Crosscut's Art Pulse: A Seattle artist builds glass houses to reflect on connection

In downtown Auburn, two very distinct glass sculptures are currently on view in a Main Street window. One, “Blue Sun,” is made from three Tiffany-style, stained-glass lampshades that appear to have melted into each other. The mosaic of broken blue, purple and white glass pieces creates a bubbling landscape. The sculpture beside it, “Remnants of a Bird,” looks like something from another planet entirely: two pieces of clear glass set in a V, extending outward and upward like wings midflight. At the nexus, rows of thin stained-glass rectangles in blue and yellow cast a turquoise shadow underneath. At night, both installations glow.

Created by Lynnwood-based Japanese artist Fumi Amano, the exhibit is called Resilience, and is part of the city of Auburn’s Art on Main public art project (viewable through Jan. 3). The differences in the two sculptures reflect the range of Amano’s recent body of work, in which she deconstructs and repurposes old windows to create pieces that reflect on topics from Japanese internment to racial identity to cultural expectations placed on women.

Amano’s wide scope of creative output has also included performance art. In one piece, she set up a treadmill on the median of a busy intersection and broadcast her fears — about being 30 and unmarried — from a bullhorn. In another, One Night, she re-created her bedroom in a gallery space, laid a life-sized jelly mold of her boyfriend on the bed and proceeded to eat it sloppily. (“I once had a dream that I ate his entire body,” Amano writes in her dissertation.)

Such experimental artwork is exactly why the 34-year-old Amano (now married) immigrated to the U.S. in 2013. (Her first visit to the States was for a workshop at Pilchuck Glass School in 2009.) Trained as a traditional glass blower at Aichi University of Education in Japan, Amano felt a strong urge to transition from craft artist to conceptual artist, which she explored while pursuing a master’s of fine arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she graduated in 2017. 

Since moving to Seattle in 2018, she’s retained her experimental spirit, but returned her gaze to glass. Her clever reinterpretations of windows and frames, which she sometimes calls “glass houses,” have appeared at Pilchuck Glass School’s Pioneer Square gallery, Bellevue Arts MuseumINSCAPE Arts, and Shunpike’s Storefront window series in South Lake Union. This fall, one of her glass houses was selected for an installation at the Winslow Wharf Marina on Bainbridge Island (on view until June 2021).

For Amano, the windows represent looking back on memories, missing her home country and feeling distanced from others by linguistic and cultural barriers. But she says since the arrival of COVID-19, she has wanted to bring more hope to her work.

“After the pandemic [hit] I didn’t want to see my dark side,” she says. “I wanted to see the future.”

Crosscut spoke with Amano about feminism, glass art in Japan and her experience as a recent immigrant to America. 

Click here to read Pratt Glass Studio Manager, Fumi Amano's entire Crosscut: Art Pulse feature.