Lifting the Veil
Talking with Fujiko Nakaya about Her Artistic Work at Philip Johnson’s Glass House
The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, was designed by architect Philip Johnson and built between 1947 and 1949. At the time, The Glass House’s design was a radical departure from contemporary houses in that its exterior walls were made entirely of glass and it had no interior walls or partitions. Today, this remarkable Midcentury Modern architectural achievement is a National Trust Historic Site.
Continuing the tradition of innovation and creativity at the Glass House, the Trust sponsored the installation of “Veil” by Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya during from May 1 to November 30, 2014. This site-specific artist project enveloped The Glass House in fog, giving visitors a new, extraordinary experience.
Recently, we talked with artist Fujiko Nakaya to get the inside details about the “Veil” installation and her other projects.
Give a brief description of your artistic approach. What do your projects aim to do?
It is important that I use portable (drinkable) water to create a fog sculpture. I don’t use chemicals [because] I want people to walk into the fog and experience it with their body.
[It is] also important that the droplet size is comparable to natural fog, around 20 microns diameter mean average, so that fog sculpture can assimilate natural fog and interact with its environment. It will breathe with the atmosphere and, metamorphosing through heat exchange; [render] visible the dynamism hidden in the seemingly transparent air.
These tiny droplets of water, acting like a thermo-type, will reveal the stories lurking about in the seemingly empty atmosphere -- stormy and vehement at times, and gentle and sublime with the light of a sunset in the evening. Like natural fog, it precipitates and returns to atmosphere.
How did you come to be involved with Glass House?
Henry Urbach invited me. I met [him] in San Francisco the day before he flew to New York to take his new position as the Director of the Glass House. [I think] he must have [already] had the idea of veiling the iconic Glass House with “fog.” He gave me a beautiful book of the photographs of fog over the San Francisco Bay with views of the Golden Gate Bridge captured at different times of the day and night over four seasons under changing light.
What elements of the Glass House’s design or history inspired your installation?
When I first visited the Glass House in 2012 at Christmas time, the first snow had fallen and the entire valley was covered with fleeting snow, [it was] so beautiful. I was overwhelmed by the exquisite beauty of the landscape, of undulating hills and valleys which reminisced the traces of glacial time. I felt as though the land was still breathing the air of the glacial age. It was sublime.
Yet, I hesitated to shroud the Glass House with fog. [It] seemed almost sacred. Besides, what do I do with the rest of the landscape? 49 acres! I have never worked [on] such a grand scale.
How did “Veil” differ from other projects you’ve done? What stood out to you about this project?
I saw some kind of tense relationship created between the Glass House and the fog. The two were not always in concert with each other. I never experienced this kind of tense atmosphere before.
Fog at the Glass House, at times, behaved like a beast trying to climb up the wall, and stride over the roof attempting to devour the building. Other times, the square corners of the building would give a sharp 90-degree edge to the lenient, amorphous fog. This kind of even game with fog was something I never noticed before.
What was your favorite part of creating “Veil?” Did anything surprise you along the way?
I must tell you a story of my collaboration with Phillip Johnson. I like natural lights, of dawn and sunset especially, to highlight the fogscapes. I avoid artificial lighting whenever I can, except for the random ambient lights.
When I saw the photos of “the Glass House Veiled in fog” lit with orange, rose, and pale-green lights, I said to Irene Shum Allen, the curator, that I didn’t like these artificial lights. Natural sunset is so much more beautiful.
Irene said to me [that] these lights, both inside and outside, were chosen and installed by Phillip Johnson himself, for the Glass House.
I couldn’t believe, at first, that the lights were installed by Phillip Johnson. With the fog added, it looked too romantic. I said to Irene, “It’s collaboration with Phillip Johnson, then.” So I write in the caption of these photos: “The Glass House veiled in fog / Lighting by Philip Johnson”
The series of these photos taken by Richard Barnes have since become my most favorite photos of the “veiled” Glass House.
Where are you planning to work next?
I have a few projects in [the] EU. I just came back from Bristol, UK, where I made a Fog Bridge for In Between Time Performance Festival titled “Enter the Storm." Later this year, I hope to [collaborate] with a British lighting artist to create a large bank of cloud with water fog to float [above] the ancient Cathedral in Durham, UK -- a 1,000-year-old castle and World Heritage site.
In 2016, I have a project with French director Clyde Chabot to create a fog environment for her stage production of The Blind by Maurice Maeterlinck. This will be performed in theatres as well as outdoor spaces in France. Also in 2016, I want to make a Fog Sculpture, “Wilderness” (tentative title), and I’m looking for a location to do it. I am into my wilderness phase lately.