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The Sum of 10,000 Parts

An artist’s homage to the city, rendered in contact sheets and paste.


Artist Sohei Nishino's giant map of San Francisco.

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For his upcoming SFMOMA show, Nishino spent three months collaging nearly 10,000 photos into an intricate diorama of San Francisco.

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Nishino explored the city by foot, bus, and car to compile photos for his San Francisco diorama, an act he likens to a kind of pilgrimage.

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Japanese artist Sohei Nishino has a novel method for creating his diorama maps: It involves a lot of blisters. For each of his commisions, Nishino flies into a new city and spends months wandering its streets armed with a camera, dozens of rolls of film, and a route-tracking GPS. Afterward, he travels back to Japan, prints contact sheets of his photos, and cuts out each shot by hand. The images are pasted together into a vertigo-inducing map comprising the architecture and residents of the city.

“He enjoys the feeling of being an outsider,” says Corey Keller, the curator who orchestrated New Work: Sohei Nishino, which opens November 4 at SFMOMA. But of all Nishino’s urban parachuting missions, his two-month sojourn in San Francisco this year was a particularly alien experience, exposing him to Bay to Breakers, a silent disco, and the Pride Parade. “There are more naked people in this map than any other,” says Keller. Or, as Nishino diplomatically puts it: “I was trying to catch up with the powerful and energetic character of the city.”

The exhibit’s centerpiece is the kaleidoscopic map of San Francisco, which measures nearly six by nine feet. For this diorama, his 20th, Nishino labored to capture San Francisco’s intrinsic character. “He’s a wide-eyed observer of city life,” says Keller.


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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