18 February 2015

'Fog invites people' - Fujiko Nakaya, 'Fog Bridge' artist, was in conversation at Tate Modern on 17 February 2015

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Over a career spanning 40 years, Fujiko Nakaya has pioneered the use of water vapour as a sculptural media. Nakaya has fabulous English, so it was not surprising to hear that she had gone to school in Chicago. Later on she returned to New York to study. In her entertaining talk at Tate Modern yesterday, 17 February 2015, she gave an overview of her work and also engaged in a question and answer session. She is effortlessly charming and humorous.

Fujiko Nakaya started off as a painter. As a young student she would paint clouds.

Asked why she moved from two-dimensional to three-dimensional work, Nakaya said she was influenced by performance artists of her time such as Shuji Terayama and Yoko Ono. In the 1960s she worked with the legendary group Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT) and collaborated with artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Trisha Brown, Bill Viola, Robert Wilson and Hiroshi Teshigahara.

Fujiko Nakaya’s work with fog is, in her own words, ‘a collaboration with the air’. She also has to carefully collaborate with air currents and the built environment.

‘Fog invites people’; It is an enticing medium to use with dance and music’, said Nakaya.

Nakaya was born in Sapporo, Japan in 1933. Her father, Ukichiro Nakaya, was a scientist and credited with making the first artificial snowflake

She was disenchanted with art at school as it was taught so pedantically – all the stress was on composition. Instead, she decided to decompose everything, and would paint rotting flowers and burgeoning microbes. She became fascinated by the way death led to life in the way of micro-organisms.

In 1970, at the World Expo in Osaka, Japan, Nakaya created the world’s first fog sculpture in collaboration with the legendary artist collaborative Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). She wrapped the Pepsi Pavilion in mist.

Since then, Nakaya has created numerous fog installations around the world, including projects for the Australian National Gallery, Canberra; the Exploratorium, San Francisco; the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; the Grand Palais, Paris and Glass House, Connecticut among others.

One of her favourite pieces is her work for the National Gallery of Australia , the first museum to buy her work, which it did in 1983. She produced fog to envelop part of the gallery gardens which were all desert. She worked with scientists in order to make the fog last five years to see what would happen. That section of the garden is now an ecosphere or, in her words, a ‘jungle’ and some of the curators who work there tell her that they were brought up in the fog thanks to her. The installation is ongoing.

In Bristol, for the ‘In Between Time Festival 2015’, coinciding with Bristol having been chosen European Green Capital for 2015, she has created ‘Fog Bridge’ on Pero’s bridge, a public crossing on the busy Harbourside, 12 to 22 February 2015.

This piece uses natural water and nozzles to create clouds of vapour or fog that dissipate into the atmosphere. Nakaya installed the system with help from a technical team. This public art installation or intervention will be accompanied by a month-long retrospective of her work at the Arnolfini.

Asked whether there is anything distinctively Japanese about her work she said that she tries not to define her work in terms of being Japanese. Her ‘Fog Bridge’ in Bristol is all about the In Between Time festival theme which is ‘The Storm’.

Asked whether she has any overlap with Yayoi Kusama, Nakaya said she knows Kusama and really likes Kusama’s work and her idea of self-obliteration. Kusama had a performance in Nakaya’s gallery in the 1908s, at a time when she was not so popular.

Much of Nakaya’s work is dedicated to her father who was a scientist and invented the artificial snowflake. He was a snow and ice scientist and so Nakaya had no resistance to engaging with science.

She wishes her father had lived to see her work with fog. He himself did some work on fog. Laughing, Nakaya said that his work, unlike hers, was to do with ‘dispersing the fog’. Interestingly, he wrote an article in which he stated that both dispersing and concentrating fog have the same scientific basis.

Some people she said, though I can’t believe this myself, complain that continues to work with fog and lament the fact that she hasn’t been more serious in her work.

Some of her work is permanently installed such as her work at Canberra and ‘Veil’ at the Glass House in Connecticut, USA. ‘Veil’ is a site-specific installation for the Glass House, the iconic building designed by the American architect Philip Johnson and completed in 1949. Fujiko Nakaya’s work wraps the Glass House in a veil of dense mist that comes and then disappears again.

Nakaya is hoping to complete a structure for London and will participate in Durham’s light festival, ‘Lumiere’, from 12 to 15 November 2015.

The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation is delighted to be supporting ‘In Between Time’ and Fujiko Nakaya’s ‘Fog Bridge’ with a Daiwa Foundation Small Grant.

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