Ethereal Fog Sculptures Are Rolling Through Boston’s Parks
By Clara Chaisson
What do you call a sculpture that weighs nearly nothing, never looks the same twice, and vanishes into thin air? Artist Fujiko Nakaya has built a storied five-decade career out of the answer to this seeming riddle: a fog sculpture.
The Japanese artist has presented her atmospheric works more than 80 times across four continents. Now 85 years old, Nakaya is unveiling her most extensive exhibition yet: Fog x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace. For 12 weeks, through Oct. 31, her fog sculptures will be mist-ifying five of Boston's parks: the Arnold Arboretum, the Fens, Franklin Park, Jamaica Pond and Olmsted Park. The free public installation is part of a 20th-anniversary celebration for the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that stewards the 1,100-acre park system, which forms a seven-mile green chain (or emerald necklace) through the heart of the city.
Born in Sapporo in 1933, Nakaya came to the United States to earn an art degree from Northwestern University and later studied at the Sorbonne in Paris. The young artist didn't just want to compose but to decompose. She started by painting clouds—formations so ephemeral that we make a game of perceiving recognizable shapes in them before they billow outwards, split apart, or disappear into the sky.
But painting clouds didn't satisfy Nakaya's craving for dynamism; she wanted to makeclouds. A knack for coaxing water particles into complex arrangements runs in Nakaya's family. Her father, physicist and science essayist Ukichiro Nakaya, created the world's first artificial snowflakes, in 1936.
"Fog x Canopy," the Fens, by Fujiko Nakaya.Melissa Ostrow
So Fujiko Nakaya teamed up with physicist Thomas Mee in 1969 to develop the system she still uses today. Pure, pressurized water is forced through a narrow nozzle, where it hits a pin that makes it scatter into droplets just 15-to-20 microns wide. The result is a far cry from the hokey fog machines you might find in a haunted house. The fog she creates is as close to the real deal as a highly engineered system can get. By 1970 Nakaya was introducing her woman-made clouds to the world at the Osaka Expo.
Taking in Nakaya's sculptures is a full-body experience. First comes the serpentine hiss of the nozzles. As the fog quickly thickens, it consumes your field of vision. Think of the sudden whiteout when an airplane dips into a cloud, but then imagine you can feel the cloud, too, and walk around inside it. There's a sudden temperature drop as tiny water droplets appear all over your body, the hairs on your arms stand up, and you find yourself subconsciously thinking of other distant memories of fog.
Artist Fujiko Nakaya with one of her patented fog nozzles.Melissa Ostrow
The fog somehow both transports you to another time and place and roots you firmly in the present. It responds to wind, humidity, temperature, and dew point, making visible the invisible forces that surround us all the time. Nakaya's sculptures roll down hills, hover over water and bounce over structures, gently shaped by the landscape that contains them.
"Hopefully people are slowing things down, taking in the environment, reflecting on what it means to be in nature," said Arnold Arboretum of Harvard director Ned Friedman. "The sculpture reminds you to become more intimate with the plants around you."
The five Fog x FLO sculptures run half-hourly for anywhere from two to eighteen minutes. When the nozzles shut off, the fog lifts just as quickly as it appeared, leaving visitors to muse on their surroundings.
To the Emerald Necklace Conservancy and local Boston curator Jen Mergel, the site- and climate-responsive qualities of Nakaya's sculptures made them a natural fit for the Emerald Necklace (not to mention that they're impossible to graffiti).
"Fog x Canopy," the Fens, by Fujiko Nakaya.Melissa Ostrow
The "FLO" in Fog x FLO stands for Frederick Law Olmsted, widely credited as the father of landscape architecture. Olmsted designed the Emerald Necklace in the late 19th century, along with other American cultural landmarks such as Manhattan's Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the U.S. Capitol grounds and the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina.
Olmsted wanted to connect the Boston Common, which dates back to colonial times, and the Public Garden, established in 1837, to Franklin Park. He intuitively sensed what modern science is now proving: that spending time in nature benefits both physical and mental health.
"He was setting up these parks so that you could walk through and experience this variety of marsh, fens, river, fields, pond, arboretum ... and you would never have to leave the city," Mergel said.
The Emerald Necklace also provides flood mitigation to Boston, making it one of the earliest examples of green infrastructure. Olmsted believed in the "genius of place" and sought to enhance natural characteristics, rather than to tame the landscape into submission. "He designed a park system that looks so natural that people think it is," said Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy.
"Fog x Canopy," the Fens, by Fujiko Nakaya.Melissa Ostrow
The conservancy expects Fog x FLO to draw between 800,000 and 1 million visitors during its three-month run, an opportunity to raise the Emerald Necklace's profile, introduce Bostonians to its history, and show off the services the parks continue to provide.
"This is not a white cube situation where you would just neutrally plop any art in this space. [The Emerald Necklace] is a work of art in and of itself, and anything that you place here cannot distract or detract from your experience of the natural and Olmsted's intent," Mergel said. "Fujiko's work is very complementary, a type of art that she describes as a conversation with nature."
Like the clouds she creates, that conversation changes over time. Nakaya positions her nozzles, with great intentionality, based on the weather patterns for a given area. Over the course of 50 years of being intimately attuned to meteorology, she's witnessed those patterns becoming more extreme.
Fujiko Nakaya amidst her work, "Fog x Ruins," at Franklin Park.Melissa Ostrow
Nakaya had to nix the original site she selected for a sculpture at the Arnold Arboretum, for example, because there was no nearby water source. The staff has successfully maintained the 15,000-plant collection since 1872 without irrigation—until now. In July, an Asian oak collected in Japan in 1892 had to be removed after a prolonged decline associated with extreme drought in the summer of 2016. "All of a sudden, we're just trying to keep things from dying," Friedman said.
But in today's sociopolitical climate, perhaps the most important parallel between Olmsted's parks and Nakaya's sculptures is their accessibility. Olmsted saw beautiful public spaces as the right of every citizen and a vital component to a thriving society. "It was something for everyone," Mergel said. "The wealthiest and the least wealthy, someone who was a new immigrant to the city and someone whose family had been here for generations."
Nakaya's works are similarly democratic. Unlike most sculptures, the fog has no boundaries.
Fox x FLO: Fujiko Nakaya on the Emerald Necklace is on display through Oct. 31.
Reposted with permission from our media associate onEarth.
A grim new assessment of the world's flora and fungi has found that two-fifths of its species are at risk of extinction as humans encroach on the natural world, as The Guardian reported. That puts the number of species at risk near 140,000.
- Climate Crisis Could Cause a Third of Plant and Animal Species to ... ›
- World Leaders Urged to 'Act Now' to Save Biodiversity - EcoWatch ›
- Bumblebees Face Extinction From the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Plant Extinction Is Happening 500x Faster Than Before the Industrial ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As human activity transforms the atmosphere, flowers are changing their colors.
- The Best Plants to Attract Pollinators, by Region - EcoWatch ›
- Corals Turn Bright Neon in Last-Ditch Effort to Survive - EcoWatch ›
- Hummingbirds Live in a More Colorful World, Study Confirms ... ›
By Sharon Zhang
Back in March, when the pandemic had just planted its roots in the U.S., President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something devastating: The agency was to indefinitely and cruelly suspend environmental rule enforcement. The EPA complied, and for just under half a year, it provided over 3,000 waivers that granted facilities clemency from state-level environmental rule compliance.
A rare celestial event was caught on camera last week when a meteoroid "bounced" off Earth's atmosphere and veered back into space.
- Asteroid Could Strike Earth Before Election Day But Won't Cause ... ›
- Water May Have Originated on Earth, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>