Windmill man of Japan in bid to be local hero

HIS surreal, multi-jointed windmills adorn the sides of skyscrapers in Tokyo, hilltops in Korea and newspaper offices in Milan.

Now 72-year-old Japanese sculptor Susumu Shingu is to bring his visionary work to Scotland as part of plans to create an "ecological" settlement.

Shingu, who has persuaded some of the world's leading corporations to back his award-winning environmental projects, is searching for a site near Glasgow to bring his plan to fruition.

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Last week, he was in the city to enlist the aid of Glasgow School of Art (GSA) to help find a suitable site for his Breathing Earth project.

It will involve small homes, a concert hall, laboratories and other sustainable buildings, all powered by his artworks built on their roofs.

The prototype windmills – designed to show that small-scale wind turbine developments can be acceptable in an urban setting – are currently being tested in Japan.

Shingu said it was watching Bill Forsyth's cult film Local Hero – which involved a giant US oil corporation planning to exploit a small Scottish community – that inspired him to come to Scotland with his vision of a futuristic village that harnesses the power of wind and the power of art.

"It's somehow following that film," he said. "I'm not Burt Lancaster (the star who played the film's corporate villain], but I am looking for a site."

More than 100 GSA students have now signed up to help Shingu identify a suitably windy spot, near or even within Glasgow, as part of their studies.

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"I would like to find a site for this not so far from Glasgow," he said. "I'm not hoping to have too much sun here, but I'm hoping to use wind power."

His early artist's impressions of his eco-village show a collection of beehive shaped buildings, partly underground, each topped with one of his windmills.

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"This would not only solve the problem of our civilisation causing damage to our nature, and our planet," he said. "I want to make an example of how to live in the future, working with wind and other elements."

The Edinburgh film-maker Leslie Hills, producer of movies on the percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, and artists Andy Goldsworthy and Alison Watt, is chronicling Shingu's story for her next film. It is partly funded by Scottish Screen.

"We had been looking for an artist for four years when we became aware of his work," she said. The film will follow Shingu's progress towards building Breathing Earth.

Shingu started as an artist studying oil painting in Italy, but moved to three-dimensional structures in the 1960s. His recent projects include Wind Caravan, for which he shipped a field of colourful, temporary windmills to six sites around the world, from Japanese rice paddies to snow-swept Finland, a remote New Zealand island, and Morocco, Mongolia, and Brazil.

"I think no-one else has such an experience, even academic people, of windmills," he said. "I want to use all of this experience to devote to this project."

The artist says he will seek a corporate backer for Breathing Earth. He has worked closely with celebrity architect Renzo Piano in the past and designed a 150ft stainless steel set of rotating sculptures, Hommage Au Cosmos, running up Piano's Maison Herms building in Tokyo.

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His Cloud Of Light in the office of Il Sole 24 Ore, a 24-hour newspaper in Japan, is one of the largest internal sculptures in the world. While he works mostly in steel, he also uses aluminium, carbon fibre, and canvas for windmill sails, drawing on his own experience as a sailboat pilot.

Indoor works show the flow of air-conditioning systems inside buildings.

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GSA students will be asked to look at sites within an hour of the city-centre by public transport. Ian Grout, a lecturer on product design at the college, said the project could bring a way of "loving and living with" windmills rather than simply seeing them as a source of power.

"There is the difference between the view of the central engineering function of a wind-farm, and moving to a more community-based engineering project, something more personal, more engaging, more enjoyed," he said. The GSA already has one windmill on its Newbury Tower.

Product design student John Flitcroft, 19, said: "At the moment it seems to be more of an artist's vision than a practical thing. But as an artist's settlement, we could find a site for it, because people are very interested in hosting art."

An exhibition of models of Shingu's work is opening at the GSA's Grace and Clark Fyfe Gallery. It includes works such as Boundless Sky, at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, and Columbus Wind, commissioned for Genoa, Italy, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the explorer's historic voyage in 1992.

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