August 16, 2011

Best known for her futuristic photographs and installations that blend spirituality and science fiction, Japanese artist Mariko Mori has recently become an advocate for the preservation of natural resources and local cultures. In her latest work, Primal Rhythm: Seven Light Bay, Mori installed two massive sculptures in a rural area off the coast of Okinawa, Japan. The two pieces cast a sundial-like shadow across the bay during the winter solstice. For those unable to see the monuments in person, Primal Rhythm will be exhibited digitally through the Adobe Museum of Digital Media beginning December 6th. We sat down with her while the project was still being created.

BULLETT: Do you have any estimation about when Primal Rhythm will be complete?

MARIKO MORI: I started a foundation called Faou Foundation, which is going to present this kind of work and promote the relationship between nature and humans. This is our first project, and we were planning to finish in 2013 after the winter solstice. But, since we had an unexpected natural disaster, progress has been delayed. It should naturally fall into place when people are ready to receive it. But in dealing with nature, you can’t have a sense of a deadline. From a natural point of view, we don’t understand the reason of nature, or the reason of the universe. We could make a deadline artificially, but it might not be in line with the natural environment. I would just like to leave it as this. When the time is right, it will happen.

Did the recent natural disasters in Japan change your relationship to your work?

Of course. I was in shock when the earthquake happened. I was in Tokyo, and I had to delay my flight to come back to New York. I saw so many images that were really beyond imagination. But really, this has confirmed the idea of Primal Rhythm. When a human being is part of society, we are just following our needs and desires and not really paying attention to coexistence with nature, so we often overestimate our capability. We thought everything was the same, but it wasn’t the same. We underestimated the power of nature, and therefore, we are in this situation. With Primal Rhythm, I wanted to create a symbol of harmony with nature and society. I wanted to show that in prehistoric times, all humans had respect for nature and lived within nature. Somehow we lost the balance, and we are in a position that has created a Tower of Babel. So we have to step back and really think again about how we can respect nature.

How do you unify the natural world and the digital world in your art?

The digital work is really the continuation of how the work is going to create an effect. When the winter solstice sun goes down, from the beach, you see how the sun casts a shadow on the bay. On a human scale, you can only see this from a human point of view. But in a digital world, you can create other views—a scale that you can understand through landscape. I think it’s very important that the work has to be represented as not just “this is the work,” but that this is a gift not only for humans. It’s for the landscape, it’s for the earth, it’s for the universe in total.

Your early work used your own body and was focused on a human scale. Do you think that you still have a relationship to the human scale?

In 1999 I created a work called Dream Temple, which was an installation. At the time I wanted my own body to be the artwork, and from that point, there was a shift. It’s because I wanted to communicate and exhibit an idea that was more about an inner universe and connecting the outer universe within, rather than just the figure. I believe that the space within is much greater than what we think we have. I wanted to create a piece that was a reflection of that.

What is the relationship between ancient and modern in your work?

I have researched prehistorical cultures extensively, and I have come to the conclusion that, because they were really closer to nature, they had wisdom and knowledge of cosmology and rich understanding. I think this is the fundamental essence of our being. This was also before religion, so you have a universal idea—every human had a universal idea. Human beings, we are all same, and it’s very evident with what you see in pre-historical culture. Somehow we created difference, and we created a wall between us and nature. I wanted to bring this pre-historical idea of culture to take down the boundaries of difference.

Do you believe in life on other planets?

It’s not that I believe it or not. It’s that the universe is so large, and we don’t know everything about it. It could be parallel, it could be multiple universes. We only know a very tiny bit that we can explain. The point is that we live, we have life, and we have nature. We have to be aware of that, and we have to honor that, and we have to be grateful for that. We have to be really humble.

Is there any lasting message you would like to share about your work?

What’s happening in Japan is very sad. But the situation is not only a natural disaster; I think part of it is a human-created disaster. It happened in Japan, but it could happen in other places, as well. It’s like a wake-up call. I’m hoping that we wake up and really do shift and change the direction of how we create societies. We can’t just continue to contaminate beautiful nature. I’m pointing this out with the Faou Foundation. I really like to think that our generation can make a great change so that we have nature that can be inherited by future generations. It’s our responsibility to do that. If you don’t do anything, if you just leave it as it is, there’s obviously no nature for future generations. It’s really our responsibility now.

The idea that we should preserve nature just as we preserve art for future generations.

Yes. I hope to connect nature and human society through my art. I hope I’m linking the universe to the earth, and hope to connect nature to us. I want to remind you who you are.

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