Japan's Artist of the Moment: Kohei Nawa

In a studio that could pass for a laboratory, the experimental art star is inventing chimerical new forms.

Courtesy of Arario Gallery and Scai the Bathhouse / Photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich
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In the ground floor of a disused factory a half hour from central Kyoto, studio assistants in surgical masks are covering a taxidermic deer with crystal spheres of varying size. The result, halfway between dream and nightmare, is the latest in 41-year-old art star Kohei Nawa’s signature “PixCell” series. Nawa, who oversees the collective of young artists and architects that works out of this building and calls itself Sandwich, is art’s mad scientist. He is constantly experimenting with chemical processes to develop new effects, often on a monumental scale. His biomorphic creations have appeared in public squares, as backdrops for rock concerts, and even on the runway (in a 2011 collaboration with Comme des Garçons). In a city like Kyoto, where tradition seems to ground every human activity, Nawa’s aesthetic feels searingly contemporary, untethered from history. And yet, he says, “while I don’t intentionally incorporate traditional Japanese themes, I think they have inevitably seeped into my body and, in turn, seep out into my work.”