meta name="keywords" content="art, Nobuho Nagasawa, earthbag, sandbag, earthbag building, sandbag building, earthbag construction, sandbag construction, polypropylene bag building"> Art of Nobuho Nagasawa
Site Specific: The highly visible art of Nobuho Nagasawa
by Barbara McKenna

In 1993, UCSC art professor Nobuho Nagasawa and Czech Republic president Václav Havel stood together in the lush Royal Garden of the Prague Castle. Attending the opening of an art exhibition, the two were dwarfed by Nagasawa's work, Where Are You Going? Where Are You From? --a 15-foot high, 82-foot-long, 100-ton bridge made of sandbags and barbed wire. With its war-era materials formed to mirror the nearby 12th-century Charles Bridge, the work invoked the region's rich and ancient culture as well as its unsettled and violent history.

Prague, Czech Republic, 1993:
Where Are You Going? Where Are You From?
sandbags, barbed wire, hourglass

At the head of the massive structure, Nagasawa had installed an elegant hourglass crafted from the Bohemian crystal for which the republic is famous. The black and white sand inside had been gathered from sites in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The piece caught the president's eye. "The hourglass represents the repetition of time, which is history," Nagasawa says. "President Havel is a man who went from being a political prisoner to president of a nation. To my great honor, he was the first person to turn the hourglass."

During her 14-year career, the Japanese artist has planted dozens of site-specific projects around the globe, becoming a leading figure in the field of installation and public art.

Nagasawa is know best as "Nobi," a name that is uncannily appropriate. Nobi is Japanese for "field fire"-- the flame that reawakens the earth in the spring. And, like the pulse of spring, Nagasawa's works--sculptures, earthworks, museum installations, and public art--breathe life into the ghosts and history of their sites. Nagasawa's works radiate a palpable power and vibrancy, the source of which is the place itself. She never conceives an idea until she has visited a site and conducted extensive research into the area's past.

Aachen, Germany, 1994
sandbags, barbed wire, hourglass, water
14 x 13 x 13 feet

"For me the creative process of art-making is as meaningful as the work itself. I believe that art can provide a visual poetry to the environment as well as function as a catalyst to deconstruct and reinvent a new vision in our society. By revealing personal memories, collective histories, hidden myths, and contradictory issues of human nature, I try to explore social and personal facets that can galvanize public interaction."

Nagoya, Japan, 1996, Mexico City, 1997
May 13th, 1996, 10 a.m., I called the Pentagon.
automobile, Geiger counter, sandbags, barbed wire, video projector, announced nuclear test data, binoculars

Nagasawa's work is in great demand these days. In January she completed her portion of a $1 billion collaborative project with the city of Los Angeles, designing a Metro station in East L.A.'s commercial core. Without breaking stride, she picked up two new commissions this winter, codesigning McEnery Children's Park in San Jose and another children's park in Santa Monica.

Tyborøn, Denmark, 1995
Bunker Motel/Emergency Womb
sandbags, sugar, plaster, steel, army cot

Along with her artwork, Nagasawa teaches full-time at UCSC, where she has been a faculty member for the past two years. "I enjoy teaching," she says. "When you work with students there's a great dynamic of give and take."

Despite an unremitting workload, Nagasawa never seems to grow weary. In fact, she seems energized by the challenges. She is, as one colleague aptly described her, "a live-aholic."


"I believe that art can provide a visual poetry to the environment as well as function as a catalyst to deconstruct and reinvent a new vision in our society."

(All photos: Courtesy of Nobuho Nagasawa)


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