Artist Kohei Nawa challenges the boundaries between virtual and physical spaces, through surreal multimedia works that explore science, digital culture, and sensory perception. Nawa has exhibited in major exhibitions around the world, including the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art the Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh, where he received the Grand Prize in 2010.Read More
Osaka-born Nawa graduated from the Kyoto City University of Arts with a BA in 1998, and a PhD in sculpture in 2003. In 1999, he attended a sculpture course at the Royal College of Art in London as part of an exchange programme.
Nawa is an Associate Professor at the Kyoto University of Art and Design.
Kohei Nawa's sculptures and installations hover in appearance between abstract organic form and sleek artificiality, and are composed of a range of synthetic compounds including silicone oil, silicon carbide dust, polyurethane foam, and epoxy resin. His influences range from artist Antony Gormley, architect Antoni Gaudí, and manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo, to Buddhism and Shintoism.
Nawa's distinctive 'PixCell' series (2002–ongoing) is influenced by the aesthetics of pixels. Objects from taxidermy deer to cameras are encased in a lattice of 'cells' made up of glass beads of different sizes. The surfaces of the resulting forms are magnified and distorted, in an effect akin to the pixelation of a digital image in three-dimensional form.
Nawa's 'PixCell' works mimic the structure of cellular biology, with many individual cell-like glass beads coming together to form an object. Many of the artist's sculptural works expand on this process of encasing objects in synthetic materials, working to manipulate and alter viewers' perceptions.
Nawa also works with highly viscous liquids, as both subject and medium. The 'Ether' series (2012–ongoing) sculptures evoke the form of liquid dripping. Exhibitions such as Force (2015) and Biomatrix (2018), both presented at SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo, challenged viewers' perception of the liquid and solid states of silicone oil. Nawa manipulated the highly viscous, slow-moving medium through gravity or electrical means. The artist has also explored the relation of liquids and gravitational forces in two-dimensional works, such as the 'Direction' series (2012–ongoing) of paintings.
One of Nawa's most ambitious works was Throne (2018), an immense, intricate 3D-printed installation suspended within the glass Louvre Pyramid. Encrusted with opulent gold leaf, the empty throne reflected the artist's interest in the absolute authority and power of historic monarchical rule, and his premonition of a parallel obedience to increasingly powerful computers and artificial intelligence in the future.
In his paintings, Nawa experiments with texture, surface, and viscosity, and plays with the effects of time and gravity on paint. This is evident in the artist's 'Direction' series (2012–ongoing), where ink pigment is left to drip from the top edge of a canvas, which is mounted at a 15-degree angle.
Later works such the 'Black Field' and 'Dune' series (2020–ongoing) further expand these ideas. In the 'Black Field' paintings, Nawa applies numerous layers of oil paint mixed with oil onto panels. This method of application causes paint 'skins' to form and crack, and a textured surface is built up over several weeks. Nawa's 'Dune' paintings are created by spreading a mixture of water and paint of different consistencies across a tilted surface, with the resulting works mimicking aerial views of the earth.
Nawa actively collaborates with other artists and creative practitioners. In 2009 he founded SANDWICH, a creative platform housed within a former sandwich factory in Kyoto that aims to bring together Japanese contemporary artists and performers.
For the projects Vessel (2015–2019), and Mist (2022), Nawa collaborated with the Belgian and French choreographer and dancer, Damien Jalet.
Kohei Nawa has produced several public commissions, including the colossal Manifold (2013) at the sculpture garden in front of the Shinsegae Department Store in Cheonan, South Korea. Various iterations of Nawa's White Deer sculpture have been placed in the Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioicho in Chiyoda City, and the Meiji Jingu Shrine in Tokyo, among other locations.
Kohei Nawa has received several international awards, including Grand Prize at the 14th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh (2010); Distinguished Service Award, Kyoto Prefecture Cultural Awards (2017); and the 32nd Kyoto Art Culture Award (2019).
Kohei Nawa has been the subject of solo and group exhibitions internationally.
Solo exhibitions include TORNSCAPE, SCAI The Bathhouse, Tokyo (2021); Trans-figure, Pace Palo Alto, California (2018); SYNTHESIS, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Tokyo (2011); The poetry of bizarre, Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona (2008).
Group exhibitions include Range of the Senses: What It Means to "Experience" Today, National Museum of Art, Osaka (2022); Japanorama: A new vision on art since 1970, Centre Pompidou-Metz, Metz (2017); Roppongi Crossing 2007: Future Beats in Japanese Contemporary Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2007); Visualize – The history and the futurescape of visual media, Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo (2005).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2022