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A stone pathway with thick fog in the forground

The fog Sculptures of Fujiko Nakaya


A Japanese artist uses air, water, atmosphere and time to produce work at once ephemeral and mysterious.

Fujiko Nakaya (Sapporo, Japan, 1933) is among few artists in the world to use fog to make visual art. The medium, beyond its ephemeral nature, has a ghostly, fleeting, and blurred presence–and it’s capable of endowing whatever it surrounds with similar qualities. It might be said that Nakaya doesn’t so much work with fog (as a tool), but that she subtly collaborates in a phenomenon that’s half-meteorological and half-artistic.

With her father (the first scientist to produce artificial snowflakes), Nakaya traveled to the United States where she began studying art in the 1950s, before returning to Japan in 1960. The outset of her career saw, already, the outline of her later fixation with nature. She painted withered flowers and, especially, climatic phenomena: paintings of clouds.

Her first meteorological installation, the one which would turn her into an artist of fog, was completed for Experiments in Art and Technology (EAT), an organization promoting collaborations between artists and scientists, most of them engineers. In 1970, EAT designed the Pepsi-Cola pavilion for Expo ‘70 in Osaka. It was the city’s first international exhibition and a transcendent event for Japan’s artistic avant-garde. Nakaya decided to flood the entire pavilion with fog, and did so with the help of an atmospheric physicist named Thomas Mee.

Trees, tall grass with thick fog along the ground

Based on this experience, Nakaya began using the same technology developed for that first work, and with some modifications, used it in more and more fog installations. The decades that followed saw Nakaya achieving international fame as a video artist and as an advocate for alternative art practices. She continued building spectacular fog installations which traveled to the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia. In 1990, working with architect, Atsushi Kitagawara, she created a park enveloped in a dense haze that descended twice every hour. The work allowed visitors to be lost and then rediscovered within the clouds, and spoke quietly of death and rebirth.

Nakaya’s work is always based on several decisions: the placement of the tubes for emit this incorporeal substance within a given space, emission times, volumes and density of fog. These are the parameters she works with, and which together result in compositions made simply of tiny floating drops of water.

Events that hover somewhere between Land Art and conceptual art, Nakaya’s sculptures aren’t merely beautiful objects to be seen and exhibited: the works need to be entered and, like the water of a river or the sea, they’re going to be different for everyone who goes in. For Nakaya, fog is above all a means of transmitting light and shadow (physically and metaphorically). Her nebulous installations are there to transform spaces, flooding them with a sea suspended in the air, like visions of something which can’t quite be seen.

Children plan on a bridge with thick fog



Images: 1) Philip Maiwald-Wikimedia Commons 2) Bertie Mabootoo-Wikimedia Commons 3) Pete D-flickr

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