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Rains Journal Vol. 12: Akari

January 01, 2019

Words: Marie Bill Rasmussen
Photos: Michaela Taylor
Model: Alden Noel


Akari ‘Sculpture by Other Means’ is a light installation exhibition exploring the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi’s near limitless ambitions for luminous paper lanterns as both sculptures and a way to transform any space into a home. The exhibit is to be found at the artists, him self’s, Noguchi Museum showcasing more than 100 variations, ranging from table to floor to ceiling light installations ranging in size from 24 to 290 cm.


Akari is among Noguchi’s most iconic and celebrated light sculptures still in production today. He chose the name “Akari,” a word loosely translating to “light” in Japanese; connoting both illumination and physical lightness, but also implying weightlessness. As a son of a Japanese poet and an American writer, Noguchi assigned great significance to his well-constructed, yet fragile lamps:


“For me, function was only an initial consideration; my main purpose has always been art as it relates to life. I work with the gamut of possibilities. Inherent in Akari are lightness and fragility. They seem to offer a magical unfolding away from the material world.”



Originally envisioned as a way to integrate art with daily life, Noguchi’s electrified paper, bamboo, and metal Akari light sculptures were inspired by the artist’s Japanese roots. In 1951, while on a trip in Japan, the artist was asked by the mayor of Gifu City to help revitalize the local lantern industry by creating a modern lamp for export utilizing traditional washi paper. Inspired by the lanterns that illuminated night fishing on the Nagara River, Noguchi worked with a local firm to combine the elements of the traditional paper lantern with electricity.


Creating a warm glow of light cast through handmade paper on a bamboo frame, Noguchi utilized traditional Japanese materials to bring modern design to both the Gifu City and the many homes of today where Akari is considered an icon admired for its soft giving light as well as form. With his poetic mind, Noguchi wrote, “The harshness of electricity is transformed through the magic of paper back to the light of our origin – the sun – so that its warmth may continue to fill our rooms at night.”


Remarkably, Noguchi created more than 200 Akari models during his lifetime and received five American and thirty-one Japanese patents on the metal wire stretcher and support system found in homes around the world. After all, it was Noguchi who often proclaimed, “All that you require to start a home are a room, a tatami and Akari.”


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