Art Radar looks at Susumu Shingu’s first large scale survey in Europe.
Susumu Shingu’s elegant sculptures are animated by the omnipresent nature of air. This “atmospheric” material sculpted by the artist emphasizes his relationship with the world and his ecological conscience.
Master of wind and water
Susumu Shingu is widely known as an artist whose kinetic sculptures are moved by natural energies like wind and water – elements he has been using since the beginning of his career. Born in Osaka, Japan in 1937, Shingu graduated from Tokyo University of Arts with a major in oil painting and soon after, was awarded a scholarship to study in Rome, where he further perfected his painting skills. At the same time, Shingu had already started to experiment with kinetic sculptures and has been perfecting this practice ever since. In 1967, Shingu held his first solo exhibition presenting his “wind sculptures” in Tokyo and became Visiting Artist at Carpenter Center for the Visual and Environmental Studies, Harvard University from 1971 to 1972.
Shingu’s sculptures have been included in numerous group exhibitions as well as been presented in solo exhibitions at Asahi Gallery, Kyoto, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Hyogo, Loggia della Mercanzia, Genova, Maison Hermès, Tokyo, and Galerie Jeanne-Bucher, Paris, amongst others. Furthermore, Shingu choreographs and creates original theatre works and has published a large number of monographs and children’s books. He received the Outdoor Sculpture Prize of Nagano City, the Japan Grand Prix of Art and the Medal with Purple Ribbon for his artistic activities. In 2012, he inaugurated the Susumu Shingu WIND MUSEUM, an open-air sculpture garden of 12 wind sculptures in Arimafuji Park, Sanda, Japan. The artist now lives and works between Sanda and Paris.
Nature as material
In May 2018, Susumu Shingu opened a large scale survey of kinetic sculptures titled “Spaceship” at MUDAM Luxembourg – Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean. According to its curators Marie-Noëlle Farcy and Clément Minighetti, the exhibition is unprecedented in Europe as it assembles a total of 15 kinetic wind works, alongside drawings and videos of past works as well as one sculpture exclusively produced for the museum. Furthermore, Wind Caravan, a group of 21 wind-driven sculptures, is installed in the Park Dräi Eechelen, where also the museum is located. The exhibition is running until the beginning of next year. The curators write about the Shingu’s art:
Susumu Shingu’s art could not exist without the wind. His elegant sculptures are animated by the slightest breath and thereby reveal the intangible but omnipresent nature of air. This “atmospheric” material sculpted by the artist emphasizes his relationship with the world and his ecological conscience.
Wind, light and water are omnipresent elements in nature and thus material that is easily available to Shingu, who has incorporated it in his sculptures for over six decades. All his works are underpinned by the delicate balance between nature and material, between harmony and chance. He creates wind- and watermills that integrate in the landscape or awe visitors inside museums. At MUDAM, too, Shingu was able to connect the outside with the museum’s unique architecture as he exemplifies inside MUDAM’s Grand Hall. In the entrance to the exhibition spaces, he created an exclusive in-situ installation that resonates with the hall’s polygonal architecture and its translucent ceiling. Water Tree II (2018), a large fountain-like sculpture inside a pool, greets visitors by rhythmically pumping water out of its branches thus filling the vast hall with splashing sounds and sun reflections. It is surrounded by free floating mobiles, which carry titles that hint to the sky, the stars and ultimately the cosmos.
Hence, the exhibition title “Spaceship” could easily be understood through work titles like Ocean of Stars, Echo of Sky or Starry Night. There is more to it, though, as Clément Minighetti told Art Radar:
The earth can also be understood as a spaceship that we are navigating and therefore influence the path it is heading towards.
Motion, cycles and rhythm are driving his works and in the exhibition not one experience, not one look, not one sound is the same as moments before. Every second reveals a unique set of combinations. Susumu Shingu himself explains it in his own words:
I think we have a sense of our time as human beings, of our lifetime, and of our sense of the indestructible rhythm of nature. When these two rhythms are in harmony with each other, we understand the value of life. In my work, I want to express the energies of nature, wind, water and gravity. My works are created in dialogue with nature. I try to translate the message of nature into motion.
Wind art and renewable energy
All of Shingu’s works are choreographies in which elements like wind, water, light, rain and snow become the main actors and nature their director. Wind Caravan (2000) is a group of 21 steel sculptures that were erected in the museum’s adjoining park and act as forebears to the exhibition. Their yellow sails conform to the wind and turn to its will in unpredictable ways.
“Set up in simultaneous variations 21 times, the overall choreography seems never to repeat itself, but is able, on the contrary, to vary ad infinitum,” as the curator explains about the work. The sculptures also remind of wind turbines that are omnipresent in landscapes with a lot of wind power, like Japan.
Wind Caravan is a long term project with which Shingu travels around the world to raise awareness about renewable energy. They have been installed in various scarcely populated landscapes that are cut off from conventional energy supplies, like the rice fields of Sanda in Japan, in the sea ice of Lapland or in the Moroccan stone desert. The project includes workshops and art events as well as the evaluation of scientific data in cooperation with wind experts. What is more, the energy needed during the programme is generated by the wind sculptures and therefore the artworks produce their own energy and add to scientific research on wind power systems.
Alternative ways of living
As many of Shingu’s works reveal, he is concerned with nature in the sense of ecology and how to use natural energies like wind, light and water in self sufficient ways, which has consequently urged Shingu to search for alternative ways of living. Breathing Earth, which is not presented in the exhibition but develops out of the experimentation for these wind and water sculptures, is a self-sustaining village that operates with the natural energies of wind and sunlight. His goal and wish is for people to find new principles of living and this collaborative project should be a place for inspiration and attention. On his website, Sihngu writes:
Compared to the wind, I think humans are very short-lived, fragile beings. The wind was blowing when the earth was born into the universe. For me, the wind is the absolute. After so many years of living with the wind, that’s the most important thing I’ve learned from it.
Alongside these large scale artworks and the presentation of long term ecological projects, the exhibition at MUDAM also displays a number of rather delicate kinetic sculptures, like Moon Flower (2013) and mobiles out of Japanese paper, jute and polyester cloth, like Aurora III & IV (2017), Gate (2016) and Memory (2016). As is often the case, a work develops out of an experience, and so also these painted screens and kites stem from an encounter of Shingu’s with nature, as the curator tells Art Radar.
Lightheartedness, a cosmic atmosphere and the pondering of time and space continuum get combined with a serious underlying message in this exhibition. For now, we can only look up to the sky and dream about the limits of the outer space but soon we will be able to turn the gaze from the cosmos onto the earth. That is also what Shingu’s sculptures remind us about: dreams are infinite but the earth’s resources are not.
“Spaceship” by Susumu Shingu is on view from 17 May 2018 to 6 January 2019 at MUDAM Luxembourg — Musée d’Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, 3, Park Dräi Eechelen, L-1499 Luxembourg-Kirchberg, Luxembourg.