There is one thing you will never see inside a Yuko Nishikawa exhibition: a “do not touch” sign. The Japan-born, Brooklyn-based multimedia artist abhors aesthetic distance. For her, beyond the proverbial velvet rope, art is “not just an object you look at two-dimensionally, but something you become a part of,” she muses. “I care most about physical engagement.”
Before launching her studio, Nishikawa designed “clean and crisp” contemporary furnishings. But “as a reflex, I felt like making something that was irregular and amorphic,” she explains. “I wanted to create with my hands.” Experimenting with various mediums from glass blowing to metalwork, the artist finally found the pliable immediacy she craved in ceramics. “I like the direct contact of clay,” she says. “When you press into it, you’re making your mark.”
Grounded in the human touch, her hand-sculpted artworks and lighting fixtures with asymmetrical, amoebic bodies feel animated. When molding these forms, Nishikawa often reflects on “our ability to sense emotions through subtle facial movements,” she notes. This expressiveness also informs her signature mobile installations, which envelop viewers in an ethereal canopy of color. The artist molds each delicate disc from a lightweight paper clay. When balanced on wire, they sway and flutter like petals. “I imagine my mobiles as something growing and full of life,” she adds.
One of these prismatic pieces floats over her Williamsburg studio, which she has lovingly dubbed “The Forest,” because it’s “a place where you can wander in and discover something strange and new,” the artist says. Nishikawa’s practice entails bending wire skeletons by hand and crafting her own paper clay by recycling colored paper with a shredder and food processor. With larger ceramic pieces, she either contours the foundation on the pottery wheel, works with slabs or hand-builds from scratch. Despite incorporating electrical components, the process remains much the same for clay lighting fixtures. “I see them as art installations with a function,” she explains.
Echoing their own feeling of boundlessness, Nishikawa’s works are often on the move, from an upcoming installation at the Penny Williamsburg hotel to a January solo exhibition at Curator’s Cube in Tokyo. (The latter is her first show in her home country and features entirely new pieces created during a residency there.) And yes, visitors are invited to wander and engage. Because, for Nishikawa, “when we experience things through our body, we feel something that’s uniquely ours.”