Shinji Turner-Yamamoto points to one of the “Irish Study” paintings in his waterfall-inspired Sidereal Silence installation at the Weston Art Gallery. Streaks of rust, green and gray run down the canvas and evoke the strata of a mountain face.
“I like this line,” he says thoughtfully, gesturing toward a silvery cascade. “I like it… because I didn’t do it.”
The Japanese-born artist has awed locals ever since he suspended a living tree atop an inverted dead one to create Hanging Garden inside Mount Adams’ abandoned Holy Cross Church in 2010. But the Cincinnati resident is constantly humbled by nature’s own artistry as he contemplates the universe.
The “Irish Study” series was created near Kerry, Ireland, with rain, wind and pure materials from around the world. Turner-Yamamoto placed 450-million-year-old fossil dust from the Ohio Valley, mica from Germany and turf ash from Ireland on raw canvas, and then he ceded control to the weather.
Turner-Yamamoto’s openness to going with nature’s flow has led him along new artistic paths since he visited waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest and Switzerland a few years ago. Sidereal Silence is a multimedia experience featuring surround sound, video and a hovering vapor cloud. The Weston received $15,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts to facilitate the two-story installation.
As the exhibit’s title suggests, Turner-Yamamoto’s art is best contemplated in stillness. When traffic noise filters inside, the Weston’s street-level atrium gallery is a challenging place to achieve the proper mindset. But, starting here, the artist has laid out what he envisions as a peaceful walking path connecting Earth and the heavens. (“Sidereal” means “determined by the stars.”)
As we start a recent interview, the artist studies the twin waterfall videos playing in a nearly 30-minute loop. “I don’t expect people to see everything,” he says, referring to the length, and perhaps his symbolism, too. But after just a couple of quiet minutes, you’ll probably notice that the mirror alignment is a tad uneven. Plus, one recording is slightly slower. Are these mistakes?
As if reading my mind, Turner-Yamamoto breaks the silence. “I tried to make a little imperfection,” he volunteers. “I like symmetry, but it has to be a little off, like nature. If it’s too perfect, it looks artificial.”
There’s an eternal ebb and flow in the sculpture “Sidereal Silence II,” as thick mist generated by a humidifier rolls through an 18-foot-high black chasm and across a horizontal plane. Stand at eye level with the acrylic ledge and experience a sense of harmony as gases appear to bubble up from the depths, simultaneously spill down from the heavens and then merge toward you before receding. Listen, too, to the accompanying sound installation — one of three waterfall recordings — as it hums and envelops you.
Hanging Garden showed Turner-Yamamoto’s capacity for the unexpected. Sidereal Silence easily could have gone cliché with a vertical wall of water like in office towers and spas. “I wanted to suspend a waterfall in the air,” he says. He was inspired by the rainbows that appeared at the waterfalls, where “each crystal comes and goes in vapor.”
Crystals represent stars in Turner-Yamamoto’s oeuvre, and his interpretation of life here on Earth ultimately links to the heavens. While growing up in polluted Osaka, he never saw the constellations. But in the Weston’s downstairs galleries, the stars have come out. Mica shimmers in the “Irish Study” paintings. Cultured crystals embrace a fossilized fragment from one of the world’s earliest trees. A thousand points of light glisten in the four-by-six-foot photo “Sidereal Silence: Waterfall I,” which was taken with a pinhole camera. When Turner-Yamamoto realized that the entire blurry negative resembled a nebula, he had to make the print huge.
In a public talk after the opening, Turner-Yamamoto tried to summarize his appreciation of collaborating with nature. “These imperfect materials create…” he began. “Perfect art,” one visitor concluded.
Turner-Yamamoto seemed to demur. After all, perfection would be artificial, and he is doing what comes naturally.
SIDEREAL SILENCE is on display through June 5 at the Weston Art Gallery downtown. Find more information at westonartgallery.com.