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Interview – Vladimir Antaki

Vladimir Antaki is a Paris based photographer, known for capturing striking images of everyday scenes and people. For his acclaimed Guardians series he travelled to Europe, the Middle East and North America, visiting small specialist stores and photographing their patrons, or as he describes them ‘Guardians of urban temples’. The series has been exhibited in over a hundred cities worldwide, and a book comprising a selection of the images is out now.

 


 

What inspired you to start taking photographs, were you influenced or inspired by any particular photographers or artists?

A couple of weeks before leaving Paris for Montreal, back in the summer of 2003, I purchased a film camera and I started to take random street photographs. I had no idea that I needed to set it up, so I would just go and capture what I saw on the streets. When the film was complete, I went to get it processed, and to my surprise it came out blank. The guy in the shop asked me what settings I used and I had no idea what he was talking about. I didn’t know about setting the aperture, ISO and shutter speed. I just assumed that I could put the film in and go shoot, I was very naive. He explained the basics to me, and shortly after I moved to Montreal, this new city, where everything was new to me, and I was fascinated by everything. Like for example, I would see a guy carrying a supermarket bag and it would look different to the ones in Paris, I would see people in the subway, homeless people, the architecture, it all inspired me. I would spend the days, literally sixteen or seventeen hours with my camera, taking loads of pictures. Back then I wasn’t using digital, only film, and it was pretty costly, so I ended up learning how to process the film myself, although it was still pricey as I still had to buy the paper, and because I was learning, I wasted a lot.

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Beirut – When Night Falls

That’s how I started, I wasn’t necessarily inspired by any other artists or photographers, it was just me trying to express myself in a new city, but sometimes people would look at my work and name other artists. I remember doing a presentation, a series of photos in a supermarket, and people were talking about (Andreas) Gursky and I had no idea who he was. I was fascinated by visually busy images, and I should also mention that I grew up watching loads of movies, so I think my influences come more from the cinema than from photography.

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Atmosphere

Did you specifically choose documentary photography or is it something that happened naturally?

I didn’t specifically choose documentary photography, it kind of happened naturally. I don’t really consider myself a photographer who does one kind of photography, I enjoy doing environmental portraits very much, like my Guardians series for example. I enjoy the fact that I photograph what’s there, I do not stage or plan a shoot, it’s a photo of something that’s in front of me. I have done some stage photography before which I really enjoyed, but I did it my way.

We live in an age of unprecedented access to information and news, but often stories are falsified or taken out of context to serve an agenda. With this in mind, how important is documentary photography, and how do you see your role within it?

As I said, I document what’s there; I never alter or falsify anything. It’s very unfortunate when you find out that a photograph has been falsified or modified to turn the story into a different one.

When I first started showing Guardians, I didn’t include any text, so people could make up their own minds, using their imagination, but when I did the book I added the personal stories as I felt it gave more depth and layers, and also context is pretty important, so it can’t be modified or misused.

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Jainul, NYC – from Guardians

When did the concept of Guardians first come to you, and what was the inspiration?

I’ve always been fascinated by small shopkeepers. When I was a kid, a teenager, I would spend my time in video stores and pharmacies, local shops, talking to the customers and the people in charge, spending time with them. To me they are the heart and soul of our cities, and they are what makes each city different, giving each city a different flavour. Having the shops close, one after another, makes me sad, and this is why I decided to pay tribute to them, travelling to different cities and documenting the shopkeepers that I found interesting.

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Marie, Montreal – from Guardians

How did you approach the subjects, did you find they were generally open to having their photo taken?

I usually take the photograph, the portrait, within the first five to ten minutes after meeting the Guardian. It’s very important for me to have the look of a stranger to another stranger, so everyone can identify with the look that I’m capturing. I usually introduce myself very briefly and then ask if I can take their photo, and I show them a few examples of the portraits I have taken previously. They usually say yes, although I have had a few refusing, and I always respect that. I am in their ‘home’ so I have to go by their rules. Sometimes, when I really like their place and their charisma, I will ask again, and half the time they say yes, and half the time they politely decline.

The Guardians

Baba, Paris – from Guardians

Do you have a favourite image from Guardians?

I don’t have a favourite image, I’m really attached to the whole series, but of course I have some which are more iconic, like the Birdman for example, or Mario the Mexican religious sculptor. I have a funny story about the Birdman, when I met the guy, Bill, I spent some time with him and he told me some stories, and I went back a couple of times to visit him, and after I took the photo, several people over the past few years have said to me that it reminds them of the shot of Dr Bowman from 2001 A Space Odyssey by Kubrick, and I’m a huge Kubrick fan, but I think this was totally subconscious. I wasn’t thinking of Kubrick when I took the photo, but now when I compare the images there is something very similar in the pose, the hands and everything. So to go back to your first question about my influences, this might be a subconscious influence on my work, like I said, I watch a lot of movies.

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Birdman, NYC – from Guardians

Tell us about the I am self Made campaign you shot for izettle. How did this come about?

I was contacted by an art buyer in Sweden. Izettle is a Swedish company, and they said they were impressed by my work and that they had a concept they would like to explore, and they sent me a brief.  The concept was filled with pictures of my Guardians so I called them back and told them I was flattered and interested. They told me they wanted me to shoot images of shopkeepers in London and Stockholm, in the style of Guardians. They said they would send someone to scout for shopkeepers based on what I was looking for, and then they would fly me to the cities to shoot. It was a fun shoot as they gave me total liberty to work the way I usually do, by myself, connecting with the shopkeepers. Seeing my images displayed in the subway, on the street and on taxis was pretty flattering and new; I had done several street exhibitions before In Toronto, in Montreal, in France, and in Philadelphia, where I displayed life size prints of my Guardians on the windows of empty shops. So I was familiar with seeing my photos on the street, but it was usually an artistic project, not a commercial one.

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Mark, London – from the iZettle, I am Self Made campaign

I liked the fact that the company trusted me to shoot the campaign the way I usually shoot it, and it was also a big relief and a victory for me, because just before that I had spent eight months in Toronto, and people kept telling me that I couldn’t do any commercial work because I was too artsy, but I proved them wrong, which made me pretty proud.

Your Family Portraits series capture a side of Paris rarely seen in the mainstream media, talk to us about this project.

The idea was to show those families, some constructed by organised crime, some legit families who fled their country, and show them in a way that would resemble a painting. What I did with the Guardians was to pay tribute to the subjects by making them look beautiful in their own space, making them look majestic, and the idea here was also to make them look beautiful and more visible. People don’t pay attention to them anymore, they know they’re here but they are part of the environment, like when you go out and take the subway, you know you’ll see them.

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Family Portraits

The idea was to show them in a different way, so at first I went out and spoke to everyone, but I quickly realised I wasn’t always welcome and I wasn’t trying to do a journalistic series, it was more social and human, so when I felt resistance, I didn’t insist. There were a few families that opened up to me so I spent time with them and bought them food, and I let the kids use my camera to take pictures of their siblings, and we did some fun pictures together with filters, I gave them attention. It was very important for me to show that sometimes food and money isn’t enough, you need to make them feel human again, as their lives are not easy. They didn’t choose it, sometimes they are put there as they have pressure from organised crime groups, or some of them have had to flee their countries, so they are just trying to make it day by day. One of the families told me they left Eastern Europe and they spoke a bit of Italian, not French, so when they had enough money they were planning on driving to Italy to try and find some work.

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Family Portraits

It was my way of documenting these families and making them feel less invisible. I also forgot to say, In France we’re used to seeing homeless people on the street, it’s something that’s been around for decades and decades, but the phenomenon of having kids on the street is a new one, less than ten years, five years maybe, and it’s really heart breaking. So that’s why it’s called family portraits; to show those families and make them look like families, not just people trying to get your money.

My name is Wesson Dagnew documents the unchanging daily routine of a Toronto man, what was it about him that inspired you?

So Wesson is a different story. I was in Toronto, and had just shown my work at the Nuit Blanche, which is a huge outdoor celebration of arts, and I think it was the next day I was in Dundas Square which is like Toronto’s mini Times Square, and I see this guy dressed in a white suit. I immediately thought of Iceberg Slim, a pimp who became an author and wrote several novels. So, I went to this guy and asked him if he knew who Iceberg Slim was, he didn’t, but we started talking and I think I took a few photos and then about twenty minutes later I followed him home and started documenting his life. I would go to him, not every day, but every now and then, and spend some time with him documenting his daily routine, trying to discover who is Wesson, as everyone called him Tony when he was dressed in his suit.

'My name is Wesson Dagney"

My name is Wesson Dagnew

This is a story of a man who leads a double life, a man with a big heart, and people assume he’s a pimp, or that he’s doing something illegal because of how he dresses. The cops would sometimes come and ask for his papers, assuming he was doing something illegal; the guy doesn’t drink, or smoke, doesn’t go to bars or clubs, he leads his life, and I got to know him and realised Wesson was a great man, a man who helps people with physical and mental disabilities, working as a janitor in a place for people with drug problems.

My name is Wesson Dagnew

My name is Wesson Dagnew

Every evening after work, between six and seven he goes to Dundas Square, dressed in one of his twenty four custom made suits, and he just chills, drinks a Coca-Cola, and spends some time with his friends. He really inspired me, and became a friend, someone I would hang out with when I was in Toronto.

My name is Wesson Dagnew

My name is Wesson Dagnew

Can you tell us about any upcoming projects?

I’m currently promoting my book which will be out in North America on 3rd September. I’ve just come back from a six-week tour of the USA and Canada and the reception from people so far has been fantastic, people seem very touched by the stories which is really rewarding for me, as it’s my first book and I wasn’t sure how people would react.

I have a show opening on 10th September  in Paris, at the Institut Du Monde Arabe, which is a pretty big institution for contemporary arts and culture around the Arab world; I was selected to be part of the biennale of contemporary photographers which is a big honour for me. I am going to be showing a series called Beyrouth, Mon Amour, a tribute to Beirut, my home town. Even though I didn’t grow up there, I’m Lebanese, and it’s a visual love letter to Beirut. The idea was to take photos of buildings in Beirut, poor and rich, new and old, bearing scars or not, and make them look like traditional Arab mosaics, so you can’t tell which are in poor neighbourhoods, and which are in rich neighbourhoods, putting them on the same level.

Beyrouth Mon Amour

Beyrouth, Mon Amour

This is happening in September, and then hopefully I will go back on the road and work on a new series. I don’t know yet what I will choose as I have a few subjects that interest me. I can’t talk about it right now, but hopefully soon.


All images courtesy of Vladimir Antaki.

The Guardians photo book is available now in Europe, and from 3rd September in North America. To buy the book and to see more of his work, visit his website.

Invisible Britain – Portraits of Hope and Resilience

Featured image, Emily Green by Polly Alderton.

“The faces in these photographs look out at us on an equal footing. Asking to be seen and heard. Not as case studies or statistics. People. Lives being lived. Each telling us a small but significant part of their story. Not as background colour to grit up a screen drama, or as council estate fodder for a tabloid scrounger story. These aren’t the bit-parts – today these are the heroes.”

From the foreword by Michael Sheen.

 

A decade of austerity and cruel government policy has pushed many Britons further into poverty, and created an increasingly volatile and polarised society.

Featuring the work of a number of award-winning photographers alongside some talented newcomers, Invisible Britain tells the stories of those living in the UK’s most marginalised communities, those often ignored or, at times, denigrated and scapegoated by politicians and the media.

Dan Kilifin by James McCourt

Dan Kilifin by James McCourt

Editor Paul Sng, a writer and filmmaker, features work focusing on those who challenge the status quo, and felt a book of stories and photographs would directly present the truth of those involved, as opposed to documentaries which tend to be more faithful to the directors concept of truth, rather than the person’s or people’s who are the subject of the film. He was also interested in working with photographers, and the challenge they face representing a person in a single image.

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Corinne Jones by Jenny Lewis

The result is both intimate and powerful, stories of hope and defiance in the face of
adversity, of particular relevance at a time of uncertainty and political upheaval in the UK.

Invisible Britain: Portraits of Hope and Resilience, is published by Policy Press. For more information and to buy the book, visit their website.

 

Velho Chico

Velho Chico, the name affectionately given by the locals to the giant Sao Francisco river in the Sertao area of Northeastern Brazil, the backdrop for the solo project by Brazilian born Wieden + Kennedy Creative director, Mico Toledo.

Known largely for its barren land and widespread poverty, but perhaps lesser known is the area’s unique diversity of people, cultures, and religions, the consequence of hundreds of years of immigration and erratic colonialism, and a place Mico describes as: “where folklore and reality seamlessly blend, becoming impossible to distinguish from one another.”

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Initially inspired by novelists, Jorge Amado, Euclides da Cunhaand and Rachel de Queiroz, who used the area as a setting for their stories. Mico visited the region several times between 2016 and 2018, meeting and photographing the local people; exploring their rich diversity and connection with the esoteric.

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The series includes a zine, inspired by the Cordel literature collections of folklore, poems and songs, usually accompanied by woodcut illustrations and sold locally by street vendors and at markets within the region.

Designed by Adam Hunter; Mico chose to work with UK based illustrator, Sophy Hollington rather than a local artist which had been his initial inclination, because he felt her unique lino-cut style could construct a new ‘folklore language; creating a contemporary version of the old woodcut-style rather then copying it’

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The result is a powerful mix of media that constructs a compelling narrative: an oddly beautiful land defined by its enigmatic residents and their deep connection with the surreal.

To see more, or to buy the photo book or prints from the collection, visit the website.

 

Milford Graves – Full Mantis

“Man, that’s me up there on that screen – that’s what I’m about.”  Full Mantis, the feature-length documentary honouring the work of avant-garde percussionist Milford Graves, is a kaleidoscopic portrait of an enigmatic, curious and mythic figure.

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As a student of Graves for fifteen years, director and producer Jake Meginsky has an understanding with his subject that lends a beautiful empathy to the film. As Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth expressed, Meginsky and his co-director Neil Young, have tapped into Graves’ very particular sonic vocabulary.
The pair has managed a rare thing in creating a music documentary that takes on the form of a musical piece. The narrative progresses with hypnotic rhythm, aided by the soundtrack of Milford’s percussion.

As a pioneer of the New York free jazz movement and a master of polyrhythms, Graves’ sound, at times, makes for complex listening. We see footage of performances where Graves yells over the thrashing of the drums. Meginsky has said, “We both approached the material in an intuitive, rhythmic way in order to inject the film with the same sense of fluidity and intensity that are the hallmarks of Milford’s sound.”

For the entirety of its 90 minute running time, the only voice the audience hear from is
Graves’. As the film cuts between never-before-seen archival footage from his early career and interviews filmed over the fifteen years of mentorship, we oscillate between Graves’ younger and present self. The two appear to communicate, both through music and discourse, into a wonderfully cyclical narrative.

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Percussionist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, scientist, philosopher, and teacher, Graves’ contradicting identities all work together to inform his life philosophy, of which vibration is the key, “It comes down to vibration, which is motion. As human beings, if there’s no motion, we’re dead!” In one a poignant scene we see this put into practice when, on a tour through Japan, he performs at a school for children with autism. Accompanied by Japanese interpretive dancer Min Tanaka, the high-intensity performance continues until all the children are on their feet. One child in particular, seen sitting and pulling on his hair in the beginning, ends up standing directly in front of the drum kit to dance, in rapture, enthralled by the energy of the sound.

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A natural teacher, Graves reflects deeply on a multitude of subjects as the film progresses, in what Moore described as, “a lexicon of thoughtful and mystic consciousness.” As the audience, we  quickly become his students. There is a wonderful scene where he describes in complex detail how minor and major chords are related to the sympathetic nervous system.

His lengthy interpretations, like his music, at times veer into the bizarre. However, by the time the film comes to a close the audience is enveloped in Milford’s bizarre and beautiful world.

This is not a documentary solely for avant-garde jazz lovers; Graves’ curiosity and humour also spills out from the screen, and his unwavering hope in the healing power of music is infectious.  Graves has said of the drum kit, ‘the equipment just can’t capture the energy of the music.’ The same can be said of film’s ability to capture the rhythm and energy of  Graves’ life; and yet Full Mantis succeeds in coming very close.

You can hear his music on Albert Ayler’s Love Cry (1968), Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman (1969), and releases with the New York Art Quartet. For screening information visit the Full Mantis official website.

References from:

Directors Notes, Jake Meginsky.

Thurston Moore’s introduction at the BFI, July 2018.

Interview with Milford Graves in Bomb Magazine, 2018.

Anna Kaniasty – Alive St.

Featured image, Porto 2013.

 

Alive St. is an ongoing photo series by Warsaw based photographer Anna Kaniasty. Taken over several years, the images uniquely capture fleeting moments of everyday life in various cities across the globe.

See a selection of the images below. For more information, and to see more of her work, visit her website.

 

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Lisbon, Portugal 2012

Malaga 2015

Malaga, Spain 2015

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Miyajima, Japan 2011

Cleveland 2003

Cleveland, USA 2003

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Tokyo, Japan 2011

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Warsaw, Poland 2013

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Lisbon, Portugal 2012

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Krakow, Poland 2012

 

Omar Victor Diop: Liberty / Diaspora

Featured image – Omar Victor Diop, Thiaroye 1944. From Liberty (2016). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris

London Gallery Autograph,  presents a two part exhibition by Senegalese artist Omar Victor Diop, his first solo exhibition in the UK .

Liberty, a Universal Chronology of Black Protest, reinterprets key revolutionary moments in Africa and across the diaspora. It spans four decades and features historic events such as the 1965 Alabama marches on Washington, and the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin, which triggered the Million Hoodie March in New York and later inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.

10) Trayvon Martin 2012 © Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop, Trayon Martin, 2012. From Liberty (2016). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris. 

Strikingly detailed and potent in symbolism, the images primarily feature Diop as the protagonist portraying a range of figures, separated sometimes by time and often by geography, but unified by their defining struggle for human-rights.

For Diop, these images redefine black history, and consequently the history of humanity, as well as the concept of freedom.

4) Breakfast for the Children of the Black 1969 © Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop, Breakfast for the Children of the Black Panthers 1969. From Liberty (2016). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris.

Project Diaspora, the second part of the exhibition, celebrates four centuries of notable Africans in Europe, drawing parallels between their experiences and those of contemporary African footballers based in Europe.

8) Omar Ibn Saïd © Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop, Omar Ibn Saïd 1770 – 1964. From Project Diaspora (2014). Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris.

Diop explains, “Football is an interesting global phenomenon that for me often reveals where society is in terms of race. When you look at the way that African football royalty is perceived in Europe, there is an interesting blend of glory, hero-worship and exclusion . Every so often, you get racist chants or banana skins thrown on the pitch and the whole illusion of integration is shattered in the most brutal way . It’s that kind of paradox I am investigating in the work “

9) Ayuba Suleiman Diallo 1701 - 1773 © Omar Victor Diop

Omar Victor Diop, Ayuba Suleiman Diallo 1701 – 1773.From Project Diaspora (2014) Courtesy © Omar Victor Diop / MAGNIN-A, Paris.

The accompanying exhibition Purdah – The Sacred Cloth, by Arpita Shah, was produced as her residency on the Albert Drive project in Glasgow in 2013, and shows Sikh, Muslim, and Hindu women from the Pollokshields community, wearing traditional head coverings or veils.

The portraits highlight the deeply personal and significant meanings of the purdah – the ‘sacred cloth’, and seeks to address the common misconceptions surrounding the tradition of head covering and veiling.

“Purdah slowly unfolds the complex and intimate relationships that these women have with their sacred cloths, offering us a glimpse into its varied uses and interpretations across diverse cultural and spiritual worlds”.
– Arpita Shah

Omar Victor Diop: Liberty / Diaspora, and Arpita Shah: Purdah – The Sacred Cloth, are on show until 3 November 2018 at Autograph Gallery, Rivington Place, London EC2A 3BA. For more information visit their website.

 

Akari: Sculpture by Other Means

Akari: Sculpture by Other Means, a new exhibition at New York’s Noguchi Museum, examines and celebrates Isamu Noguchi’s iconic, collapsible paper lanterns.

One of the most important sculptors of the last century, Isamu Noguchi (1904–88) was born in Los Angeles, California, to a Scottish-American mother, and Japanese father, he moved to Japan shortly after, where he remained until the age of thirteen, when he returned to the US.

He was interested in art and sculpture from an early age, but initially studied pre-medicine at Columbia, whilst also taking evening classes with sculptor Onorio Ruotolo. However, in 1926, after witnessing revolutionary sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s exhibition at the Brummer Gallery, he was inspired to focus entirely on his art, and in doing so, achieved the Guggenheim Fellowship allowing him to work as an assistant to Brancusi, at his Paris studio.

“Great good fortune such as this has something of the divine and inevitable,” said Noguchi, of this opportunity, the pair forming a constructive and reciprocal relationship, with Noguchi, much like Brancusi, going on to work across a range of disciplines, using a multitude of materials, exploring the pureness of their texture and form.

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During his career he became increasingly interested in making a socially relevant and accessible form of sculpture, which he detailed in his 1936 essay What’s the matter with Sculpture for Art Form. The essay appealed to artists to create sculpture that dealt with current problems, “drawing on science, industry and contemporary life in order to engage with the viewers everyday lives”

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He applied this both to his public works of art, and to his functional designs, a number of which were mass-produced, including the Bakelite intercom for the Zenith Radio Corporation in 1937, and the Herman Miller produced glass-topped table, ten years later.

However, his most iconic mass-produced design, and his best example of integrating art into daily life, is undoubtedly the Akari lantern. It’s invention occurred during a 1951 visit to a post-war and economically struggling Japan, where Noguchi was asked by the major of Gifu (a small city with a long history of traditional lantern manufacturing), to help revitalize the industry by designing a lamp for export, made using the traditional combination of bamboo and handmade washi paper (made from the bark of the mulberry tree).

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Inspired by the traditional lanterns used to illuminate night fishing on the Nagari river; Noguchi collaborated with local design firm Ozeki & Co, to create a contemporary electrified take on these, in a range of shapes and sizes.

A perfect consolidation both of form and function, and of traditional craft, with modern technology, Noguchi felt the ‘magic of the paper’ filtered the harsh electric light, so it appeared warmer; more like natural sunlight.

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He went on to create over 200 different versions of the Akari, a number of which are on display at the exhibition, including the largest, the 200D, built for the American Pavilion at the 1986 Venice Biennale. In addition, there are a range of installations aimed at displaying both the functional and aesthetic qualities of the Akari, illustrating Noguchi’s concept of light as both place and object.

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The accompanying exhibition, Akari Unfolded: A Collection by YMER & MALTA, presents a selection of the 26 lamps, designed by five contemporary designers, and created using new materials and processes by the leading French design studio.

Exhibition curator Dakin Hart, (Senior Curator at the Museum), explains,

“It is with the affordable, lightweight, collapsible, and now ubiquitous, Akari—which solve virtually all of the problems associated with sculpture—that Noguchi achieved his high ambition to positively alter the built environment. Sculpture by Other Means aims to show Akari as Noguchi intended it: as a flexible, open-ended, modular ecosystem of light sculptures, rather than a fixed product line, and to demonstrate some of the unusual ways in which they shape, transform, and create space.

The new lamps presented in Akari Unfolded: a collection by YMER&MALTA, parallel the development of Akari by synthesizing various craft traditions with new technology, pushing the basic alchemy of Noguchi’s light sculptures into the future. We are grateful to Valérie Maltaverne and YMER&MALTA for demonstrating the ongoing power of Akari to inspire.”

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Akari Sculpture by Other Means, and Akari Unfolded: a collection by YMER&MALTA, are on view at the Noguchi Museum in New York until January 27 2019. For more information visit their website.

Photography by Nicholas Knight, courtesy of the Noguchi Museum.