Emerald Necklace Parks
Fog x FLO, Fujiko Nakaya’s first installation in Boston, was commissioned by the Emerald Necklace Conservancy to honor its 20th anniversary and to celebrate the ring of public parks created by Frederick Law Olmsted and dedicated in 1891. The “FLO” of the title refers to the legendary landscape designer, who also designed Central Park in New York City and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, among many others. Nakaya’s fog sculptures were on display at five sites: the Back Bay Fens, Olmsted Park, Jamaica Pond, the Arnold Arboretum, and Franklin Park. They appeared from dawn to dusk, shifting shape to react to wind patterns, humidity, temperature, and gravity. The “fog” was generated on the hour or half hour, the displays lasting from a few minutes to almost 20 minutes.
Nakaya has been creating her signature fog works at sites around the world for almost 50 years. She started her career as a painter and later moved into sculpture; her choice of material was perhaps influenced by her scientist father, who invented artificial snow. Her first atmospheric sculpture was designed for the Pepsi Pavilion at Expo ’70 in Osaka, Japan. The Boston commission appealed to her, in part, because of her admiration for Olmsted’s work and landscape design philosophy. Like Olmsted, Nakaya takes advantage of what nature has put in place and does not change what is there. Treating nature as a partner, her interventions react to local meteorological conditions and the lay of the land. Nakaya made several trips to Boston to select the best sites for her work.
She collaborates with Mee Industries, an engineering firm based in Los Angeles, to produce the fog she wants by pushing very small droplets of water through a patented type of nozzle. The smaller the droplet (and these are only 20 microns), the more fog-like it appears; it will also disperse faster, which reduces the sensation of getting wet. Nakaya’s sculptures only use water that dissipates naturally, and the mechanism for generating the fog is integrated into the installation.
When I observed the works over several days last fall, they seemed to activate their landscapes, adding a mystery and beauty that enticed people to stay and discover new aspects of familiar places. On very rainy days, the sculptures were turned off because conditions were too wet to make fog. On other days, the fog gave a tempering effect to bright sunshine. My favorite work was installed at the Overlook Shelter Ruins in Franklin Park, where Nakaya erected scaffolding to hold the line of nozzles and echo the roofline of a former field house destroyed by fire in the 1940s. Seeing fog coming through a culvert and drifting down to crumbling ruins amid the regrowth of nature was especially impressive. I was excited to see a group of youngsters dancing and screaming in delight as the fog engulfed them and then slowly dissipated. Such total immersion was a bit disorienting—you couldn’t see what was in front of you—but the fog slowly cleared, leaving a cooling and magical effect.
One of the smallest sculptures, at Jamaica Pond, lasted only a few minutes, but its dramatic effect inspired wonder as the fog emerged from a depression in the land and drifted over the water. The fog sculpture at the Arboretum began at the top of a hill, then drifted slowly down among the trees, its path controlled by wind and gravity.
Fog x FLO delighted and astounded visitors of all ages and backgrounds. Joggers, bikers, and dog walkers coming unexpectedly into the fog zone lingered longer in the park, waiting for the next “performance.” (Fog is not a common occurrence in Boston.) Sometimes the fog became so dense that one stood blinded and frozen, savoring the phenomenon until vision was restored. Public art that was definitely public and very interactive, Nakaya’s ephemeral, aesthetically pleasing, and completely engaging and experiential works augmented their settings, heightening the senses and drawing attention to natural beauty in all its forms.