The Ojama installation is about creating a hindrance or momentary interruption in our daily experience of space. This temporary art installation is an exploration of space, time, materiality, and our experience of nature in the urban environment.
Hirokazu Kosaka, the Artist Director at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (JACCC) in Los Angeles, invited me to do a temporary installation within the campus, on Noguchi Plaza. The piece had to be flexible and movable in order to accommodate various scheduled Japanese cultural events. My initial reaction to the invitation came from a memory from my childhood, which became the basis of an idea for the installation: I grew up on a 36-acre strawberry farm in Sacramento and my grandmother would always tellme that I was “(O)jama-naru” (you’re in the way) when, at 8 years old, I offered my strawberry picking talents.
With my childhood story as inspiration, I thought about the challenge at hand. I wanted to use landscape as a form of interruption that brings nature to the forefront of our everyday experience. From this, an inquiry emerged: How can nature mediate between human experience and the City? How can a sense of place be developed given the significance of Noguchi Plaza? How can landscape transform human experience? How do you inform an existential experience? Could the natural world and the industrial world truly coexist and be in balance? Or, will human nature and our desire for more ultimately and permanently interrupt the natural cycles, never to be restored again?
I had a dream during this time of inquiry. Every day, I drive on the 405 freeway in and saw a material used for slope erosion control and sedimentation mitigation. This material was the Straw Wattle, a simple material that is commonly found in disturbed landscapes and serves as a mediator between human and nature. Wattles are a by-product of the rice grown in the Sacramento area. Straw wattles are tubes of dried rice straw. They are also known as straw worms, bio-logs, straw noodles, or straw tubes. The wattles are pre-fabricated cylinders of compressed, weed-free rice straw; each cylinder is 9 inches in diameter, 25 feet long, and weighing about 35 pounds.
For three months, I explored their materiality within the AHBE studio. I experimented with them without any preconceptions. I stacked them, bent them, and assembled them into different forms that created spaces and objects of interference. Out of this exploration, I developed an understanding of and appreciation for the simple beauty, the curious and provocative qualities, the malleability, and the natural aroma of dried rice straw.
The final installation was braided walls of straw wattles. They were assembled in various configurations within Noguchi Plaza to engage, interfere with, and interrupt the experience of daily visitors. The wattles were moved around the plaza throughout the summer. We used them to form walls and gateways, as well as directional devises, queuing lines, performance background, and urban furniture. The wattles became a curious juxtaposition of objects of nature in the plaza (a habitat for local bird life because of the dry rice seeds) and a catalyst for creating community (with places for seating and gathering) during the various festivals.
As a landscape architect and public artist, I am interested in people’s experiences and interaction with the natural world. Thus, Ojama was an expression of interruption and intervention that furthered the discourse about nature, people, and the City.