When you enter MadArt, you unwittingly enter a planetary system. The gallery is currently occupied by three spheres of vastly different sizes that all seem to be frozen in mid-orbit around each other. It's easy for you, a puny human, to get sucked into each orb's gravitational pull. And you should give in.
All three spheres were created by Taiji Miyasaka, an architecture professor at Washington State University's School of Design + Construction, as part of his show at MadArt, Circum·ambience. Miyasaka, who emphasized to me that he's not an artist but an architect (and the distinction seems important), is most interested in the complexity of how light moves—exists—in a space.
The smallest sphere, Wild Flower, is in the rear of the gallery. Composed of yellow chicken wire layered over itself to create the shape, it's small enough to be suspended in the air so visitors can see all of its sides. The second largest sphere, Debris, is made of parts salvaged from an early-1900s-era Seattle craftsman home and pieced together like a collage.
The 13-foot-tall, Death Star–evoking Earthen Light is the showstopper. The sphere is largely made of clay and wood, inspired by Japanese teahouses and sheds that use 1,300-year-old traditional Japanese techniques of earthen wall construction.
Miyasaka received assistance from master plasterer Tetsuya Hagino, architect Yasuhiro Uchida, and assistant plasterer Eiko Inohara, who flew in from Japan to assist him in plastering the inside of the sphere to create the intended light conditions for visitors.
As I slipped off my shoes and ungracefully climbed into the small square opening of Earthen Light, I felt like I was being reverse-birthed back into my mother's womb. A womb that smelled like other people's feet.
The first thing you feel once inside is laminated wood. The second, darkness. The third, a stranger's limb. The voice of another gallery-goer guided me to an empty cushion as I awkwardly maneuvered myself and my purse through the void. As I settled in, my eyes slowly adjusted—and the space became a hazy shade of brown. I looked up and noticed that a slice near the top of the sphere had been removed to allow in a ring of soft natural light that seemed to spray down on us.
Everyone inside sat with their butts on the edge of the circle, backs leaning on the plaster walls, legs crisscrossed underneath them. Someone let out a soft coo—to test the acoustics of the space—and it boomeranged back to them. We were in a sphere, after all.
The space begs meditation—that sliver of light was bright enough that I could see many people had their eyes closed. At the same time, being inside all that wood, clay, and plaster made me feel like I was in my own little world where no one could disturb me. Miyasaka had elevated ordinary material into something extraordinary. I wish they had one of these things at every gallery opening.
Though his previous work was more focused on the contrast between light and shadow, with this show, Miyasaka is thinking about light differently. "Now I'm more interested in ambient light, like being surrounded by light," he told me in January. "I'm trying to understand the nature of light more. Architects always talk about light and shadow, but we are always surrounded by light." I would add to that mud and hay and wood and clay.