Kyoto-based artist Kohei Nawa challenges the boundaries between virtual and physical space in surreal, semi-abstract multimedia works. Exploring themes of science, digital culture, and sensory perception, his works have been exhibited across Europe, Asia, and the United States.Read More
Born in Osaka, Nawa graduated from the Kyoto City University of Arts with a BA in 1998 and a PhD in Fine Art Sculpture in 2003. Between degrees in 1999, the artist attended a sculpture course at the Royal College of Art in London on an exchange. He claims a diverse range of influences from this background, including the work of artist Antony Gormley, architect Antoni Gaudi, manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo, and the art of Buddhism and Shintoism.
Working with a range of modern synthetic compounds including silicone oil, silicon carbide dust, polyurethane foam, and epoxy resin, Nawa's sculptures and installations hover between an organic and a sleek, artificial appearance. His distinctive, career-spanning 'PixCell' series (2002–ongoing) is inspired by the appearance of digital pixels. Selected objects are encased in a lattice of 'cells' made up of glass beads in different sizes. The resultant form magnifies and distorts the object's surface akin to a pixelated digital image in three-dimensional form. As structures of individual cells making up a singular whole object, the 'PixCell' works also mimic cellular biology. A defining format, much of his sculptural work expands on this process of encasing objects in synthetic materials to explore and alter viewer perceptions.
Nawa also works with highly viscous liquids as both a subject and a medium. Sculptures such as those in the 'Ether' series (2012–ongoing) evoke liquids dripping downward in solid form. Installations like Force (SCAI The Bathhouse, 2015) and Biomatrix (SCAI The Bathhouse, 2018) challenge viewers' perceptions of the liquid and solid states of the highly viscous, slow-moving medium of silicone oil through electrical manipulation or the action of gravity. The relation of liquids and forces like gravity are also explored in two-dimensional artworks such as those in the 'Direction' series (2012–ongoing).
One of Nawa's most ambitiously scaled installations is the immense, intricately 3D-printed, gold-leaf-encrusted Throne (2018), which is suspended within the Louvre's iconic I. M. Pei-designed glass pyramid. The opulent but empty throne reflects the artist's interest in the absolute authority and power of monarchical rule that occurred in the past, and his premonition of future blind obedience to computers with increasingly powerful artificial intelligence.
While continuing to develop his practice, Nawa is also working to support and collaborate with other contemporary artists. Founding the creative platform SANDWICH in 2009 in a former sandwich factory near Kyoto, the artist has sought to bring together Japanese artists and performers to create an image of contemporary Japanese art and culture beyond the stereotypes of manga and anime. In projects such as Vessel (2015–ongoing), a touring collaboration with choreographer and dancer Damien Jalet, the artist works with contemporary dancers and musicians to enrich his artwork. Nawa also teaches as an Associate Professor at the Kyoto University of Art and Design.
Nawa's works feature in prominent permanent public collections such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo; the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo; and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art. His work also featured in the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (Brisbane, 2009) and the 14th Asian Art Biennale Bangladesh (Dhaka, 2010), where he received first prize.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019
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Yuko Hasegawa, Artistic Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, and Kohei Nawa discuss the artist's recent sculptures and installations, including Throne, on view under the Louvre Pyramid until January 14, 2019.