'Nebel Leben' by Fujiko Nakaya removes foggy thoughts on ecological concerns

Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya's exhibit Nebel Leben at Haus der Kunst, Munich, is a series of immersive fog sculptures addressing the urgency to gauge the ecological imbalance.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Jul 28, 2022

The art of making sculpture is synonymous with hefty bronze and glorified steel. The singular material of these sculptures exudes uniformity and immutability. Defying these popular commonalities are Fujiko Nakaya's fog sculptures made entirely of water: open to transformation with a shift in the scale of temperature and wind. The first comprehensive survey exhibition, Nebel Leben, by Japanese sculptor Fujiko Nakaya at Haus der Kunst, Munich, from the intersection of ephemerality and deviance at once draws attention towards the soaring change in the climate. As a member of the New York-based collective Experiments in Arts and Technology (E.A.T.) in the 1960s, Nakaya with her immersive fog artworks successfully achieved fame. The public recognition is intrinsically tied to her emphasis on the urgency of disseminating the understanding on the ecological imbalance.

Maldives Fog, Maldives, 2012, Fog sculpture | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Maldives Fog, Maldives, 2012, Fog sculpture Image: Courtesy of The Japan Foundation

The presence of water and air, the key elements of the immersive sculptures, as the metaphorical references suggest are "temporal processes" to forge "material realities and media-generated illusions". For the exhibition, Nakaya made two new sculptures: Munich Fog (Fogfall) #10865/II on the east-side of Haus der Kunst as well as Munich Fog (Wave), #10865/I. To mention, the sequence of numbers with the title indicates the nearest weather station. Its data regulated the preparatory planning of each of the works featured in the exhibition. The immersive nature of both the sculptures engages the public with the space populated with the fog.

Fogscape #03238, Fujiko Nakaya in collaboration with Simon Corder, Durham, 2015 | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Fogscape #03238, Fujiko Nakaya in collaboration with Simon Corder, Durham, 2015 Image: Simon Corder

In an interview with STIR, curator and artistic director of Haus der Kunst, Andrea Lissoni talks about the arrival of the transformation of the institution with Nakaya’s exhibition, "While choosing to open the east doors of the building and making them the main entrance of the show is not only a gesture towards transforming the urbanistic of Haus der Kunst and its perception but also generating an indoor environment filled with light, echoing the outside trees and the Eisbach river running alongside the building." For Lissoni, the immersive part of the exhibition is not limited to this exhibition. Rather, “it is going to be the spine of the programme of the next five years, shifting from a viewing/reading oriented perspective to a fully driven by bodily perception awareness.”

Given the nature of the exhibition, to trace the trajectory of the artistic practice, a complete room is devoted to her initial interests in the environment. This was simultaneously prompted by the aesthetics of East Asian and Western art movements. Additionally, the art gallery upstairs showcases a fine selection of the educational science films produced by the production house Iwanami. Nakaya’s father, Ukichiro Nakaya, the physicist, established this production company.  

Fujiko Nakaya in front of London Fog- As part of BMW Tate Live, Exhibition: Ten Days Six Nights, Tate Modern, 2017 | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Fujiko Nakaya in front of London Fog - as part of BMW Tate Live, Exhibition: Ten Days Six Nights, Tate Modern, 2017 Image: Brotherton-Lock, Courtesy of Tate, copyright Fujiko Nakaya

“By highlighting the artist’s background, her dialogue with her father - the physicist and scientist Ukichiro Nakaya, who raised questions of human impact in snow and ice and the fundamental importance of water early on in the 20th century - as well as her committed to sharing, caring and cooperating attitude, we hope to having steered a direction in reading art histories and cultural trajectories as deeply informed by deep ecological and social preoccupations,” mentions Lissoni.

Nebel Leben, Installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2022 | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Nebel Leben, Installation view, Haus der Kunst, 2022 Image: Andrea Rossetti

Accompanying the early paintings and sketches, the room also puts on display documents from his research, which immensely enhanced Nakaya to develop her approach towards the functioning of the world. The act of observation for the artist binds the two disciplines: art and science. The circle of decay and renewal finds its routes within the abstract landscapes. The painted clouds and biomorphic forms serve as an organic thread of connection between her moving image practice and fog sculptures.

Nebel Leben, Inside view of the installation, Haus der Kunst, 2022 | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Nebel Leben, inside view of the installation, Haus der Kunst, 2022 Image: Andrea Rossetti

In 1980, Nakaya co-founded the artist collective Video Hiroba and opened SCAN, the first gallery for video in Japan. The press release to the exhibition mentions about the videos by Nakaya that feature the real-time recording and simulate the experiments that challenge the trained patterns of perception. The artist uses the video as a means of subjective analytical documentation and direct communication. Besides the video sculptures and installations Nakaya is closely involved with so-called “communication projects” in which she interviewed and documented local communities.

Tales of Ugetsu, Yokohama Triennale 2008 | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Tales of Ugetsu, Yokohama Triennale 2008 Image: Copyright Nacasa & Partners Inc. / Fujiko Nakaya

The scale of the exhibition puts a spotlight on the importance of the sustainability of infrastructure. Lissoni concurs the thought to suggest its inevitability, “For example, the entire wooden floor infrastructure currently enabling a light basin of water to collect and contain fog when dropping after its floating and cloudy behaviour, will be reused as the basis of the Joan Jonas display (to be opened on September 8) of the work Reanimation (2010/2012/2013), not by chance an artwork on ice melting, and climate crisis. The very same infrastructure will be still used for the following exhibition. In partitioning rooms, we used big sheets of hanging paper, to be recycled as wrapping material at the end of the exhibition.”

Haus der Kunst's artistic director Andrea Lissoni | Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben | STIRworld
Haus der Kunst's artistic director Andrea Lissoni Image: Judith Buss

To borrow Nakaya words, “Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things – like wind – become visible”. To achieve this, the artist turns the impermeable disciplinary boundaries between science, art, and technology ‘foggy’. It is the art practice developed from the importance of visceral experience that enables an exigent thought upon the soaring recurrences of lop-sidedness in the environment.

Curators Andrea Lissoni and Sarah Theurer present the exhibition Fujiko Nakaya. Nebel Leben at Haus der Kunst, Munich Video: Courtesy of Haus der Kunst

The exhibition Nebel Leben runs at Haus der Kunst in Munich until July 31, 2022.

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