Rie Nakajima, “I just do… what I do.”

“The place told me what to do.”

 At the end of any good day in Birmingham three things will have happened.

In reverse order:

joint stock
Old Joint Stock

THREE: a Bengal Lancer or a Fullers 1845 British beer will have been consumed at the Old Joint Stock, a stunning grade II listed pub and theatre located on Temple Row, directly across from the early 18th century Cathedral Church of Saint Philip;

TWO: several street art photographs, including those by Mr. Cenz, Zabou, Amara por Dios and HERS will have been collected from the Custard Factory, an urban art district in the Digbeth neighbourhood; and

ONE: at least one conceptual performance piece by Rie Nakajima will have been experienced at the Ikon Gallery and it will have fallen under the contentious banner of  “Is it art?”.

“I tend to work with objects that are expressive of functions in our ordinary life. They are the starting point.”

This gallery, located in Oozells Square, is a free-to-the-public, contemporary arts venue and a registered charity. It is supported with public funding from the Arts Council of England and the Birmingham City Council. The Ikon is one of those understated, small-ish and unimposing-ish, contemporary art galleries. The interior has a casual meandering feel, as though it knows that it houses serious art, but is simply too shy to say so – and yet it capably challenges its visitors as effectively as London’s Serpentine Gallery.

“To make sound is to sculpt time.  I want to make sound before it becomes sound.”

Of this triad, Rie Nakajima’s “Cyclic” show at the Ikon counters the “Is it art?” question with a resounding . . . “Well – isn’t it?”




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Her installation was a perfect pairing of the gallery’s open architecture and kinetic, totally kooky noise-makers. Personally, my engineering abilities max out at plugging in extension cords,  so I felt a total affinity with Rie’s use of highly simplistic components.

“What I am making is to be experienced through your body, through your perception and through your senses.”


Each of her soundscape performances are real-time, one-shot deals.  The compositions are self-developing sounds that are in response to the dynamics of the audience and the individual performance space. Using jerry-rigged, re-purposed mechanisms and found objects, she weaves together a cacophony of eclectic, rhythmic and mechanical sounds spinning them out into an extremely spartan space, which, when combined, feel like complex rhythmic radio waves that flow into you, commune and occupy you, and then . . .  move on.

“Using sound, I look for a state where things start to react to each other, freed from their specific contexts.”

A Brief Bio: Rie Nakajima, born in 1975 in Yokohama, Japan. She studied art history and aesthetics at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, and sculpture at Chelsea School of Arts and Slade School of Fine Arts in London.

nakaShe exhibits and performs worldwide and currently headquarters her practice out of London (UK). She released her first album, ‘Four Forms’, in 2014. In the same year, she received the £10K Experimental Music prize from the “Arts Foundation”an organization whose fundamental stance is: “We believe that the Arts are integral to the wellbeing of society and a human right.” . . . I couldn’t agree more.

Once you have orbited Rie’s universe it is best to leave immediately, otherwise any further input will overload your senses, and diminish the subtlety of the experience. So with my ‘Friendly Giant’s’ daypass to NASA experience’ having come to an end, I made my way to the front door . . .  only to dare to return and stand under the inflating rubber lungs to snap a selfie in Rie’s world – a place where her definition of improvisation . . . is simply so kindred.

me at Ikon

“Starting from where I know, ending up somewhere else.” 




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