My fascination with paper lamp shades led me to Le Klint, the Danish light furniture company. I was particularly mesmerised by its spheric pendants – weightless luminosity that lingers rather than dazzles. Though when I entertained the thought of installing one at home, it was obvious the pendant did not belong to a shoebox two-and-a-half metres tall. It should be the centerpiece of an elegant coffee shop, or an exquisite terrace house.
Later, I came across a series of paper luminaires titled “Akari” (“light” in Japanese), designed by the late Isamu Noguchi. One might assume he was Japanese, judging from his name and the aesthetic of his paper lamp shades, only to be surprised that he was a half Japanese, half American sculptor.
Coincidentally, I once visited the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in Takamatsu, Japan, walking into a sacred site populated by mostly unfinished stone sculptures. Straddling their natural state and the weathered artificiality of stonecutting, polishing and hammering, each reverberated its distinct presence through the garden, culminating in the harmony of a scenic landscape. The tour guide led me away, toward a hill behind the garden. Navigating a different, zen garden now, I slowly climbed the hill, guided by a river of gravel – my movement increasingly attuned to our transition from the reverberations of the garden to the tranquility of the hill, my heart brimming with content.
一步之遙，便是兩個世界，也許如野口勇自己所言：「我總是被兩端撕裂著。」（I’m always being torn from opposite ends），或曰是站在只有他的境地去看待世界兩端，使他的作品總是可出入於東西方、具象和抽象、幽默和嚴肅。而雕刻千斤重石頭的人同時會設計出輕如無物的紙燈籠，我後來理解到是同出一轍的事情。
One courts the border between two worlds, as Noguchi once said, “I’m always being torn from opposite ends.” Perhaps where he was coming from, his works are bound to exist in the non-place between the east and the west, representation and abstraction, humour and solemnity. That a stonecutter could create something weightless like paper lanterns is, as I would come to understand later, the most natural conclusion.
Noguchi’s completion of the monumental Georgian marble sculpture, Kouros in 1946 was followed by the artist’s experiment with abstract furniture, manifested in the iconic Noguchi Table. He was not young at this point, but meditations on existentialism – spurred by the World War II – prompted him to use ambitious art to ponder his place in it all. From 1948, he spent four years traveling around the world, resulting in some of his most significant works engendered between cities in Europe, America and Japan. Merging sculpture, public space and landscape, Akari was born when he stopped by Japan, in 1951.
Inviting such a sculptor as Noguchi to interpret Japanese paper lanterns was allegedly the mayor of Gifu’s idea, and no doubt a bold one. No one would have predicted that Noguchi would devote the next decades to over 200 designs, blending tradition and modernist form. Carefully handcrafted, bamboo rods are stretched across the original wooden forms designed by Noguchi to determine the luminaire’s shape. Washi paper is then cut in strips and glued to the bamboo ribbing. After the glue has dried, the wooden form is removed and the shade can be folded. Identified by its malleability, asymmetry and fluidity, Akari stands as a hybrid of everyday furniture and light sculpture.
When Noguchi passed in 1988, inevitably he brought an end to the Akari series. Here at home, I have the Akari 1A, a lightweight floor lamp and possibly an earlier model – a measured arc, fundamental, as all beginnings are. I want to gather all the Akari lanterns in the world in a space akin to the garden stone sculptures. The parallel is not lost on me: light and stone, primitive elements which, once inflated with soul, cross invisible yet perennial boundaries to the other side – humming a tune, glowing.