Artist Fujiko Nakaya is known for her “fog sculptures” — artwork that has been made from artificially created fog. Successful and highly regarded internationally, she was awarded the Praemium Imperiale prize in 2018.
In January she presented the exhibition, “Resistance of Fog, Fujiko Nakaya” at the Contemporary Art Gallery in the Art Tower Mito in Mito. The show examined her 50-year career and Nakaya’s consistent attitude toward environmental issues.
In 1933, Nakaya was born the second daughter of Ukichiro Nakaya, a physicist who made the first artificial snowflakes in the world.
After studying art at a university in the United States, she presented her first “fog sculpture” at the 1970 Osaka Expo, which enveloped an entire pavilion in artificial fog. The work made her famous, and since then, she has created over 90 fog sculptures around the world, including one at Showa Kinen Park in Tokyo and one at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain.
In her latest exhibition, her fog sculptures were joined by videos of past works shown on a large screen. There were also blueprints, letters and other materials that give a behind-the-scenes look into the production of her works, such as how the mist-spraying device was developed based on the idea of spraying drinking water without any solvents as well as simulations to observe how fog moves.
In the 1970s, when Nakaya began making fog sculptures, mankind was exerting its dominance of nature with industrial development, resulting in serious environmental pollution and forest destruction, she said. “When humans lose affection for nature, nature tells us nothing,” her father had told her. The words of her father, who was humble toward nature, had influenced Nakaya, and around that time, she became aware of environmental issues.
“Humans have to change their relationship with nature. They should be involved in nature with more trust in it,” she thought.
Nakaya’s fog sculptures visualize atmospheric flows so that people can be aware of nature, and her works pose deep questions to society, which can lose respect for nature and leave environmental problems behind.
In one fog piece, “Fuga,” Nakaya creates artificial fog for 6 minutes in a closed exhibition room. Flying crows are projected on a thin curtain that separates the mist-spraying device from viewers. Nakaya says that crows are subject to extermination due to human egoism.
Suddenly, the curtain drops and the fog comes toward viewers to reminds them of the uprising of nature and that each one of us needs to take action.
Nakaya has focused her career on “media ecology.” Concerned about the possibility that mass media would have more influence on people’s thoughts and actions, Nakaya has pursued the potential of video art.
Junya Yamamine, a curator in charge of the January exhibition, said: “In her activities, Nakaya puts more focus on how to showcase messages through her works to people than on art itself. With her own nonviolent method, Nakaya is trying to express opposition to social issues.”
Such an attitude was also reflected in her own words at a press conference following the awarding of the Praemium Imperiale prize in October. “I’m happy about this award, not because my fog sculptures are recognized as art, but because I can expand the concept of art,” she said.
Nakaya said she would concentrate on making an archive of her works in 2019.
“I have to hand down my works to young people as an artist who lived in the time when society became aware of ecology,” she said.