Still from Dwelling

Hammer Projects: Hiraki Sawa

In his 2002 video Dwelling, Hiraki Sawa creates a dreamlike universe inside a nondescript apartment. Dwelling follows the dramatic slow and solemn flight patterns of roaring miniaturized Boeings, Airbuses, Concordes, jet planes, and commuter aircrafts as if documenting chaotic airport traffic. Using grainy black and white footage, Sawa’s video is as mysterious and evocative as it is comical. Set entirely in Sawa’s apartment, the work addresses notions of displacement and melancholy, and was completed while he was a graduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Hammer Projects are curated by James Elaine.


Hiraki Sawa was born in Ishikawa, Japan in 1977 and currently lives in London. He received his master’s degree in sculpture in 2003 from the Slade School of Fine Art, University College in London. Recent solo exhibitions include shows at James Cohan Gallery, New York, and Ota Fine Arts Gallery, Tokyo. His work was included in recent group exhibitions at LIFT Contemporary, Cherokee, NC; Lille2004, Lille, France; Placentia Arte, Piacenza, Italy; Borusan Art Gallery, Istanbul, Turkey; and Evo Gallery, New Mexico, and in 2004 Dwelling could be seen on a large monitor in Times Square, New York, presented by Creative Time.

Domestic Flight: On Hiraki Sawa’s Dwelling

By Gregory Volk

Among the many unusual aspects of Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa’s striking video Dwelling is the fact that he accomplished it while still a graduate student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. The video takes place entirely in Sawa’s London apartment. He took still shots of different areas of his apartment and superimposed upon them animated images of various toy airplanes taking off; cruising about the rooms; and landing on a table, floor, countertop, bathtub, refrigerator, and bed. As one watches this slow and stately, yet frequently chaotic, pageant of Boeings, Airbuses, Concordes, jet planes trailing smoke plumes, and commuter craft, the incessant migratory force of airplane travel in an increasingly globalized era is not something occurring out there, in the great skies, but right here, in a cramped London flat, which suddenly seems not constricted at all, but instead full of distances, mysteries, vastness, danger, and allure.

The black-and-white video begins with a single shot of the top-floor windows in a nondescript London apartment building, which could be just about anywhere in the world. Next one sees the stairs, then the door, just for a second or so, but long enough to generate suspense; Sawa’s work is filled with such willfully mundane, yet riveting and evocative, images, which oftentimes seem closer to masterful cinema than to experimental video. Behind this very door is the scene of the action, or the scene of the crime, and the viewer becomes part curious voyeur and part noirish detective. The apartment is so sparsely furnished that it resembles a cheap hotel room or some other unspectacular dwelling that has perhaps recently been vacated, although it also has vague intimations of a monk’s cell. It is more of a way station than a cozy home filled with belongings, and it implicitly corresponds to airport terminals, which are likewise generic, in-between sites. From views of the hallway and bathroom, the camera settles on six realistic toy airplanes lined up on the floor, then three airplanes atop a table. They are a cross between a child’s playthings and aircraft dispersed along the tarmac at Heathrow, LAX, Narita, or some other well-trafficked airport.



 Migration  Elsewhere 

Gregory Volk is a New York–based art critic and curator. He is also an associate professor at the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.


Hammer Projects are organized by James Elaine, and are made possible with support from The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The Annenberg Foundation, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and members of the Hammer Circle.