I moved from San Francisco to New York City a year ago, and one of the many things I thought I’d never miss is the fog. Thick clouds of water droplets suspended in my daily existence are a thing of the past. So going to Fujiko Nakaya’s fog installation “Veil” — an ethereal piece at the Glass House created using fog nozzles that respond to weather conditions — in midsummer felt entirely like a time warp, to my former life in the Bay, and to an impeccably embalmed setting of an architectural triumph in Mid-Century America.
The Glass House was built by Philip Johnson in 1949, and he lived there until his death in 2005. It’s virtually impossible to find the entrance of the property. Once guided past the stone ledge and down a pathway, the entire town of New Canaan gets suctioned out, your entire periphery enveloped by a whole new world. Your eyes will settle on a steel outline of a clear rectangle positioned just above a sprawling valley and pond, and through it you will see the woods. Inside the house, there is a classical landscape painting, The Funeral of Phocion by Baroque artist Nicolas Poussin, propped up by steel legs. The painting and the view mimic each other. One seeps into the other, but architecture interrupts.
Nakaya gained prominence through her first public fog sculpture in Expo ’70 in Osaka as a member of the art collective Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). Robert Rauschenberg, one of E.A.T.’s founders, had introduced her to engineer Thomas Mee of Mee Industries, and he and Nakaya created the first fog nozzle made entirely of water. She patented it and fog has been her signature ever since. “Veil” is composed of over 600 nozzles, strategically positioned based on temperature, wind direction, and pressure data downloaded monthly through an on-site weather station and sent to Nakaya in Japan over the course of a year.
“Veil” is her most personal work yet. It posits you in your haziest, most overcast memory of home and triggers the dizzying realization that everything is bound to change. The fog rolls and thickens, and the closest comparison I can draw is the strange feeling of dread you get from watching a David Lynch film by yourself — a disorientation that is at once inviting and terrifying. The show runs twice for ten minutes each tour.
To both Nakaya and Johnson, home is synonymous with nature. But their personal relationships with the home are quite split: Johnson designed a remarkably controlled globe of his own, and nearly a decade after his death, the buildings and landscape remain immaculate and intact, as he intended. For Nakaya, home is a place that is ever-changing, far beyond her grasp. Her work reflects an obvious dedication to research, but in the end, relinquishes itself entirely to forces of nature and accepts human efforts as ephemeral. “Veil” exists in a state of birth and rebirth, but after the conclusion of the season, will evaporate and leave behind the Glass House altogether.
“Fujiko Nakaya: Veil” is on view at the Glass House until November 30, 2014.
All photos by Bradley Tangonan and Casey Stein.