Big Fish

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Friday, June 12, 2009
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Stephen Talasniks Koi, now on view at Uniqlo. 

Catch it while you can: Stephen Talasnik's Koi, seen here in progress at the artist's studio, is now on view at Uniqlo.

Uniqlo, the Japanese retailer of affordable apparel, debuted an unusual display in its Soho location today: a 25-foot-long, 8-foot-tall fish. Designed by New York painter and sculptor Stephen Talasnik, the wooden sculpture, titled Koi, will float in the store’s glass showcase at 546 Broadway through the end of August, at which point it will cross the pond to adorn Uniqlo’s new flagship store in Paris.

Made primarily of bass wood, the skeletal Koi is built on the plan of a zeppelin, a vessel that has long been a sort of obsession for Talasnik, who spent time in Friedrichshafen, the German home of the airship. In an interview with AN, he talked with excitement about the hovering and floating of the massive structures, and how this has always fascinated people, him included. His intrigue in floating bodies also extends to installations like the whale in the Museum of Natural History, he said: “I revere hovering in large-scale projects.”

(Photo by D. James Dee)

Talasnik (Photo by D. James Dee).

His sculpture is not skinned, and the open construction lends it lightness, despite its enormous size. Talasnik explained that the Koi was built like a zeppelin, in flat cells, and then assembled. He continued, “Seeing how these things are made demystifies it, but it’s an incredible experience at the same time. I see this as a three-dimensional drawing. It’s linear, and that’s why it attracts the eye in a way that something with skin would not.” People are naturally attracted to seeing the anatomy of a building, he added. “That’s why people like going to construction sites. That’s the appeal of a Calatrava.” The piece’s form evokes a wide range of interpretations. As one recent passerby, herself an architect, exclaimed: “It looks like a torpedo!”

Talasnik was chosen for the new commission in a somewhat serendipitous way. Every year Uniqlo selects 10 artists to design a T-shirt, and it was for that reason the company initially approached Talasnik. Uniqlo became especially interested in the artist’s work after a studio visit, when the similarities between his art and the Japanese aesthetic came to light. (The fact that Talasnik knew and wore the brand—he lived in Tokyo in the late 1980s—probably did not hurt.)

The fish installed at Uniqlo (Photo by Victoria Monjo).

While Talasnik’s work has been called architectural by reviewers, he is neither an architect nor an engineer. “I was never really interested in painting and sculpture, but I was always interested in building, construction, and design,” he said. He explained that growing up, his inventor uncle proved a huge influence on him, and that today his work shows that he is “aesthetically aligned with inventing rather than emoting.” The Koi, he added, was built “alluding to rational organization but not mathematical assimilation.”

With language like that, he should have been an architect.

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