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Fujiko Nakaya: Tate Modern Talk

In this article Arnolfini Exhibition Assistant Tessa McLellan reflects on a talk she attended given by artist Fujiko Nakaya at Tate Modern. Part of IBT15 Bristol International Festival.

Fujiko Nakaya is a Japanese installation and video artist, most widely recognised for her fog sculptures - one of which was recently displayed on the Pero’s Bridge as part of In Between Time festival. I was introduced to her work through my voluntary work at the Arnolfini when I was invited to take part in the festival. I was intrigued by the combined use of visual and physical stimuli in her work, and was intrigued to discover more about this internationally revered artist.

The talk held at Tate Modern, in conjunction with the Bristol sculpture. It provided a rare opportunity for Nakaya to speak about the works she has made throughout her career. She provided a series of whimsical anecdotes about the makings and thoughts behind her work. It felt somewhat like looking back through her personal photo album.

Nakaya’s first fog sculpture, created in 1970 at the Pepsi Pavilion in Osaka, set the tone for her artistic journey. When visiting the Pavilion to study, one of Nakaya’s fellow students criticised the architecture of the building which had been designed to look like a work of origami. This sparked her idea to create a sculpture which would ‘hide’ the building.

In the talk, Nakaya spoke about how she developed a technique for creating fog which, she insisted, must be made of pure water vapour, allowing it to interact with the atmosphere. The solution was to use hundreds of nozzles, emitting water vapour at high speed. She tested this out in wind tunnels to discover how the fog performed in different weather conditions. This commitment to understanding the science behind the fog was a recurring theme throughout the talk. The fog, she told us, requires tests and retests as it reacts to various atmospheric conditions differently. The process of creating the fog is a significant and scientific one; Nakaya’s works have a strong transitional pathway between art and science which permeates the natural aspect of the work.

Foggy Forest (1992 Children’s Park, Showa Kinen) provided an opportunity for Nakaya to discuss the reactions people have to the fog.  Twice a day, a busy Japanese Park was fully immersed in fog which meandered through the mounds. Nakaya felt that the way in which people reacted showed a lot about them as individuals: nurses covered their mouths assuming it was poisonous, children played and some people meditated. There was one particular account of a man who became nostalgic for his childhood within the fog – his memories were triggered by the childhood sensation of being hidden and revealed in a playful manner. This demonstrated to Nakaya the magical quality of the fog, feeding forward and also providing a link to the past.

The sculpture she cited as her favourite is a permanent installation held at The National Gallery in Australia. The area was originally a desert and the fog was to run for 5 years on and 5 years off so the alteration of the environment could be observed. After 10 years vegetation had started to grow and this progressed into what is seen today. 30 years later, a whole jungle has sprouted from the fog.

I agree with Nakaya’s reflection that the mystical power and ability of the fog as a natural component to transform a previously barren desert into a flourishing jungle is poignant. This ties in with her desire to restore people’s opinion of fog to something beautiful rather than something problematic. She spoke of Japanese poems describing fog as ‘the breathing of the atmosphere’, which has a rather enchanting quality. Biologically and in Nakaya’s mind, her installations are fog; they do not pretend to be anything else and the simplicity of this, within nature and art, should be appreciated.


The Fog Bridge Exhibition is at Arnolfini until Saturday 14 March. 

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Saturday 02 November 2019, 13:00 to 15:00

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