Starting in April, Hiro Yamagata will bombard onlookers in Yokohama with images of an ever-changing universe.
Known for his colorful paintings and prints, Yamagata has over the past decade focused on space and the sun. Working with lasers, fiber-optics and holographic panels, he has transformed exhibition spaces into dazzling visual environments.
The six-month Yokohama exhibition will feature three major installations.
In a recent interview, Yamagata talked about magnetic fields, protons, nitrogen, argon and elementary particles. He sounded more like a scientist than an artist.
“All of this began by my asking myself the question ‘Who am I?’ ” he said.
“While spiritual or religious perceptions are changeable, things explained by science and physics are absolute.”
Yamagata said the notion that everything is made of elementary particles led him to focus on factual and material things, an inclination he has had since childhood.
Yamagata was born in Maibara, Shiga Prefecture, where he used to peer through a telescope his father crafted for viewing stars.
He moved to Paris in 1972, at age 24, to study at L’Ecole des Beaux Arts, before moving to Los Angeles in 1978.
While his prints, including the renowned masterpieces “Perrier” and “Rainy Day,” became collectors’ items, his passion has always been space and the sun.
Since around 1991, Yamagata has pursued his scientific art experiment, something he had “always really wanted to do,” he said.
His 1,800-sq.-meter atelier in Malibu, Calif., is now his laboratory for experimenting with laser beams, holographic materials, prisms and light-splitting devices.
Yamagata has produced a number of large-scale laser installations, including one at the Contemporary Arts Museum in Cincinnati in 2000 and another at the Ace Gallery New York in 2001.
In November 2001, he transformed the exterior of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, into a major outdoor light installation.
The exhibition in Yokohama, titled “Art & Space — The World of Hiro Yamagata and NASA,” runs from April 5 to Sept. 28 in collaboration with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.
His 20-meter-high “Solar Cubes,” covered with holographic panels that separate light as a prism, will be installed in an open area between the Osanbashi terminal and the Red Brick Warehouse.
While an intense rainbow-colored spectrum will be created from sunshine, a dazzling space scene will appear at night as spotlight beams are diffused and reflected.
This will let viewers experience “light warping between the two cubes, making them think they are standing in a different dimension,” Yamagata said.
The “NGC6093” and “Constellation” installations will be displayed at the Osanbashi International Terminal hall.
“Constellation” uses filtered laser beams to express the quiet growth of the universe, while “NGC6093” is an intense and dramatic display of the raw force of light.
Yamagata said that when the work was shown at Ace Gallery in 2001, epileptics, migraine sufferers and pregnant women were warned not to enter the show. Four viewers fainted, but a terminal cancer patient who visited the exhibit daily during the last three months of his life reportedly found peace of mind amid the lights and colors.
“I am especially focused on the elementary force of light, as manifested by the sun,” Yamagata said.
NASA has recently branched out to study concepts including infinity and absoluteness, holding workshops with a wide range of professionals, including scientists, philosophers and artists. Yamagata was asked to join several of them.
In one that deals with the issue of where humans will be 5 billion years from now, the professionals work on concepts such as “artificial Earth,” where, after the slow extinction of the solar system, mankind wanders in space on an artificial planet until a new solar system is found.
In another project, involving NASA and the UCLA neurology department, Yamagata’s work is used to research the effects on the vision of people suffering schizophrenia and autism.
As far as future plans, Yamagata hopes to live at an elevation of 4,500 meters in the Himalayas for three months starting at the end of this year, filming and simultaneously beaming the colors of sunlight to museums via satellite.
He also hopes to spend eight months in Antarctica from late 2005, filming the cosmos, including the constellation Centaurus and a supernova, through an electronic telescope and putting the images on display at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.
“I’m often asked why I do what I do, but I just have to say that I don’t know,” he said. “I also have no artistic theory or reason why I do this. I don’t even think that I’m an artist.”
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