koptu for the area above the upper stairway and upper floor area. And the color choice was shared with the people at Ambodat.

The placement of the fish will follow the path of the salmon from the Pacific Ocean to Chiloquin, and she will be utilizing the structure of the building as part of the location of movement, with the stairway representing the dam removal area, and above the stairway, the Upper Klamath Lake and Chiloquin area.

The public art installation is expected to be completed this summer, coinciding with the dam removal project completion. Tanaka said she would feel a sense of accomplishment once the project was finally completed and installed.

“When I see people come in to experience the piece, interact with it, and really appreciate it, that’s when I feel accomplishment,” she said.