Fujiko Nakaya’s fog sculptures animate Boston’s Emerald Necklace
Those walking and running along the Emerald Necklace – Boston’s 1,100-acre chain of parks that snake throughout the city – will have a rare chance to see two creative forces in dialogue. American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed the park system more than a hundred years ago, seamlessly connecting Boston’s neighbourhoods through winding streams, ponds, and green spaces; while octogenarian Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya has spent the past 50 years perfecting her trademark fog sculptures. In a series of five site-specific works placed throughout the Necklace, Nakaya responds to Olmsted’s natural yet engineered landscapes with manufactured plumes and ephemeral clouds of water vapour.
A job well done goes unnoticed, and the best way to encounter Nakaya’s pieces is by happenstance. ‘I just thought something weird was happening with the weather,’ a woman said to me as she stopped mid-jog to watch, and eventually with the changing breeze, be engulfed by Nakaya’s Fog x Island – a dense veil that mysteriously blew in from one of Olmsted’s ponds on a hot sunny day. Activated on the hour and running for three to eight minutes, each work is named according to its site. In addition to the island piece in Brookline’s Leverett Pond, there is Fog x Canopy in Back Bay, Fog x Beach in Jamaica Pond, Fog x Hill in Arnold Arboretum, and Fog x Ruins in Franklin Park. Each shows Nakaya’s virtuosity with the ethereal, shape-shifting medium, as she adapts her technique to fit each terrain.
Jamaica Pond at the Emerald Necklace, blanketed by mist from Nakaya’s Fog x Beach. Photography: Melissa Ostrow
A member of the collective E.A.T. (Experiments in Art and Technology), co-founded by artist Robert Rauschenberg, Nakaya created her first fog sculpture in collaboration with cloud physicist Thomas Mee for the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. Far from a clunky fog machine or cheesy water mister, Nakaya’s refined sculptural hardware consists of tiny nozzles that emit a fine vapor. Tubing is hidden as much as possible, and the larger machinery of pumps is placed far away from each work. In Fog x Hill, the nozzles are strung between two large pines, invisible from view at the bottom of the hill where one can view the rolling fog under the right wind conditions. In Fog x Beach, the nozzles are placed on a trellis in the ground, tucked away in a depression near the pond’s edge. When activated, a bowl of mist sits next to the pond, slowly wafting over it and the running trail.
Nakaya with one of the hundreds of nozzles used for each fog sculpture. Photography: Melissa Ostrow
The most conspicuous work – Fog x Ruins – responds to a piece of architecture: the crumbling stone ruins of Overlook Shelter, the only building ever designed by Olmsted. After its destruction from a fire, the remains of the space were used by Boston activist Emma Lewis in the 1960s and 70s as a concert venue to host musical legends like Duke Ellington. Nakaya reincarnates this performing space, as she describes, giving fog a place to ‘dance’. §