How can being submerged in the world of an artist alter your perception of self? Shinji Ohmaki’s conceptual art spaces are immersive experiences that blur the lines between time, space and history
The Japanese artist Shinji Ohmaki works to challenge the paradigms of the art world through his spatial practice. He not only constructs his conceptual installations inside traditional exhibition spaces, but also as permanent open-air sculpture and even in collaboration with the fashion world. Stepping into the ethereal spaces he creates, we are forced to jump straight into the abstract complexities of this ambitious artist’s mind. The Forumist spoke with him to find out how he integrates the presence of an audience into his art spaces.
“In making my work, it is very important to imagine how the audience will move and how the context will change their experience of the work.” We asked Ohmaki to open up about Liminal Air Space-Time, his compelling installation that has been exhibited around Japan and in Europe. It’s an ongoing project, in which he uses light and wind to float sheets of silky fabric in the air. Each time it’s constructed, a fresh group of spectators is encouraged to reflect on time and space. “As even a single, simple piece of cloth moves, the boundaries that divide time and space are also changing,” Ohmaki says.
The Liminal series is tastefully minimal, executed through an arrangement of hidden fans that suspend and warp these airborne sheets of cloudlike fabric. The airflow stirs the cloth in waves, creating shimmering movements similar to those of cascading, flowing and evaporating water. “Watching this movement, you begin to notice disparities in what you felt was expected, at least according to gravity as we know it. Time speeds up – or it becomes overwhelmingly slow.” By entering into the same space as the delicately tessellating shape, audiences may feel like the shape is defying gravity, a feeling that spreads to their own bodies. They become sharply aware of their own consciousness, the weight of their own bodies’ physicality and the speed of their own bodies’ movement in relation to the silk.
“For me, it’s very important for the audience to experience the work,”says Ohmaki. “Having the spectators themselves be within the scenery of the piece is such an important element of the artwork. Instead of only thinking about materials, I want to create paradoxes in the space around them. Of course, material is also important, but I believe that human consciousness is a force that can transform space.”
Ohmaki has installed the Liminal series in three museums in Japan, in Singapore and the Hermès storefront in Paris, and it also recently existed as a 33m-long installation for the runway exhibition of Louis Vuitton’s AW16 menswear collection in Paris. “No matter where it is, the basic concept will not change. However, the message of the piece changes with the characteristics and histories of each location that are joined to the work,” says Ohmaki. “It is a work that allows physical and sensory deviations to be experienced in this world by transforming what is standard in everyday life – in this case, it’s gravity.”
Ohmaki experiments with new mediums for each new project, searching for the perfect balance in texture, reflectiveness, weight and fluidity: “I am looking for materials that change constantly, such as physical texture or phenomena caused by light. I am also interested in using traditional Japanese craft techniques and doing constant research to combine it with new concepts.”
Ohmaki originally trained as a sculptor. He studied at the Tokyo University of the Arts, where he is now a professor himself. He has evolved from making static art objects to a successful art practice based on creating work that transforms entire spaces. But it is not just about filling a space – his practice is more about expanding upon the space itself, often highlighting the history of the land and story of people from each location. “When thinking about the movement, flow and shape of the work, inspiration is received from the land and the place,” he says. “I have long believed that the relationship between the space, the body and the very feeling on the skin is very important.”
Ohmaki’s newest project has a lot to do with history and the experience a city itself goes through over the years. Echoes – Genius Loci is currently installed at the Yokohama Creative City Centre (YCC) through its new Temporary exhibition series. Ohmaki was the first artist selected and is setting the bar quite high for those to come. He has again given a lot of thought to those who will be viewing it – the people of Yokohama, an industrial city just south of Tokyo. “The memories of the olden days are buried beneath the ground of Yokohama in the form of debris,” he says. The space he has constructed seems empty and silent at first, but upon further observation, viewers realise they are surrounded by a huge map of the entire city and engulfed in its history. Using the nihonga painting technique traditional to his native Japan, Ohmaki stencilled the floor with a white map of the modern city, mixed with traditional decorative shapes and patterns. The space is framed on both sides by glowing red windows that feature scenes from three sombre moments in history that redefined the landscape of the city in dramatic ways. These times of intense destruction and reconstruction, he says, “have had a tremendous impact on the present”.
Ohmaki used the exhibition space at YCC to showcase the histories of Yokohama, submerging his audiences in the experience of the city itself. “Within this work is a cycle – light that comes from darkness and light that also returns to darkness,” Ohmaki explains. “By linking the entire scene with the smaller detail, the artwork becomes a trip through time, space and memory.”
As an installation artist, Ohmaki knows better than most that, with each new creation, comes a period of destruction. With every temporary installation, his work is taken down, deconstructed and then reconstructed elsewhere. But this cyclical nature of his practice has become part of the experience itself and doesn’t discourage him. “My work expresses the value of collapse and creation that occurs through simple existence,” he says. “It is not always good for the world to become so uniform through globalisation. As uniformity of the world progresses, I would like to create more awareness about the specific characteristics of different regions and areas. Especially in my work Echoes – Infinity, I am aware of rediscovering the identity of the land and the way of the world.”
Words by Eimi Tagore-Erwin
Artwork by Shinji Ohmaki
1. Liminal Air – descend; year: 2006; photographer: Tadasu Yamamoto; courtesy of GALERY A4
2. Liminal Air Space-Time; year: 2015; courtesy of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo
3. Liminal Air Space – Time; Louis Vuitton FW16 Collection Runway; year 2016; courtesy of epresspack
4. Memorial Rebirth; year: 2015; photographer: Matsuo Ujin
5. Liminal Air – core; year: 2010; photographer: Ito Tetsuo; courtesy of Setouchi Triennale
6-7. Echoes Infinity – Genius Loci; year: 2017; photographer: Kato Ken; courtesy of Yokohama Creative Center
8-9. ‘Echoes Infinity – Moment and Eternity’; year: 2016; photographer: Ito Tetsuo; courtesy of Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee
10. 恩寵 ‘Gravity and Grace’; year: 2016; photographer: Ito Tetsuo; courtesy of Aichi Triennale Organizing Committee