01 Feb 2017 • Book
Artist Shinji Ohmaki expresses the fragile balance between existence and extinction
The photography book Where They Create: Japan by Paul Barbera offers insight into the environments and working processes of the most creative minds in Japan. Here, we meet artist Shinji Ohmaki.
Born in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture in 1971 to a family of textile purveyors, it was through personally witnessing the decline in Japan’s traditional craftsmanship that artist Shinji Ohmaki chose to pursue working in the arts himself, expressing the fragile balance between existence and extinction. Studying sculpture at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, he gained his master’s degree in 1997. Ohmaki’s dynamic works take form as installations, paintings and sculptures and challenge perceptions of space and beauty. When not teaching in Tokyo, he lives on the southern coast in the city of Miura.
Is this the place where you work?
At the moment the majority of my works are made in the studio in the Tokyo University of the Arts, where I have a post as associate professor in the sculpture department. I teach during the day, so the time I have for my personal artwork is from night until the next morning. In the studio, I do not use the air conditioner or heater as it dries out the pigments and paint. In the winter, my studio gets very cold at night, so I wear layers of pants to endure the chilliness to be able to continue to work overnight.
You don’t have time to return home?
Currently, I spend more hours at the school, often spending the night there as my house is located quite far away. In 2012, I found a piece of land in Miura city, a small fisherman’s village that is about a two-hour drive from Tokyo, and built myself a house with help from a traditional Japanese carpenter. Right in front of the house are tuna fishing boats.
What instigated you to choose to build a home in such a remote location?
I used to have a workshop and a house in the central area of Tokyo, but when the catastrophic earthquake hit the north of the Japanese mainland in March 2011, my neighbourhood was also damaged. I had to find another location to live. But more than that, I realised the fragility and impermanence of things. Anything can be destroyed by the forces of nature. Everything is transient. That incident reminded me that each second and moment is constantly changing. This is something we all know, but one is likely to forget when living in a civilised, urban environment far away from nature. Living by the sea, one is always part of nature. There, I can feel the wind and notice small changes in the atmosphere of the sky and the sea. I feel the house shake under strong winds – there is a direct influence. It is very important for me to have a sharp sense of how the world is moving around me. When you are in a big city like Tokyo and amongst buildings, your sense gets paralysed. It is no different from any other mega city.
Is that how you came up with the Liminal Air project?
For many years, I have been interested in visualising or making tactile an ephemeral moment. Even now, at this very moment, although we humans don’t see any sound waves in front us, there are tiny electromagnetic waves that exist and vibrate the air. I wanted to visualise this ‘morphing of the wave’. I first experimented with plastic film, the kind you normally use to cover the food, and let it flow in the air. Then I came across a Japanese textile manufacturer that produces one of the lightest textiles in the world. With the computer-programmed wind, the thin textile constantly dances in the air, which is a visualisation of the movement of the air. You will ‘see’ different notions of time that you normally don’t recognise. Having my workshop and house just by the sea allows me to realise this different notion of time first hand.