When experiencing the installations of Nelo Akamatsu, one might be gently overcome by a very delicate, physical sense of calmness. The artist incorporates Japanese culture, natural phenomena, and scientific knowledge into his pieces by utilising media such as electric devices, video and sound sculptures. Geomagnetism, glass, water and the sounds of their interactions are also central to Akamatsu’s most recent work, thus highlighting hidden patterns and rhythms that resonate within our daily lives.
Chozumaki is the result of Akamatsu’s residence at Sonica (Glasgow) in 2017. The piece takes on one of the planet’s most mesmerising natural phenomena: the vortex. From atmospheric circulation, to the spin of electrons, to water swirling down plugholes, the geomagnetically-induced vortex has proven to be a hypnotising spectacle. Even high-caliber artists such as Anish Kapoor have explored the phenomena, as last summer the world-renowned artist had a massive installation in New York, titled Descension, involving a giant pool of continuously swirling water in Brooklyn Bridge Park. Nelo Akamatsu’s Chozumaki will appeal to anyone who has worked in a biology or chemistry lab (who hasn’t spent hours trying to get the perfect solution). Glass beakers shaped like a cochlear duct, each one containing a continuous vortex produced by a magnetic stirrer, whirl endlessly in water; there’s a sort of mantric meditative repetition in the sight and sound of these water vortex.
Chozumaki takes its name from chozubachi, a stone wash basin used to clean hands before a tea ceremony. In traditional Japanese culture, the water in the chozubachi purifies the body and mind before participation in the sacred tea ceremony itself. In many cultures, water is associated with purification and meditative calmness, and is a central part of garden composition. Persian and islamic cultures designed magnificent gardens, such as the Alhambra in Granada, peaceful oases to hide away from the heat and noise with a very pronounced sense of aesthetic composition and where water was a central element. Similarly, in Japanese culture, as Akamatsu says: “ the concepts of traditional Japanese gardens are based on the perspective of fluctuation in nature, and my sense of fluctuation resonates with the rhythm and the vibration of the air and water in Japanese gardens.” Suikinkutsu accounts for a sound installation for the traditional Japanese garden, invented in the Edo period, where the sounds of water drops falling into an earthenware pot buried under a stone wash basin resonate through hollow bamboo utensils. And as we can see, water plays a very prominent role in Akamatsu’s art.
In Chijikinkutsu, another of Akamastsu’s pieces, he uses the principle of geomagnetism – chijiki – to explore traditional form of sound sculpture – suikinkutsu. The piece – awarded a Golden Nica at Ars Electronica 2015- shows electromagnetised-needles gently striking the walls of glass vessels filled with water. The needles produce a delicate rhythmic clink as they respond to the influence of the geomagnetic forces, confronting the observer with the hidden strength of these movements and, after a while, transporting them in meditative state.
We have documented on many occasions the particular sensibility of Japanese people towards nature and aesthetics, since ancient times, Japanese people have been sensitive to perceive nature as it is, from the sound of the wind through pine trees or the singing of insects in each season. Akamatsu also shares with us that his pieces shouldn’t be overthought: sometimes there is no need to find any narrative, just finding the perfect aesthetic balance between the materials and elements of the piece, in perfect syntony just like a Japanese garden.
Words by Meritxell Rosell (Twitter @dancingmoog)
 The Earth’s magnetic field (or geomagnetic field) is a phenomenon that influences human activity and the natural world in a myriad of ways. The geomagnetic field changes from place to place, and on time scales ranging from seconds to decades to eons. These changes can affect health and safety, and economic well-being. Since long before the Age of Discovery, people have traveled with navigation using compasses employing geomagnetism. In recent years, various devises that utilize geomagnetism have even been incorporated into smartphones. It’s s cause of generation is not yet completely unearthed by modern physics.
(Chijikinkutsu project, 2015)
(Chijikinkutsu project, 2015)
You are a multidisciplinary artist, working across several media such as sound and video installations, sculptures, paintings and photography. You work also takes inspiration from nature and natural phenomena.How and when did this interest come about?
My various experiences and feelings have been accumulating for many years like a lump of lint inside of me. The lint of my sense of curiosity into natural phenomena [has also been woven into it, present] since my childhood. When one thread is by chance unraveled from the lump, that is when a new artwork comes into being. It could happen by a mere sight just passing [by] me, or [by] an instant flashback to my dream after awakening.
If you come up with an artwork based on a specific theme, the creative process usually begins with [the verbalization of a narrative]. [Contrastingly], my type of creation–by unraveling a thread–always gives birth to abstraction without any narratives at the beginning, but [instead] with materialization, symbolization and vibration.
Chijikinkutsu, is a minimalistic sound installation that uses geomagnetism, could you tell us about the intellectual process behind the piece?
The reason why CHIJIKINKUTSU and CHOZUMAKI seem so minimal is [because] I’m presenting materials such as water, glass tumblers, sewing needles, etc., and [phenomena such] as geomagnetism and vortexes, and sounds such as glasses [clinking] and [the movement of] water, just [the way they are all found in nature]. I don’t follow the surrealistic approach, like the [presentation of] impossibles, nor the cinematic method of montages; I didn’t express any narratives there.
Chozumaki is another one of your installations inspired by the relationship between typhoon swirls and the Coriolis force: An intricate installation of glass and water uses magnetic energy to produce a spiralling vortex of curious sounds. What were some of the biggest challenges in this piece’s development?
I utilize magnetic energy as [both] a pigment and canvas for my artistic expression. For CHOZUMAKI, I created special devices [to showcase] vortexes as [naturally as possible], and I also [made various] adjustments to the level of magnetic power, the shape and size of the rotor, the speed of rotation, and the quantity of water in the vessels, all making for unstable, [differential] fluctuations in the vortexes, [all to reference how water found] in the seas, rivers, and waterfalls changes its shape, color, and sound in every minute of the day, and in every season of the year.
It’s similar [to how] Japanese gardens don’t look artificial at a glance because the gardeners take great pains to express nature [realistically]. Though it sounds contradictory, expressing nature for me is in a sense creating a sustainable state of instability.
How does working with natural phenomena affect your perception on the impact of human existence on the planet?
Devastating power of the earthquakes and hurricanes can never be controlled by humans. But even if the power of the earth is that enormous, humans have given the incredible level of damages to the earth with the global warming by discharging CO2, the destruction of the ecosystem, the radioactive pollutions and so on. However I’m rather optimistic to think that humans would be able to live their ecological life, if artificial intelligence would disempower human’s thoughts in the near future.
In japan there’s a very old tradition for garden sound design using the natural elements and many western musician and artists and writers have been fascinated by it. John Cage composed Ryoanji, a musical translation of the famous karesansui garden in Kyoto. Which elements of garden spacial sound design are the most inspiring for your work? Unlike in European traditional gardens which value the concept of symmetry , you can rarely see symmetric landscapes in Japanese traditional gardens. Karesansui at Ryoanji is one of the best gardens which show beauty of asymmetry.
Though you might think there’re symmetric objects in nature like snow crystals and foliage, they are not exactly symmetric because of their knobs and mutations that you can find if you observe very closely. We humans live in nature with its fluctuation which always overcome mathematical regularity. I think the concept of Japanese traditional gardens is based on this perspective of fluctuation in nature. And my sense of fluctuation is resonant with the rhythm and the vibration of the air and water in Japanese gardens.
What is your chief enemy of creativity?
Hesitations sometimes make it difficult to be as I am. The enemies of my creation don’t always emerge from outside, but come from inside of myself; when I try to solve the problems caused by such internal enemies, I can propel my creativity at the same time. So I shouldn’t simply eliminate them.
You couldn’t live without…
All the possible desires, off course including the desire for creation.
(All photos courtesy of the artist)