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Colin K. Okashimo: Provoking Calm

In Issue C62 of Cubes Indesign, we caught a glimpse of the philosophy and methodology of landscape architect and sculptor Colin K. Okashimo. Here, Luo Jingmei finds out more from his new book ‘Provoking Calm: The Artworks of Colin K. Okashimo’.

Colin K. Okashimo: Provoking Calm


August 7th, 2013

The 288-page hardcover book, encased in black, features a selection of the landscape architect and sculptor’s works within the public spaces of resorts, homes and condominiums in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and Seychelles. Woven through this showcase is an in-depth and engaging insight into Okashimo’s thoughts and processes.

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

A wall of swivelling glass and granite bricks in the Ten@Suffolk condominium in Singapore

The seemingly oxymoronic title highlights Okashimo’s key direction – calm is the ultimate emotion he wishes users to experience, but it is not a passive, ambivalent kind. “It’s easy to achieve a natural calm… trees, shrubs, a few rocks. But that’s not enough. Calm should have a ‘momentness’ where space has a state of impermanence. Disruption is the manmade intervention, and calm comes from that contrast,” Okashimo explains at the beginning of the book.

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

The Belle Marc Plage resort in Mauritius

This “momentness’ results from a set of strategies that has guided the firm’s directions over the years. One strategy is the insistence on an authentic narrative, drawn from context, an example being the Belle Marc Plage in Mauritius, where surrounding cane fields and slave-built black stone mounds inspired the abstracted, volcanic stone structures and pathways interjected by colourful fired-ceramic cylinders.

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

Okashimo’s ’Listening’ sculptures in the Park Seven condominium in KL invites users to engage intimately with them

Another strategy is the important role that his sculptures play within his landscape architecture. This has been an obsession of Okashimo’s since setting up his Singapore-based firm Colin K. Okashimo & Associates in 1996, where, rather than using sculpture as a purely decorative element within the environment, they are used to drive the landscape design. 

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

A detail of Okashimo’s skillful manipulation of texture

“Of course, the sculpture and the environment are meant to work together to create an experience of calm… but it’s a question of how that happens. That’s the fun part… everybody wants sculpture in their garden but they usually put it in the last; it’s just filling the space. I turn the process around. I start with the sculpture and the sculpture informs the space,” he reiterates. 

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

’Water Candles’ in Hotel Maya, KL

For the book, Okashimo tasked photographer and writer Patrick Bingham-Hall with creating an experience akin to ambling in one of his spaces. “I presented this challenge to Patrick: tell me how do you make a calm book? Calm as you read it, as you pick it up, as you turn the pages.”

The result is a weighty coffee table book with plenty of Bingham-Hall’s beautiful photographs that allows the reader to both understand the contextual engagement of Okashimo’s work on a larger picture, as well as ponder the details and materiality of the his sculptural pieces. The text, in the form of Okashimo’s thoughts and Bingham-Hall’s observations, barely fills up the pages, generously creating visually quiet pauses between throughout.

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

Okashimo’s ’Water Candle’ is formed after the hand grasps of the hotel’s staff members

The book is never dull. Like the narratives he weaves into his works, Bingham-Hall reveals Okashimo’s ideas behind each project like how one would tell a tale. I get caught up in the story of how, for instance, a neighbouring cemetery inspired his bamboo cabanas and “water candles” in the Hotel Maya in Kuala Lumpur; or how the manmade and natural come together in the tactility and composition of his Riverscape Series, one of his earliest stone installations in a private garden.

In the middle, Bingham-Hall breaks the rhythm with a documentation of a trip to Xiamen. He follows Okashimo to one of his “stone mansions” where he works on granite sculptures with local stonecutters. Here, Bingham-Hall, observing the artist at work, tells it like it is. “Xiamen is a land of stone, and Colin Okashimo is in his element.”

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

Unfinished clay marquettes in Okashimo’s studio

In coda, Bingham-Hall tells of Okashimo’s background, juxtaposed with an early session of seeing the sculptor at work with a piece of stone. One is made aware of how far the sculptor and landscape architect has come since he first started out. . 

Colin K Okashimo: Provoking Calm

Close up of a stone marquette

Yet, in starting and ending the book with images of Okashimo’s unfinished marquettes, marked with raw cuts, rough surfaces and folds still imprinted with traces of his hands, Bingham-Hall also suggests that Okashimo’s journey is still being refined, still being shaped and still being challenged.  

Images featured here by Luo Jingmei

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