Japanese ‘fog artist’ Nakaya posing questions for environment

|     Mutsumi Morita     |

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) – Artist Fujiko Nakaya is known for her “fog sculptures” – artworks that have been made from artificially created fog. Successful and highly regarded internationally, she was awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize in 2018.

Her solo exhibition, “Resistance of Fog, Fujiko Nakaya,” covers her 50-year career, and Nakaya’s words reveal her consistent attitude toward social issues.

In 1933, Nakaya was born as the second daughter of Ukichiro Nakaya, a physicist who made the first artificial snowflakes in the world. After studying art at a university in the United States, she presented her first “fog sculpture” at the 1970 Osaka Expo, which enveloped an entire pavilion in artificial fog. The work made her famous, and since then, she has created over 90 fog sculptures around the world, including one at Showa Kinen Park in Tokyo and one at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.

In her current solo exhibition, many spaces have been used for her fog sculptures, which she is synonymous with. Meanwhile, videos of past works are shown on a large screen. There are also blueprints, letters and other materials that give a behind-the-scenes look into the production of her works, which people can enjoy safely even in fog, such as how a mist-spraying device was developed based on the idea of spraying “drinking water” without using solvents and simulations to check how the fog moves.

In the 1970s, when Nakaya began making fog sculptures, mankind dominated nature and promoted industrial development, resulting in distortions such as more serious environmental pollution and forest destruction. “When humans lose affection for nature, nature tells us nothing,” her father had told her. The words of her father, who was humble toward nature, had influenced Nakaya, and around that time, she became aware of environmental issues.

Fujiko Nakaya talks about being awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize in Minato Ward, Tokyo. – PHOTOS: THE JAPAN NEWS/ANN
The exhibition venue where images of fog sculptures are shown

“Humans have to change their relationship with nature. They should be involved in nature with more trust in it,” she thought.

Nakaya’s fog sculptures visualise atmospheric flows so that people can be aware of nature, and her works pose deep questions to society, which can lose respect for nature and leave environmental problems behind.

In the exhibition, her new fog sculptures are being exhibited — one indoors and the other outdoors. “Fuga” is a work that creates artificial fog for six minutes in a closed exhibition room measuring about seven metres by about 15 metres. Flying crows are projected on a thin curtain that separates the mist-spraying device and viewers. Nakaya said that crows are subject to extermination due to human egoism.

In the final phase of the spraying time, the curtain suddenly drops and the fog comes toward viewers all at once. This reminds viewers of the uprising of nature, which apparently carries a message that environmental problems are not just somebody else’s problems, but that each one of us is involved.

From the very start, Nakaya has focussed on media ecology. Concerned about the possibility that mass media would have more influence due to the spread of TV and cause excessive intervention in people’s thoughts and actions, Nakaya has pursued the potential of video art, which could allow individuals to transmit information on their own.

The exhibition also displays a video installation that shows the movements of hands getting an egg to stand on end and events that Nakaya has been involved in. In particular, the exhibition shows a large amount of materials related to Video Gallery SCAN, which was opened by Nakaya in 1980 in Tokyo’s Harajuku district and contributed to finding young artists, showing the breadth of her activities.

Junya Yamamine, a curator in charge of the exhibition, said: “In her activities, Nakaya puts more focus on how to showcase messages through her works to people than on art itself. With her own non-violent method, Nakaya is trying to express opposition to social issues.”

Such an attitude was also reflected in her own words at a press conference following the awarding of the Praemium Imperiale prize in October 2018. “I’m happy about this award, not because my fog sculptures are recognised as art, but because I can expand the concept of art,” she said.

Nakaya said she would concentrate on making an archive of her works in 2019.

“I have to hand down my works to young people as an artist who lived in the time when society became aware of ecology,” she said.