- Isamu Noguchi
- Akari & Shop
One way to approximate an understanding of change as it is experienced by long-lived entities such as stone is to try to be still enough to experience the presence of the passage of time.
In these extended films of The Noguchi Museum (each between one and eleven hours long), the camera is fixed. What moves—under the influence of regular Noguchi collaborators like gravity, wind, the rotation of the Earth, and chance—are things like light and shadow, branches and leaves, birds, motes of dust, sound, and the feeling of being here.
As a “sculptural situation,” the Museum is an intentional hybrid of changing (organic) and supposedly unchanging (inorganic) things. Here, categories such as rock and birdsong, sculpture and tree canopy, the texture of cinder block and light on old brick melt and meld together. The careful reconsideration of sculpture, art, and being that these combinations produce—the essential enduring thing—is what Noguchi called his point of view. By making it available in the form of this “Garden Museum,” he hoped to provide direct experience that we all might use to make ourselves more site-specific to the scale of our existence.
But to communicate, much less effectuate, its operations at a distance—an especially ironic undertaking given that Noguchi conceived the Museum as a testament to empirical thinking and actual physical experience—is arguably not just impossible but criminal. Where would one even begin to digitize the Museum’s preternatural restless calm, or the invigorating sense of elsewhereness, otherness, and timelessness one feels here?
In an interview with a filmmaker preparing to make a movie about his work, Noguchi explained,
“[I]t is your contact with reality that is the sculptural experience, and I wish you could get this into the movie and into this film. If you’ll find, for instance, some way of making it not a monologue, I’d appreciate it so much because a monologue is so boring. I mean, I would suggest, if you just cut out everything I’ve said, practically, and replace it with silence if you will, or music—if you can’t have silence or something…[Some other kind of noises than me, I mean, you know, any kind of noise, you could have crickets, or what have you, anything but just not me…] Shock people into appreciation that sculpture is a matter of silence, and that all the noise in the world doesn’t help one little bit and speech is a real hindrance, because it puts ideas into people’s heads that don’t belong there.”1
Noguchi goes on to lament the inadequacy of photography for communicating sculpture, but says that motion pictures might just possibly be more adequate—so long as they really move.
Nevertheless, these fixed, nondirective, durational experiences of the environment of the Museum are an effort to produce an analogy to time spent absorbing Noguchi’s patterns of thought: “The space always dominant, the enduring background of silence.”2
So, please, pick an area, enter “the stream of time,”3 and stay as long as you like.
Distance Noguchi is supported in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies, and with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council and from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.