Fujiko Nakaya was born in Sapporo, Japan, in 1933. She was inspired by her father Ukichiro Nakaya, well-known physicist, researcher, and founder of Iwanami Productions (1950), maker of educational films and documentaries. He specialized in glacial studies, and he made the first artificial snowflake. Ukichiro also was a Sumi-e artist of Asian ink brush paintings. He was dedicated to issues concerning the environment and art, interests he passed on to his daughter. Nakaya graduated from the High School of Japan Women’s University, Tokyo. She came to Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, to study painting. She received her BA in 1957, and then went to Paris and Madrid where she studied painting until 1959.
Nakaya soon would change from painting to fog sculpture: “I used to paint clouds. And at a certain point I wanted a more direct experience-oriented form of art that painting couldn’t provide. I felt unsatisfied with the painting as a medium and started thinking about working with temperature difference which is responsible for changes in a lot of forms of nature—in animals and in people and things. I made dry ice clouds on a plate with a heater underneath. So, I was experimenting with the change of form through temperature differences.”
In 1966, Nakaya joined EAT (Experiments in Art and Technology), a non-profit established by engineers and artists, including the POP artist Robert Rauschenberg, to facilitate collaboration between the two. Nakaya’s “Fog Sculpture #47773” (1970) was chosen to represent EAT at EXPO ’70 in Osaka. The theme of the EXPO was “Progress and Harmony for Mankind.” One of the exhibitors was the Pepsi Company that sponsored a Buckminster Fuller-type geodesic dome. As one of the EATS group of 75 artists and engineers from America and Japan, Nakaya was responsible for the outside of the PEPSI Pavilion.
Collaborating with American physicist Thomas Mee, Nakaya helped develop a process for creating fog. Pressurized water was forced through a tiny nozzle and hit a pin that separated water into droplets about 20 microns wide. The droplets were so small they remained suspended in air for a long time, like fog.
Nakaya succeeded in manufacturing artificial fog on a massive scale in order to cover the Pavilion. Billions of droplets of water (fog) surrounded the Pavilion and spread out to visitors. “Fog Sculpture #47773” was considered the most spectacular exhibit at the EXPO.
Since 1970, Nakaya has produced more than 80 fog gardens, falls, and geysers all over the world. Nakaya explained, “When you experience nature with your body, the quality of the experience really sticks…I want to create a situation where people can establish a physical relationship with nature…Through this relationship, we gain the instinctive wisdom to make decisions to preserve nature.”
Continuing her experiment to perfect the technique, Nakaya patented in 1989 a device for the purpose of making cloud/fog sculpture from water. The numbers included in the titles of her fog sculptures are the international code for the closest weather station.
“Foggy Wake in a Desert” (1982) (Canberra, Australia) was the result of Nakaya’s collaboration with scientist Dr. Yasushi Mitsuta of Kyoto University to investigate the impact that one square kilometer (3280.84 square feet) of fog would have on the desert. The project took place on a landscape Nakaya designed, near the National Gallery of Australia. Nine hundred nozzles pumped the foggy mist from 12:30 until 2:00 pm daily. The climate and ecological changes were recorded for ten years. Science and art came together, and “Foggy Wake in a Desert” was a success. In 1983, it became a permanent installation in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Nakaya designed her first indoor fog project for the Trisha Brown Dance Company in New York City in 1980. At times the fog came down from above the dancers, and at other times it moved across the stage while dancers appeared and disappeared in the mist. The fog also rolled out into the audience, enveloping them in the environment of the performance. “Opal Loop, Cloud Installation” has been performed several times since.
Nakaya has worked with artists all over the world to provide fog sculptures to accompany concerts. She participated in international sculpture conferences and exhibitions. One was in Washington, D.C. in 1980. She began making videos of her projects in 1979. She founded Video Gallery SCAN in Tokyo to promote video art in Japan. Nakaya participated in the First International Water Sculpture Competition (1983) organized by the New Orleans Museum of Art.
According to Nakaya, “Fog reacts to local meteorological conditions…landscape can appear to be largely static until fog is introduced.” She introduced fog into public parks, across bridges, in parking lots, and where ever she is invited to share her unique art. All the fog sculptures invite interaction with visitors. “Children’s Forest #47880” (1992) (Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa, Tokyo, Japan) provides an example of peoples’ playful response to fog sculptures.
Nakaya created fog sculpture for number of museums including the Guggenheim Museum, Spain in 1993 and 1998/99, the Tate Modern in London, and the Pompidou Center in Paris 2017. Fog sculpture installations in the United States include the University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 2010. “Fog Bridge #72494” (2013) (Exploratorium, San Francisco), celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Fog Bridge” was 150 feet long bridge that enshrouded visitors with fog for ten minutes every half hour. It was pre-programmed to interact with real-time weather. If the wind was coming from the east, the 800 small nozzles would make fog only on the east side of the bridge. “Fog Bridge” is a permanent installation at the Exploratorium. Nakaya states, “Fog makes visible things become invisible and invisible things – like wind – become visible”.
For American architect Philip Johnson’s Glass house in New Canaan, Connecticut, Nakaya created “Veil” (2014). Fog shrouded the house for 10-15 minutes each hour, creating a unique experience for visitors of the transparency of the glass, the changing time of the day, and the surrounding landscape.
Durham Cathedral, England is one of the historical locations for Nakaya’s fog sculptures “Fogscape” (2015). Fog sculpture is one of several off-shoots of installation art, happenings, and performance art that began in the late 1950’s and has been continued by such artists as Christo. They open up the experience to numerous visitors and encourage participation. They last for a short time but are photographed extensively and are either recorded on video or published in books.
“Fog x Flo” (2018) was a series of five fog sculptures to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Boston’s Emerald Necklace Conservancy. It was established in 1998 as a private non-profit stewardship organization to restore and maintain Boston’s public parks designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. Olmstead was the 19th Century landscape architect responsible for the design of over 100 public parks and recreation grounds in America. Boston’s Emerald Necklace Park had been neglected for over 50 years. Nakaya’s fog sculptures transformed the parks into another magical environment. As with all Nakaya’s fog sculptures, she insists the mechanics are visible and audible.
“Fog has a very democratic status. It’s constantly moving, and when two droplets collide, they each go off a little, making room for each other. It makes the world a little bigger—for everyone.” (Nayaka, n.d.)
“If you have even one little experience with fog, you start to see things differently. Nature is so complex. We can’t understand its complexity. If you tap one spot it will open up so many things and enlarge imaginations.” (Nakaya, 2013)
Beverly Hall Smith was a professor of art history for 40 years. Since retiring with her husband Kurt to Chestertown in 2014, she has taught art history classes at WC-ALL. She is also an artist whose work is sometimes in exhibitions at Chestertown RiverArts and she paints sets for the Garfield Center for the Arts.