by Yuji Morioka
CLOUD LAKE  Washington D.C.  1980
Photo : Hamerman

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The expression 'fog sculpture' is redolent with humorous contradiction and paradox. But Fujiko Nakaya does not tell us much about that. Yet the normative state of 'sculpture' falls short of the transformative impalpable being of fog which denudes objects of their materiality.While it visualizes the breathing of the atmosphere, it is to the atmosphere that it ultimately returns. Things which melt into that dynamism of the process of fog, and sometimes even concepts, are dissolved in the echo of a quiet interaction as if seduced by the fog. Both the behavior of atmospheric micro-climates which are precisely measured in advance as well as the thoroughly calculated and designed ground surface adjust themselves to the breathing of fog. Thus, 'fog sculpture' is exceedingly environmental. This 'sculpture' hovers between the material and immaterial, object and phenomenon; perhaps it can only be called 'sculpture of situations'.

It was the late 1960s and the United States was swept by the storm of counterculture. Having exhausted her patience with the academic exercise of composition in oil on canvas and having an ongoing interest rather in the process of organic de-composition and its importance to echo-state, Nakaya says that her interest then shifted to the 'echo-state of the cloud'. Her eyes were opened to the world of decomposition. It was around that time that Nakaya encountered the New York based group 'Experiments in Art and Technology' (E.A.T.) organized by Billy Kluver of Bell Telephone Laboratories and the painter Robert Rauschenberg.

At the Pepsi Pavilion project by E.A.T. at the Osaka Expo in 1970, Nakaya's aesthetic concerns, with the assistance of phycical scientists and the backing of the group collaboration, was instrumental in bringing forth the technology for artificially generating water fog resulting in an environmental art work which covered the entire pavilion with fog.

The interaction between artist and engineer in the process of developing this system might be regarded as a model of the ideals of E.A.T. Through the mediation of an artist, the existing technology of fog simulation was fundamentally reformed and the resulting environment-friendly water fog later became widely used in agricultural and industrial applications. What should be stressed here is that the relationship between art and technology seen in Nakaya's work is not that of art as an application of technology which is unceasingly renovated on demand of the consumer society and destined to perish.It is rather the amazing fact that this fog producing device Nakaya used for the Pepsi Pavilion and in her subsequent fog works through the present has kept its technology basically the same as first designed.

That it was instrumental in attaining the high technological level is only one side of the story. We must not overlook her idea of simulated fog as a 'vehicle of correspondence and reverberation with nature'. The historical binary opposition of artificial/natural are synthesized by this artificial fog. Thirty years after her father Ukichiro created artificial snow crystals, Nakaya achieved another alchemy of natural aesthtics. With this medium at her disposal, it became possible to visualize and simulate the invisible echo-state of the atmosphere; at one stroke she broadened the range of her art.

Since the Pepsi Pavilion project, all of Nakaya's variously developed projects have created environments of interactive relationality. A small island in Sweden, David Tudor's sound, children and old people, dogs and small birds, dug-out craters, a river, drums, a live performance by Bill Viola, lighting, a pond, autumn leaves, Trisha Brown's dancers, the concept 'Square', a garden as an eco-system, dump truks, a suspended bridge, cherry blossoms in the night, constructivist solid----each of these elements fused in fog and in sync with the atmosphere, brought to life a new siting of relations, where none assume the roles of subject or object, lead or support.

Perhaps the most interesting premise of 'fog sculpture' is its capacity to envelope people, materials and phenomena in a fog environment such that the frame of reference on which these various agents depend is removed, leaving them as parts of a new relational landscape. But it is not only to the visible landscape that the interactive sculpture has the potential to relate. Certainly it must harbor a latent capacity to penetrate even whithin the 'landscape inside mind' to invoke memories and images of the distant past and dreams dormant in the unconscious, and to configure yet unfigured forms. Earth work, land art, performance, environmental art-each term seems insufficient. Defining the character of this remarkable contemporary form of sculpture, which typically envelopes everything in its vicinity, is a devilish task. Perhaps there is no recourse but to call it 'sculpture of situations'. Martin Heidegger's profound scrutiny of the condition and crisis of contemporary technology and human existence often returned to 'the passway' in his hometown where, we recall, the fog was sometimes setting quietly and deeply.

(Translation by Bert Winther)