Animated marine sculptures by Yutaka Kamiyama

Painter, sculptor and craftsman, gifted with both the ability of designing complex machines and meticulously reproducing nature, Yutaka Kamiyama is a polyvalent Japanese artist, active for more than twenty years in a small seaside town near Tokyo.
Great observer of the marine world, he realizes fascinating kinetic sculptures carved in wood, inspired by the marine fauna, while teaching painting and crafts in parallel. His thorough and delicate animal sculptures are in fact complex and ingenious machines: his marine animals are arranged on carved wooden pedestals that borrow various forms evoking alternately algae, corals or even the ripples of water. These structures are equipped with handles to operate the machinery and animate each real or imaginary marine creature. These kinetic sculptures plunge the spectator into a dreamlike universe, where a whole aquatic bestiary takes life, each piece of wood that compose the body of the animal moves individually. When they are animated, thanks to the action of the handle, we can witness a strange ballet where the dancers are whales, sailfish, sperm whales, scorpionfishes or fish of the abyss, floating in the air gracefully, without truly going anywhere. The poetry that emerges from this spectacle is further reinforced by the scale changes that these animals undergo: the sailfish seems bigger than the sperm whale, the scorpionfish as imposing as the small whale. This game of scale evokes both models of natural sciences and old elaborate toys and form a playful, educational, accessible and particularly endearing visual universe.

Made from natural materials and related to the movement of the body, these animal sculptures break away from technology and robotics and rather bond with the natural sciences and wildlife observation. These sculptures explore the dialectic between the artist, the public and the animal; above all, they question the links between Man and Nature. Man is indeed a part of the work, in the same way as the structure of wood and each piece follows its own grammar, as conceived by the artist: "The main body is carved in wood of hinoki cypress, camphor and gingko; These woods have a strong symbolic significance in Japan and were used in particular for ancient Buddha statues. For the plinth and the mechanical parts, I use a harder wood such as green oak, cherry, elm, chestnut or maple. Each wood has its own characteristic; their differences can be seen by observing their color, their perfume, and their viscosity. I am deeply fascinated by every property of these woods and I see the life of a tree through each piece of them. Using wood, my intention is also to revive the life of the tree in a new form.” The approach of resurrection of the living being undertaken by Yutaka is expressed in the address he shows in his way of imitating animal gestures.

Each artificial animal of Yutaka Kamiyama borrows precisely the gesture that his living model uses to move under the water, thus adding to the impression of realism but also to the poetry that there is to give a new life to wood, in the form of Animals. The movement does not generate a shift but reproduces slowlier the way of moving of each animal, decomposed into mechanical gestures which allows to appreciate with more intimacy the rhythm of the animal. This decomposition of the movement evokes the photographs of Jules-Etienne Marey, or Eadweard Muybridge, who present the prints of each gesture that make up the behavior of an animal in chronological order to decompose it. Nevertheless, the marine animals of Yutaka Kamiyama are animated by a real impulse which is not only suggested by two dimensions; Like the mobiles by Alexander Calder, the machines of Jean Tinguely, the works of the constructivists or even those of several digital artists, this movement participates entirely to the identity of the work. The artist insists on this essential aspect: "I consider that a piece is complete only when the audience animates the sculpture by operating the handle. Public participation is an integral part of the work. "Yutaka Kamiyama aims to make the viewer an actor of his own perception, to lead him into a dynamic of sensory and semantic enlargement. Each of his sculptures can be seen as an experience. The action of the handle makes it possible to hear the crackling of the wood, the squeaks of the mechanisms and the shocks of the articulated parts, thus creating a unique sound landscape, exploring both the plastic and music qualities of wood. Unlike traditional art forms where the interaction between the work and the viewer is primarily a mental event, these interactive machines multiply sensory experiences and participate in a total art combining painting, sculpture, scenography and animation.


By combining his technical and biological knowledge with a subtle and dreamlike poetry, Yutaka Kamiyama succeeds in reproducing nature by mechanics. This process can remind of the animated marine animals of Bob Potts, but Yutaka Kamiyama distinguishes himself from this latter by his use of natural materials and especially by the meticulousness of his achievements: "I realized the first piece of this series seven years ago, after my meeting with a sperm whale of 15 meters long, stranded on the beach near my home. Its size and shape struck me and since then I have a great interest in marine life and its environment, which I observe for long hours each day. I am also concerned about its safeguarding and my work also consists in raising awareness of the crucial aspect of the protection of marine fauna ". Thus, each marine animal depends on the spectator to become animated and it is only when the spectator acts that the animal comes to life. This process makes it possible to become aware of the importance of individual action in safeguarding marine fauna, whose fragile equilibrium is threathned.

The kinetic marine fauna of Yutaka Kamiyama was recently presented in Paris at the Salon Art Shopping 2016, where he exhibited a whale from his bestiary: "It was really a good experience for me, I had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world who showed interest in my play.” I myself had the opportunity to activate it, to feel the wooden mechanisms set in motion and see the animal come to life in a remarkable way. This experiment as playful as poetic freezes the time and one can remain for a long time activating the crank while watching the animal taking life. These pieces will be exhibited at two events in Japan in 2017: "My biggest pieces will be exhibited during the collective show" Kokuten ", at the National Art Center in Tokyo in May 2017. I also plan to show my biggest three-dimensional work during "The 27th UBE BIENNALE" in Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan, in August. "
I invite the reader to visit the site of Yutaka Kamiyama which can be found below, to follow the evolution of his work and to discover all his kinetic sculptures.