The art of worldbuilding

11 December 2017Alexandra Chaves
The art of worldbuilding

Photo by Jandri Angelo Aguilor

The art of worldbuilding

Image courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery

The art of worldbuilding

Image courtesy of Leila Heller Gallery

It would be unusual for someone to see Jacob Hashimoto’s The Eclipse and not be impressed. At the center of his current exhibition at Leila Heller Gallery hangs a massive installation composed of 16,000 circular black and white kites, made from bamboo and rice paper.

From afar, the installation stuns because of its sheer size. On closer inspection, however, visitors can see just how delicate the kites are as they sway to the slightest breeze.

The mass of black kites, which seem to take over the white ones, form the map of the United States, Hashimoto’s home country. From certain angles, one can see the stars and stripes of the American flag on the dark, billowing forms.

Needless to say, Hashimoto’s outlook for America isn’t entirely optimistic. The installation, which is also the name of exhibition, was first presented at the Palazzo Flangini for the 57th Venice Biennale. It was the first time Hashimoto’s work involved a political dimension.

“I had a platform and an opportunity to express my views on what was happening, and that’s important if you’re participating in a large, international art exhibition,” Hashimoto explains.

What was happening, of course, was the rise of Donald Trump.

“Most of my work up to that point, especially large-scale installations, were either very contemplative or very much about building electrified environments… It’s like funhouse meets Japanese garden sort of vibe.”

“Given the current cultural, political, and social climate in the States, I didn’t want to go in with a piece that felt like a celebration and an optimistic gesture about possibility… especially right after the US election, which I think is a real game changer for the world.”

Although The Eclipse contains some political edge, Hashimoto’s focus remains rooted in landscape-abstraction. 

“The work is about landscape, ultimately,” he says. “So if you're painting a picture of a landscape, it needs to reflect your view as an artist, your experience in the world, and what you see coming down the pike… We’re talking about the political landscape, but it could also be the physical landscape, in terms of pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

The exhibition at Leila Heller Gallery came about when Alexander Heller approached the artist after seeing one of his shows at Mary Boone Gallery in New York. “He saw the potential to use the entire volume of the gallery in a really interesting way,” says Hashimoto.

The Eclipse has been expanded and made even bigger for the gallery in Dubai. Hashimoto and his assistants had less than a week to complete the setup, and they spent 12 hours a day for five days to get it done.

The exhibition also features Hashimoto’s wall works, compositions made of overlapping kites, held in place by nylon strings. The circular “kites” contain collages or images that reference artists, video games, and patterns. At the moment, his interest lies in crystal patterns, as well as the molecular structures and geological patterns of gemstones.


At the core of all these works is landscape. Rather, Hashimoto’s take on landscape, which combines abstraction and handicraft within his own constructed universe. I asked him about titles of his previous works and his references to celestial bodies and cosmos.

“It’s all kind of worldbuilding,” he says. “I’ve always said that the work comes from landscapes. Essentially, we’re starting to create abstract spaces or three-dimensional abstract environments that have their own visual ecosystems and reference things within their borders. You’re starting to create galaxies or universes that are independent from what’s possible in reality. So that automatically led me into this idea of, how do you build a cosmos? What is the cosmogony? How do we order these worlds? Oftentimes the titles will reference issues about celestial navigation or how we triangulate our position in the infinite.”

“A lot of what we deal with in terms of language, landscape, worldbuilding, religion – all these are ways in which we build structures in order to organize chaos in existence and to give meaning to things,” he explains.

In his own way, Hashimoto looks at the “infinite unknowability” of the universe and tries to put these chaotic parts together in a way that is meaningful.

“As people who make artwork, we’re constantly building systems to try and make sense of the world around us, give value to things, and share values with other people. We can create these broader systems by which we can have belief, purpose, and meaning to life.”

Since its opening, The Eclipse, particularly the large-scale installation, has gained considerable popularity on social media. I asked Hashimoto how he felt about his work obtaining this social media status, and whether that takes away from his art.

“You can’t control everybody’s relationship with the artwork,” he says. However, he points out that there is “value” in people appreciating the work, even if it’s from a purely aesthetic perspective. “On the other hand, I think we’re definitely living in a culture where more and more people don’t physically go to the see stuff. They look at images online,” he adds. 

“As an old school artist who likes to go see shows, it’s also a concern. The work that I make is really best seen in person, because it’s changeable and it scales differently to different people’s bodies. It’s definitely a physical object in the world that’s interesting to interact with.”

The Eclipse will run until 31 December 2017.

Images of artwork courtesy of artist and Leila Heller Gallery Dubai
Photo by Jandri Angelo Aguilor