“My work is without color — what you see is but a prism effect, so everything is simply an illusion.”
Go Ogawa joined the Japanese art collective C-DEPOT in 2011. As a young aspiring artist, he has become known for creating three-dimensional installations using holographic plastic film to produce images of the galaxy taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
In this interview, we talk with him about his artistic origins, what his work means to himself, and his continuous drive to experiment with the medium of color. (This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
Breaking Free from the Traditional Rules of Sculpture
“[My] statue wasn’t accepted by the university simply for breaking the rules…”
How did you develop into the artist you are today?
When I entered Tokyo University of the Arts, I didn’t have any ideas related to the work I do now. My sister was studying art at another university, and I was looking to become an artist as well. Sculpting the human form was one of my focuses at that time, since I felt it was a necessary step to becoming an artist.
But I soon felt that I didn’t want to be bound by the traditional rules of sculpture. For instance, when creating a sculpture of a woman, the statue was required to stand on its own, yet I challenged that idea by sculpting the statue so that it leaned against the wall. This “standing” statue wasn’t accepted by the university simply for breaking the rules, which felt wrong to me. Ever since that experience, I have worked hard to create art that I want to make without restrictions.
Who are the artists that have influenced you?
I didn’t really have a favorite artist when I was a student, but now I particularly like Olafur Eliasson ever since I was very moved when I saw his solo exhibition at Tokyo’s Hara Museum of Art. He’s a very clever artist and he studies the structure of nature and how it came to be and recomposes that structure in his work. I feel that his approach is somewhat similar to my own. I am greatly influenced by him.
Also, I am influenced by Jeppe Hein, who has created installations such as Waterflame, a spouting fountain with an ever-burning flame at its apex, and 360° Presence, an installation where the viewer interacts with the piece by rolling a large metallic sphere that eventually destroys the walls within white cubic art space. I am greatly influenced by such works. Although there isn’t much influence in the form of expression, we have a similar goal, which is to move the viewer’s heart and grab their attention with our work.
If I am to name a Japanese artist as an influence, I feel a connection with the works of Tokujin Yoshioka. Especially his approach of digging deeper into insignificant thoughts and inspirations that happen in daily life and turning them into art pieces.
“…the underlying theme is “Illusion and Reality.”
What is the theme you want to express through your art?
While I’m happy that many find my art to be visually attractive, the underlying theme is “Illusion and Reality.” The most prominent feature of my work is its color, which represents illusion while the complex base represents reality — yet the only visible element is the simple, colorful illusionary side.
Holographic Film Art: Transparent Art Creating Colorful Illusions
“This idea of a form that exists but is hard to recognize felt quite right for my art.”
Tell us about how you developed your current holographic film art style.
I loved seeing the photography taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, and I was looking for a new method to express outer space — a new approach that was different from the planetarium system. I kept looking for the right material to work with, and I found a special film as I was finishing graduate school. From then, I experimented with how to use the film in my work. Since the film is like a thin sticker, it can only be applied on the surface of the transparent acrylic resin.
Then I started designing the surface. During earlier stages of testing, I used a glass sphere as a base to attach the film, and through much trial and error, I eventually arrived at my current style.
How did you choose this combination of transparent material and holographic film?
It’s something I noticed while studying sculpture at the university. Sculptors always care deeply about the details of the statue, but these details are invisible if the surface is transparent. The contradiction of a highly detailed transparent statue was one of the themes I studied in graduate school. This idea of a form that exists but is hard to recognize felt quite right for my art.
In addition, while my work appears to be colored, it actually is not — it is covered with a film deposited with metal powder. The color you see in my work is merely a reflection of light created by the refraction of the acrylic base and light reflecting at a certain angle. The complex details of the surface are transparent so you can’t clearly recognize the shape. My work is without color — what you see is but a prism effect, so everything is simply an illusion.
There is no color in the film itself, but a thin layer of metal powder created with a vapor deposition method reflects light in various colors such as blue or red. My work is completely transparent when observed by moonlight. Under the sunlight, a full spectrum of color can be seen. You can see a warmer color with yellow light, but fluorescent light is not a good match as it lacks some wavelengths and doesn’t bring out good colors from my work. Under the sunlight is the best, but if it is indoor lighting, LED tends to bring out the best color from my work.
In places with many light sources, my work isn’t influenced as much by the light, and the color diffuses. It’s best to view my artwork with a single spotlight against a dark background.
Aside from the light source, the color varies depending on the installation environment. For example, if placed against a white background, the color is of a soft pale tone, but when placed against a black background, it offers a darker color.
A single film creates two types of color when the light reflects or goes through the film. Color from the light that goes through the film is clear and bright in many types of surface shapes except when the shape is calm or flat. So, I include a lot of edges and undulations to create a clearer color in my work.
My pieces are based on countless experiments of a combination of three elements: film types, transparent base materials, and surface details and shapes. I try many combinations of two out of three elements, look at the results, and then combine those results to create my art.
How do you shape the acrylic resin base?
I roughly cut out the shape with a hand grinder. Since even a very small, subtle undulation can change the colors of the final piece, I do the final polishing by hand by working through sandpaper grits 100–2000 and a compound for the final polish.
Usually, I don’t use real-life objects as the subject of my work, but will do so when I have a specific request. Once I was asked to make a deer, so I created a deer-shaped work. When I was asked to make a tea ceremony item, I made a small sugar candy container.
It is interesting to be able to express infinite ideas with a combination of the film and acrylic resin shape.
How does your work change its color depending on the viewing angle?
The color completely changes just like an optical art piece. However, I think that what I am pursuing is close to what Impressionist masters pursued as we are both studying the light with a scientific approach.
The picture above is a good example. They are the same prism-shaped columns placed side by side, but you can see completely different colors depending on the angle.
Does this acrylic material deteriorate over time?
I am using the same acrylic resin commonly used in building materials, so as long as you don’t leave them in a very harsh environment, it shouldn’t be a problem.
A Bold Step into the Future
“…I would like to hold an exhibition in outer space.”
When creating an art piece, what do you focus on now, and what do you want to try in the future?
Currently, I’m studying how color changes with the undulation of the acrylic base. I used a glass sphere in the beginning, but since refraction is constant for the glass sphere, I started sculpting the acrylic resin to make it more interesting. For me, an exhibition feels more like a collection of experiment results. Furthermore, I am experimenting with what happens when arranging multiple pieces of my work side by side.
In the future, I would like to try incorporating my art in a Japanese garden, such as stepping stones. Also, I would like to try making furniture such as a table. In a similar category, I would like to try making chandeliers, and stained glass interests me as well.
As for exhibiting my works, I would like to hold an exhibition in outer space. Also, one day I would like to make a massive exhibition, something on a scale similar to the Great Wall. An installation so large that you can see it from outer space.
Especially, I am interested in an outer space exhibition. No other artist has exhibited their works in space yet, so I’m very eager to try.