Jun 16 2014

Out of the Mist: Fujiko Nakaya at the Glass House

by Diego Hadis

FUJIKO NAKAYA, Veil (2014) installation at the Glass House, New Canaan, 2014. Photo by Richard Barnes. Courtesy the Glass House.

Just as we arrived at the Glass House, the late architect Philip Johnson’s country home in New Canaan, Connecticut, the leaden sky opened up and threatened to drench us. We were there for Night Sounds #4, which featured a live performance by the avant-garde electronic duo Lucky Dragons and the unveiling of a sculpture by Vincent Fecteau—as well as a more ephemeral work by the Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya.

Night Sounds, a musical-performance series that has featured Liz Harris and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma, ARP and Juliana Barwick, began as a corollary to the “sculpture-in-residence” program “Night (1947–2015),” for which curator Jordan Stein brings in works by a series of artists—including Ken Price, Tauba Auerbach and Jason Dodge—and situates them on a Mies van der Rohe coffee table in the spot once occupied by an Alberto Giacometti sculpture, Night (1947). In the 1960s, Johnson sent that piece to Giacometti for repairs, but the artist died before he could return it, and Night was never recovered.  

For this latest Night Sounds, we had anticipated a warm day in the countryside, so the unusually somber May weather was somewhat disappointing. After all, one of the best aspects of the series is that audiences can freely wander the Glass House’s grounds—which we were all less inclined to do in heavy rains. Still, watching a shower from inside Johnson’s glass-walled building was exhilarating, putting us (safely) in the middle of the action. And then, just as quickly as the storm had materialized, it passed, the sun appeared, and temperatures rose.

Before Lucky Dragons played, Stein and Henry Urbach, the Glass House’s director, presented Fecteau’s abstract sculpture. They explained that it would be the first of three new ceramic works by the artist to occupy the spot on the coffee table. Playing off the disappearance of the Giacometti, each sculpture will quietly replace its predecessor in the months to come.

Sitting at opposite ends of a long dinner table, Lucky Dragons’ Sarah Rara and Luke Fischbeck started coaxing pretty drones and textures from their laptops. They were each plugged into a different speaker, so that their pinging, complementary tones played off one another, and the music sounded different depending on where you stood in relation to the speakers. The performance began slowly, and it took the audience a few minutes to realize that it was underway. People were rapt for a while, and then started melting away, wandering to various parts of the Glass House, and out into the sunlight. Because of the building’s glass walls, the music was audible from outside, and it was nice to hear Lucky Dragons in a Cagean context that melded their synthesized sounds with birdsong and the wind rustling the leaves.

After Lucky Dragons came the day’s final inclement weather: Without warning, while the audience mingled, a cloud of mist swelled from nozzles hidden strategically around the building. This was Fujiko Nakaya’s Veil (2014), a temporary installation commissioned by Urbach. Nakaya has been creating fog pieces for decades—Calvin Tompkins wrote about her contribution to E.A.T.’s Pepsi Pavilion at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. For Veil, the Glass House is supposed to disappear into the fog, but during the first few minutes the wind was blowing too strongly and dissipating the cloud. Still, no one seemed to mind. Some children and not a few adults ran joyfully around in the surprisingly cool mist, and the Glass House occasionally glinted through the fog. It was both there and not there.

Fujika Nakaya’s Veil is on view at the Glass House through November 30, 2014.

Diego Hadis is a writer based in New York. He has written for Swallow magazine, T Magazine’s the Moment blog, and Gather Journal