In the work of Tadashi Kawamata, simple materials are transformed to complex, if ephemeral, ends. Inspired equally by childhood memories of treehouses and the improvised architecture of favelas, these structures are at once familiar and disorientingly complex, the product of a very personal architectural language.
Kawamata’s latest exhibition, Nest and Tree Huts, on view at Hong Kong’s Over the Influence gallery through May 4, takes its name from two of the artist’s ongoing series. While he often builds these ad-hoc structures directly into a specific space, this latest exhibition brings together more than a dozen pieces, mostly maquettes, or models, of his site-specific work.
“Where I work and where I exhibit are most of the time the same places,” explains Kawamata, who was born in Hokkaido, Japan, and has studios in Tokyo and Paris. Trained as a painter, he found a more hands-on approach through assemblage, reclaiming material like lumber and furniture scraps to create complex, site-specific structures from humble materials. “I design my pieces especially for the architecture that will unintentionally host them. My pieces are just like bird nests. I use simple materials to build a complex and temporary architecture that is illegally attached to the existing building, like a parasite.”
The exhibition at Over the Influence, which was co-presented by Paris gallery Kamel Mennour, translates this style into smaller sketches—three-dimensional forms on canvas and small-scale mockups. But no matter the size, the pieces blur the lines between art and architecture, a lasting theme in the artist’s work.
“I take my energy from the urban architecture,” Kawamata explains. “When I was living in NYC in the 1980s, I made many illegal, ephemeral shelters on the street.” This impulse has followed him throughout his career, including public projects in venues from New York’s Madison Square Park to Paris’ Place Vendôme. “The shapes of nests, shelters, and huts come from the observation of homeless shelters, that have fascinating characteristics: made of found materials, they are self-built structures, made of bricolage. It really inspires me.”
It’s high-minded stuff, but at the same time, Kawamata is determined to demonstrate that art can be as democratic as it is impactful—an idea he underscores by his choice of everyday materials: chopsticks, wooden boards, cardboard. “I want to emphasize the process, and not the result,” Kawamata says, elaborating on the collaborative nature of his never-static work. “I like the fact that my sculptures are all works-in-progress—that they are a process that is never finished.”
Nest and Tree Hut is on view through May 4; overtheinfluence.com.