| Olivia Hampton |
NEW CANAAN, United States (AFP) – Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya spent a year, painstakingly recording and examining weather data, as she studied ways to envelop architect Philip Johnson’s Glass House in fog.
In the end, she largely gave up on the idea of precisely calibrating the fog and instead let nature take its course and shape the mist.
“Nature is the mold and wind sculpts it. To let it tell its own story is the whole point,” Nakaya said in an interview.
“But that’s just half of the story. You must get inside the fog and experience it physically. It is a most primary experience. It liberates your sense, your imagination.”
The octogenarian artist has crafted sculptures out of fog around the world for the past 45 years, wrapping fields, forests, children’s play parks and public plazas in fine mist.
She shapes the intangible formations using nozzles calibrated to respond to local conditions such as winds and humidity.
But this project, her first large-scale installation on the US East Coast, was different.
The iconic Modernist pavilion sits atop a promontory overlooking a valley and a pond with views extending to the forest beyond.
It is a perfect viewpoint to take in the landscape, itself carefully pruned and shaped according to Johnson’s vision, despite its deceptively wild appearance.
“The beauty was ineffable – awesome,” Nakaya said. “I wanted to be in the orchestra performing in tune with the wind, and to bring the whole valley alive to resonate with the landscape.
“It was like Philip Johnson was conducting nature’s symphony from up there!”
The building sits on 47 acres (19 hectares) of farmland that Johnson converted into a canvas for a variety of architectural projects built over the better part of six decades.
Built in 1949 in New Canaan, Connecticut, the Glass House served as a weekend vacation retreat for Johnson and his partner, art dealer David Whitney.
The architect, who designed landmarks like the Museum of Modern Art’s sculpture garden in New York, lived in the see-through structure full-time for the last three years of his life until his death in 2005.
Like Nakaya’s mist, the Glass House blends into the rocky, tree-lined landscape. The result is a marriage of opposites.
Only with the fog, made from fresh water pumped into 603 nozzles for about 10 minutes every hour, does the Glass House temporarily stop bringing the outdoors indoors.
The visible – the house – suddenly becomes invisible and the invisible – wind – becomes visible.
Echoing the concept of “safe danger” found across Johnson’s estate, such as his narrow and wobbly Eyebrow Bridge, the fog engulfing visitors is a disorienting experience.
At times it is so dense that even one’s own hands disappear. When walking outside the house during misty spells, visitors must hold the railing or risk tumbling into the valley.
But just as quickly, the mist vanishes.
The ancient Japanese considered fog to be the source of life.
“It was a primary experience and I wish to restore and share this sensibility,” Nakaya said.
At first, Nakaya was hesitant to set up her installation at the “almost sacred” Glass House.
“What I avoided was the stage effect, the focusing of attention, which in the end turned out to be needless. Nature took care of it,” she said.
On a man-made pond below the house sits Johnson’s Lake Pavilion (1962), where guests sat beneath the gold-leafed ceiling during lunch parties, with a fountain blowing mist.
An architectural folly, it is smaller in scale than similar pavilions and thus appears further away when viewed from the Glass House.
Johnson put guests up in the Glass House’s mirror opposite, the opaque Brick House. The two structures are linked by a grassy court and separated by a swimming pool.
Nakaya’s exhibition, which runs through November 30, coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Glass House.