Alan Nakagawa


Interdisciplinary artist primarily working with sound and occasionally incorporating video, sculpture, drawing, oral histories and food, Nakagawa is currently working on a semi-autobiographic tactile-sound-based-environment titled TRIAD, utilizing multi-point audio field recordings of the interiors of the Hiroshima Atomic Dome, Wendover Hangar, Watts Towers and the Sagrada Familia along with frequencies of California earthquakes. He is currently the Artist in Resident at the L.A. Department of Transportation and Great Streets through the LA Mayor's Office. He was the director of the inter-disciplinary arts collective Collage Ensemble Inc. from 1984 to 2011. He was the curator of Ear Meal Webcast from 2010 to 2016. In 2016, he completed a residency at the Getty Villa, Malibu CA, which culminated in an exhibition of four interactive sculptures that mashed elements of ancient artifacts with punk aesthetics. In 2017, he was the artist in resident at Echo Park Film Center where he completed an animation short about traffic safety and was the recipient of the Cerritos College Printmaking Artist Residency Invitational.


Tinnitus Trained

By Alan Nakagawa
2017 notes

I have this memory, clear and brief, a sunny LA afternoon standing in the kindergarten playground looking up at the sky. It’s a five-year-old version of me. I was not so much looking than I was listening, a series of frequencies, like a chord of pitches that I could playfully control through active listening. In my head was an internal keyboard of a few notes. As long as I was quiet and really listened. It was there and it’s still there.

In my art career, working with communities, for communities and in communities, listening has been a tool, a constant education and a continual sharpening of technique. It’s a second-nature strategy that often leads me to my artwork, where I take that data and let it inspire me. It’s where creative listening leads to interpreting, reacting, assessing and contributing to a social dialogue through the muscles of communication and imagination.

I fail when I don’t listen.
I succeed when I do.

In 2010, I experienced my first sound bath at the Integratron in Joshua Tree California. In this wood dome, a series of tones reverberate in cycles generated from large quartz bowls. The dome acoustics allow the tones to cycle in the space with little dissonance and refraction. We lay in the space and the tones fly through our bodies like a massage. The ghost vibrations stay with you for a day. It is weird and transformative.

When I was introduced to the organ of corti and its function, my art making process changed dramatically, partially because it deepened my life-long attraction to the cochlea and the metaphorical construct I created in my mind about this tiny apparatus but also it just made more sense how this magical function of listening was so similar to audio recording, which I love so much and also drawing, which I love so much.

Learning about and then practicing oral history technique through the UCLA Oral History Program has been an elevating experience, as well. At first, it was a way to a means that supported my community projects but in recent years, it has become an integral tool in my art making practice.

What do we hear? What is there to hear? How are we listening? My sound work attempts to try to make sense of this. I am trying to use sound like a perfume, conjuring memory, however individual or distinct by relying on instinct, curiosity and openness while trying to tell a story, much like the way a poem does.