PRINT November 2014


Fujiko Nakaya at the Glass House

Fujiko Nakaya, Veil, 2014, fog. Installation view, Philip Johnson Glass House, New Canaan, CT. Photo: Richard Barnes.

Fujiko Nakaya changed the weather. In 1970, the Japanese artist produced a stunning fog that swelled and occluded a pavilion at the world’s fair in Osaka, Japan. The Pepsi Pavilion, dubbed after its corporate sponsor, was created by the group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), founded in 1966; Nakaya’s project encapsulated the organization’s vision of a new kind of relationship between art, science, and engineering, and she has continued to work with fog for more than four decades, collaborating with everyone from wind scientists to choreographers, and turning mist into a fantastic medium somewhere between sculpture, architecture, atmosphere, and event. For the past several months, Nakaya’s newest work, Veil, has swathed the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. Artforum editor Michelle Kuo talks to the artist about her oeuvre, while senior editor Julian Rose takes stock of this latest project, which has brought Nakaya’s unruly and aleatory brume into contact with an icon of modernist lucidity.

FUJIKO NAKAYA: When I first visited the Glass House, I noticed the white concrete railings surrounding the building, and I thought: Philip Johnson had designed the perfect place to install fog nozzles. But I was concerned that the wind blowing down the hill toward the house and the wind blowing up the steep hill behind the house would cause too much turbulence and dissipate the fog. In the end, though, it worked very well. When the fog was blown by the wind, it drifted down the hill or across the fields.

In Veil, the conditions of visibility are unique, because you can actually see the fog from within the house. And the view is completely different from inside and outside the building. Outside, the fog visually envelops the whole building. But the experience is also very tactile: You physically enter the fog. And then you can’t see anything.

MICHELLE KUO: It’s so thick. I couldn’t see my hands!

FN: But from inside the house, you can see everything that the fog and the air are doing. It’s a new experience to have both.

MK: Has the technology changed a lot since it was first developed, for the Pepsi Pavilion at Expo ’70?

FN: It hasn’t, actually. For more than forty years it’s been the same nozzle. It’s really still the same system, just refined. For example, when we started, the pressure was 500 pounds per square inch. Now it’s operated at 1,000 psi and even 2,000. Which makes the droplets very fine and dense and dry.

Back then, at Expo ’70, the drops were bigger and fell to the ground—it was basically raining [laughter]. And because it was still wintry at the time, and fog did not evaporate; it condensed on any cold surface. All the surfaces became very wet.

MK: You learned more and more how to work with the fog’s materiality—as something that was constantly changing but that could also be manipulated in some way.

FN: Over the years, I learned how fog reacted in different physical spaces. Sometimes, by changing the physical landscape—carving the land, adding trees, creating small berms—I have been able to navigate the air flow. And I developed techniques for changing the direction of the fog by creating convection currents using the speed of the nozzles.

MK: It’s almost like a performance.

FN: Well, I learned something really great from David Tudor when I participated in the performance series “9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering” in New York in 1966. For his sound piece Bandoneon!, David wanted a visual component and sent two sound channels to activate a sound-visualization system that could project these moving images onto a large screen. But at some point, the projectors shut off and the images disappeared. After the performance, I went to him and said: “Too bad the projectors didn’t work.” And David replied: “Well, it’s OK—all the sound was there.” He meant that if one element failed, you accept it and go on. You have to be open and responsive to the whole environment.

Afterward, in 1974, we worked together on a project David conceived called Island Eye Island Ear. We went to an island in the Swedish archipelago, researching the landscape for a kind of multipart concert that would use and reveal the total environment of the island. David’s idea was to spend a year recording the sounds of the island—wind in the forests, water lapping on the shore, the birds, etc.—and then create a complex sound-projection system, mixing recorded sounds with actual live sounds.

MK: It’s a way of making audible what is already in the environment. Rather than simply producing some- thing, you elicit what might be inaudible or invisible but is everywhere around you. The process of creation is reversed.

FN: The fog installations on the island would similarly interact with and reveal the air, wind, and physical features of the island. My fog sculpture is, in a sense, negative sculpture—a negative of the atmosphere. The atmosphere itself gives the fog its shape, movement, and volume. The fog disappears if the conditions or air currents change. It’s a collaboration with the air.

MK: Just like the experience you created at the Pepsi Pavilion, which was almost an intermediary between the atmosphere and the pavilion itself.

FN: Yes. At first I proposed a fog piece for the interior of the pavilion. But then Billy Klüver of E.A.T., who was leading the project, said: “Well, how about doing it outside?” Because the group had been trying to figure out how to hide the building [designed by an outside consultant]. They thought it was ugly [laughter].

I knew I didn’t want to use any chemicals. And cooling the air to form a natural fog was too expensive. So the only way was to spray water. I went all over Japan looking for the right spray nozzle. But the problem was that most nozzles create too many big droplets; you lose too much water and you get wet. And I didn’t just want to create a fog to cover the building; I wanted people to go into the fog. After a long search, I almost gave up. And then Billy called me from New York: “I found you someone who just made agricultural fog”—an engineer named Tom Mee.

Billy flew me to California to meet with Tom. The first thing I said was: “I want a pure-water fog, which people can walk into.” And the droplets had to be the same size as those of a natural fog, because I wanted it to interact with the outside air rather than be self-contained.

MK: You actively engaged technology—but to try and make it do something else, something other than was being prescribed.

FN: Yes. I think our work for the pavilion actually changed the direction of fog technology. But we were also waking up to ecology. In the middle of Expo ’70, which was all about advertising a rosy future with technology. We wanted to resist that.

Later, I actually worked on a proposal to experiment with an environment over the long term. I was invited to create a piece for the sculpture garden at the National Gallery of Australia in the early 1980s. I collaborated with a scientist at Kyoto University to find out what would happen if you introduced fog—basically a tropical rain-forest climate—into a dry desert environment, which is what that area is. This was a prototype for a ten-year research project that might lead to knowledge about how deserts originated on earth. We were hoping something would happen.

MK: And did it? Did the desert change?

FN: It’s a jungle now. After ten years, plants started to grow, and twenty-five years later, it’s a jungle.